Police Officer Jeff Horn, a distinguished officer with the Merced Police Department, was a part of the department’s K9 program for three years. During that time he worked with a narcotics detection K9 (“sniffer”), Riley, who was his partner and companion.
Tragically, Riley died in Officer Horn’s vehicle as a result of a mechanical malfunction of the patrol vehicle. While Horn was grieving for his partner, the newspapers found out about the accident and made a public issue of it. The department removed Horn from the K9 program and proposed a 16-working day suspension.
The accident occurred in August 2006, when Riley was left in a marked patrol vehicle outside of police headquarters. The temperature was 102°. As was Horn’s practice, the air conditioner was left blowing on high. It was known that Horn would leave his vehicle for up to three hours at a time, relying upon the air conditioner in the summer or the heater in the winter to maintain a proper climate for Riley. Horn did not have to make frequent return trips to his vehicle, as his dog needed only infrequent breaks to take care of his bodily functions. Horn’s vehicle had never malfunctioned in three years time.
On August 10, when Horn returned to his car to make sure that there was sufficient gas to keep the air conditioner running, he discovered that Riley was dead in the backseat. Horn was charged with destruction of city property and violations of other city personnel rules, department personnel rules and general orders, including allegations of willful and negligent misconduct.
Horn was unable to bring Riley into the station because he was interviewing witnesses and needed access to his computer. Riley would have either been with him in the office, causing a distraction to the witnesses, or Riley would have been in a separate room, where he would have been exposed to other officers, with potential detrimental affects to his training.
It should be noted that all of the other dog handlers in the department stated that they would leave their K9s from anywhere to one-half hour to 1 ½ hours or longer under similar circumstances. The sergeant in the unit indicated that he would leave his dog up to one-half hour under these circumstances. There were no rules or regulations, nor any training provided the officers regarding how to handle these situations. However, everyone agreed that the dogs were routinely left unattended in patrol vehicles and it was at the officer’s discretion whether to bring them into the station, or leave them at home. If the dogs were left at home, they would not be available for certain law enforcement actions that could arise during the course of the shift. Marv Gangloff, who trains many police K9s, stated that it would be common sense for dogs to be checked periodically. However, nobody could define exactly what “periodically” means.
At the Skelly hearing, I raised to Police Chief Russ Thomas the new amendments to Section 597.7 of the Penal Code, which prohibits leaving an animal in an unattended motor vehicle in conditions that endanger its health or well-being due to heat, cold or lack of ventilation, food, water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering or death to the animal.
While the department was familiar with this section, and no doubt thought that this added justification to their action against Horn, the reason for citing the statute was that the section contained legislative findings that even a vehicle’s windows left slightly open, outside temperatures of 85° can cause a temperature of 102° within a vehicle within 10 minutes, and up to120° within one-half of an hour. The section says that a healthy dog whose normal body temperature ranges from 101° to 102.5° can withstand a body temperature of only 107° to 108° for a short period of time before suffering brain damage or death.
The point of citing this section was to demonstrate that the practice of each and every Merced K9 officer, including a sergeant, could have led to the death of their K9s within the time frames that they used for checking on animals’ well being. They were all dependent upon the vehicle continuing to run and provided the animal with air conditioning. If any one of them had the misfortune of leaving their vehicle and the air conditioning fail shortly thereafter, they would have returned to a dead animal.
Based on the previous scenario and the fact that the department had no training and no written procedures regarding care of the K9s under these circumstances, it became apparent that the action against Officer Horn was without merit.
Moreover, at the Skelly hearing I pointed out that Horn had complained to the department that he had been required to leave his dog for three hours at a time, relying only on the air conditioner of his car. Additionally, Horn had, for several years, requested that the “bail out and hot dog” package be purchased and installed by the department.
The bail out and hot dog package is now becoming standard in departments. The equipment ensures that if the patrol vehicle becomes dangerously hot, the windows automatically roll down, a fan begins to blow in the car and the officer is automatically paged that his/her K9 is in trouble. The door of the vehicle can be remotely popped open to allow the K9 to escape the patrol car.
