Law Enforcement Honor Fallen K-9 Dogs, Welcome New Ones

Mon February 7th, 2011 @ 8:43 am

By Stephen Baxter
Posted: 02/06/2011 01:30:34 AM PST
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (View the Article)

SANTA CRUZ -- The sharp teeth and steel nerves of sheriff's Sgt. Joe Clarke's old partner, Brix, probably saved Clarke's life.

Clarke was driving his patrol car in the rain on Seventh Avenue in Live Oak when he got a radio call that a wanted man was spotted. Clarke saw the suspect driving and chased him to a driveway of a residence. The man crashed his car and started running to a backyard. Clarke said he stopped his car and released Brix to chase him.

Brix bolted to the suspect out of Clarke's sight, and by the time Clarke rounded the corner to the backyard, he saw Brix's jaws clenched on one of the man's arms. The man pulled a handgun from his waist, pointed it at Brix, and hesitated.

In that instant, Brix, a German shepherd, released his bite and grabbed the arm that held the gun -- taking the suspect down, Clarke said.

"He just grabbed him by the other arm and dragged him to the ground," Clarke said.

That 2005 arrest was one of 350 arrests that Brix made in his career, Clarke said.

"They don't think like we do," Clarke said of police dogs. "They're trained to do a certain thing and they just do it."

In Brix's nine years working for the Sheriff's Office and during his retirement, he also lived with Clarke's family. He won a Bronze Medal for Distinguished Service in 2005 for his arrest of the gunman. After an illness at age 14 in December 2010, Brix had to be put down.

It was an emotional loss for Clarke and his< Advertisement family.

"It was a hard thing to see him go," Clarke said. "We were lucky to have him for that long... He was a huge part of our family and he was really good with our kids."

Police dogs are some of the unsung heroes of county law enforcement agencies. Officers from Watsonville to Capitola to Santa Cruz said their value is tremendous in finding guns, missing people, illegal drug caches and countless suspects.

As the loss of Brix is mourned in the Sheriff's Office, Layko, a  Belgian malinoisis eagerly anticipated in the Santa Cruz Police Department.

Jax, a German shepherd whose partner is officer Karina Cecena, is expected to retire in September.

Layko will be trained in late February, overlapping with Jax until then, said Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Steve Clark. He will be partnered with Santa Cruz's new K-9 officer, Jose Garcia. In July, Clark said he hopes to add another dog to the force.

"Working with one K-9 at the scene can alleviate the need for several more officers to search for suspects, weapons, lost people, drugs... The bottom line is that it allows us to provide a better level of service and availability to the community," Clark said.

The dogs are an investment for the departments, typically costing $5,000 to $10,000. They are trained in basic handling, narcotics searches and other courses that run from $3,000 to $7,000, authorities said.

They also receive support from the community. Dorro, of the Watsonville Police Department, and Tomi, of the Sheriff's Office, recently received donated protection vests from the Monterey Bay Dog Training Club.

DOUBLE DUTY

In Santa Cruz County, the dogs are often called upon to help other agencies depending on which dog and handler is available and for their training specialties -- such as narcotics, people or weapons. They are typically German shepherds, Dutch shepherds or Belgian malinois, and they can come from trainers in Santa Cruz County -- for Santa Cruz police -- or as far as the Czech Republic for the Sheriff's Office.

Watsonville Sgt. Eric Montalbo, who runs that agency's K-9 unit, spoke highly of its German shepherd, Dorro, who is trained to track narcotics.

"Typically these dogs are locating tools. We're using them on high-risk car stops, area searches, building searches and protecting officers," Montalbo said. "He's been a good dog for us."

Santa Cruz Lt. Larry Richard, who runs the K-9 program, said Jax has found five guns in his career.

"That's incredible for the working life of a dog," Richard said.

After a murder in late spring of last year, Jax found a handgun buried under some brush at the San Lorenzo River levee, Richard said.

He also sniffed out an ammunition magazine.