The bail out and hot dog package, which costs less than $1,000 a vehicle, was not purchased by the city. The equipment seems like an obvious solution to protect the valuable lives of the animals that are so well trained. However, it turns out that the department had purchased fans for its vehicles, but the City Corporation’s Yard failed to install them, asserting that they would create too much of a drain on the electrical system of the patrol cars. There was no way to explain, however, how numerous other departments with standard patrol vehicles were able to withstand the entire bail out and hot dog package in addition to their light bars, computers and other equipment.
I pointed out to Chief Thomas that in the absence of training and procedures, and given the practices of the other officers in the department, it would be grossly unfair to hold Horn accountable for the loss of his K9. Moreover, if there was any negligence, it was on the part of the city in failing to install the basic equipment that is now becoming standard to protect K9s.
Chief Thomas was extremely troubled by the loss of the K9, but, to his credit, he revoked the punitive action in its entirety. Horn expresses his gratitude to Chief Thomas for keeping an open mind and being fair despite the emotions surrounding this incident. He also thanks LDF for standing behind him, and his fellow officers who also supported him through this ordeal.
About the author: Gary Messing is a partner in the Sacramento office of Carroll, Burdick & McDonough. He has been representing law enforcement officers for over 30 years.
PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.
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To whom it may concern: Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the opportunity to join the PORAC Legal Defense Fund. This is a great benefit for our membership. During the past twelve months I was fortunate to have access to the Legal Defense Fund through MPCA. Earlier this year I was both surprise, and disappointed, when realized that I needed to provide counsel to mediate pending litigation. In accessing the Legal Defense Fund I found your staff to be very professional and reassuring. The staff felt that [my representative]., would be the best ft for the situation. I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation for being represented by [Rick Barry]. Not only was he a good fit for the circumstances, at times it seemed as if he was the only attorney out of several involved that really had a grasp on the issues. Again, I would like to thank the PORAC staff, and know that I could not have been better served than by what was provided by [my representative].
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I so appreciated my LDF rep - his kindness and understanding re my case during an embarrassing and uncomfortable time - he was so caring.
- Tai Pena-Hornung Oakland POA
Those who foolishly feel LDF is not a valuable resource, do so only because they have not yet needed legal representation.
- Tia Dixione Inglewood POA
My representative was very helpful and informative.
- Craig Caches Fremont POA
I have only used LDF once for myself, which with the circumstance was great. I work with LDF in my assignment ( OIS investigator ) and after approximately 4-5 OIS's, I have great experiences with LDF.
- William Burdette Newport Beach PMA
26 years and I have never needed a LDF rep, but the one time you need one, it was worth the fee’s paid.”
- Jonathan Smith San Diego D.A. Investigators
I couldn't be happier or more satisfied with my LDF Representative, the process and the outcome of my case.
- Kevin Hullquist Siskiyou Co. Correctional POA
[My representative] did a good job representing me. Kept me informed.
- David Heller Yolo County DSA
The charges against me, if sustained, would have likely ended my LE career. I was rightfully exonerated on all charges. I was well represented by [My Representative] and thank him for a job well done!!
- Grace Castro AFGE Local 2455 – Laredo, TX
My representative was very kind and showed he cared when explaining what my legal rights were when dealing with an internal investigation.
- Andrew Hill Statewide University PA
I have used this law firm for union related business for the last several years. It was a no brainer to call them for LDF.
- Emery Eccle Culver City POA
LDF is THE most important asset / resource that police officers have. "Thank you" to all involved and keep up the good work!
- Aaron Delgado Monterey POA
My representative called me back promptly and kept me informed. I had the impression she cared and was there to help.
- Rick Stephens Alpine CO DSA
My representative was very good. I highly recommend my lawyer to anyone.
- Steven Moorehouse Redding POA
Thank you for your help.
- Kip RIngen Lake Co DSA
My LDF rep kept me well informed concerning the progress of my case. I was extremely satisfied with the service I received. Thanks.
- John Tinder Chino POA
Having an LDF attorney who is experienced, knowledgeable and professional is an outstanding quality. [My representative ]exhibit all of these qualities and more. They are outstanding and I would not entrust my career to anyone else!