"It was somewhere where an officer would not look. If it was not for the K-9 and the handler, we would not have been able to locate it," Richard said.

In interviews, police and deputies who work with the dogs uniformly touted their value -- but some cautioned that they are simply tools for officers to use.

In November, Damein pronounced Damien, a female Belgian malinois with Capitola police, helped capture escaped convict Maurice Ainsworth during a SWAT team sweep near Dominican Hospital.

On Nov. 29, 24-year-old Ainsworth fought and escaped from a sheriff's deputy who had taken him to the hospital for an MRI. He allegedly stole her gun and fled to a preschool near the hospital, eventually entering homes on English Drive.

Earlier in the year, Ainsworth had been sentenced to four years in prison for felony auto theft, evading a police officer, and buying and selling stolen property, according to court records. He was awaiting a separate home invasion trial in County Jail prior to his escape, prosecutors said.

Dozens of deputies and police swarmed the area to find Ainsworth.

Capitola officer Leland Blankenship and Damein were at home when they got the call to join the SWAT team. The team checked a house next to where they thought Ainsworth had hidden.

"We were doing the house-to-house sweeps, and we sent her in because she will alert at any door," Blankenship said of Damein.

Damein followed a scent to an upstairs bathroom and started barking, Blankenship said. Ainsworth was inside. He surrendered.

"Having the dog, it keeps people from running," Blankenship said.

All the handlers can make their dogs bark on command, and just having the dog bark in the back of a patrol car is enough to settle down many suspects, Blankenship said.

Capitola Sgt. Mark Gonzalez said while Damein aided greatly in the arrest, the officers there would have searched every corner of the house anyway.

"What we don't want to do is give all the credit to the dog when the officers are putting their lives on the line," Gonzalez said.

part of the family

Although the dogs are trained to use force on command, they can also be gentle family dogs they are when off-duty, deputies said.

Sheriff's deputy Nick Baldridge received his German shepherd-malinois K-9, Tomi, when he was 18 months old. Baldridge's family includes a toddler. Baldridge said Tomi is as gentle as can be.

"My 3½-year-old uses him as a pillow," Baldridge said.

He said it has been a challenge to get Tomi and his other dog, Lucy, to do what he says.

"I'll tell Tomi to do something around the house, and he's like, But she's not doing it!' " Baldridge said. "He's like any other pet at home, but when he's at work, it's work time."

Like all the dogs, Dorro, of the Watsonville police, lives with Master Officer Eddie Santana, his family and their teacup Chihuahua.

Tomi was trained with Czech commands like "sedni" to sit and "lehni" to lay down, which he demonstrated recently in a grassy area outside of the county building. Tomi perked up his big ears and laid down in the grass. The dogs typically are trained in languages like German or Czech in part so that suspects can't understand them or try to control the dog.

Baldridge told a story about Tomi's most recent bite of a suspect -- on her shoulder.

It was Christmas Eve, and Mary Elisabeth Warn was at a home on the 100 block of Almena Street in Santa Cruz.

Warn, 22, had jumped the fence of the Blaine Street Women's Facility on Dec. 21, deputies said, where she had been held on drug charges. Warn had locked Baldridge and other deputies out of a bedroom, and she fled to an attic while clutching a champagne bottle from which she had been drinking, said Sgt. Dan Campos.

Deputies tried to negotiate with her to come out.

"We said, The dog's right here,' " Baldridge said, gesturing to Tomi.

Baldridge said Warn then began to fight another deputy, and he ordered Tomi to bite Warn.

"He bit her on the shoulder, and immediately she put her hand behind her back. One bite was all it took," Baldridge said.

Warn is now in County Jail on charges of escaping from jail, obstructing an officer, being under the influence of a controlled substance and a probation violation, according to jail records.

Yet Baldridge said dog bites are rare -- usually it doesn't come to that.

"More than any tool on our belt, they're afraid of the dog more than anything else," Baldridge said.