- Gilbert Salazar Montebello POA
Can’t say enough. Both representatives that I had in 2016 were excellent. ( My attorney ) made himself available to me in late night hours, which made me feel comfortable and at ease. This program is essential to us in law enforcement.
- Rachael Van Sloten Oakland POA
LDF is absolutely essential to help make a system that is somewhat broken work more effectively. [My Representative] is excellent and takes a great deal of time to lisen and represent.
- Korey Lankow Assn Highway Patrol of Arizona
Outstanding service from bottom-to-top.
- Brad Young Oakland POA
[ My representative ] is an awesome attorney.
- Joseph Barrett LA Airport POA
I was very well represented by a professional. I felt well represented and got great advice.
- Andrea Salas Sonoma County DSA
[My Representative] was great! Thank you.
- Sean Tinney Berkeley PA
[My representative] was very attentive to my case and thorough with his investigation. I would request [him] again in the future.
- Brent Teasley ERS/Reno PSAEA
[ My representative ] was bogged down with multiple cases when he represented me, but I feel he did an excellent job. I would not have wanted anyone else to represent me during a very troublesome time.
- Phillip Flores Oxnard POA
My attorney was excellent. I would use her again.
- Jay Garacochea Culver City POA
[My representative] not only did he do a great job but he listened to my concerns. He did not force his views or game plan and we worked well w/ each other. We agreed on a goal and achieved it.
- Jeff Stanley Upland POA
Excellent representation. [My representative] is a great attorney.
- Juan Pascua, Jr. San Diego Co DSA
Very helpful and very informative!
- Raymond Fisher Colorado State Patrol Assn
I have known for sometime that PORAC would provide the services I needed at the time I needed them. This is a professional competent organization prepared to handle the appropriate legal matters our officers face in today's environment.
- Nicholas Ward Antioch POA
[ Representative ] did a great job. My case was extremely complicated and difficult. She did a great job.
- Christopher Delaney Upland POA
Your rep was very personal. Even though my case involved something minor, your rep made me [feel] my case was his most important. I am very satisfied with my LDF team.
- Jon Seabron Oceanside POA
[My Representative] was the best and if I ever need to call al lawyer again for anything, I'll be calling her.
- Jurell Snyder Oakland POA
My LDF representative had a power point presentation, which was extremely professional.
- Derwin Longmire Oakland POA
Outstanding [law firm] - incredible firm. And, LDF was easy to work and correspond with.
- George Fierro El Monte POA
I am a firm believer that LDF serves an essential part in the assistance to protect an officer's POBR & in the integrity of an investigation or complaint. I highly recommend the law office of [My Represenative].
- Adam Laird Eureka POA
Dear PORAC Legal Defense Fund, This email has been weighing on my heart and should have been sent a long time ago. However, time seems to move fast even though your life has been put on hold. I have been on administrative leave since December of 2012. In April of 2013, I was arrested for the performance of my duties. Since the administrative side this case has not been resolved, I won't be getting into specific details regarding my case. However, I will say that I never thought that my life would turned upside down by doing the job that I love, and doing it in a way that I had been trained. I have been in Law Enforcement for 10 years, and I have been paying my monthly dues all along. I never really understood how important paying dues might be for me, I just thought it was the "cost of business". After being arrested, I understood the real worth of that investment. Because of politics, my case was given the "full court press". On January 3rd of 2014, the case against me was dismissed. It took no less than 5 experts to convince the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office to request dismissal. The time, effort, and money that this case cost couldn't have been endured by me as the sole provider of a family of four. LDF was there, big time. The panel attorney's under LDF were the best in the business. In the uncertain time during the criminal process, I couldn't have imagined how much help they could be. What a relief to know that LDF had my back. I am used to defending those who can't defend themselves. That's my job. When I was defenseless, LDF and the attorneys assigned to my case were my advocates and defenders. I thank you. My criminal attorney said it best at the conclusion of my criminal case: "Adam and his family are thankful that they can now move forward. The evidence showing Sgt. Laird was innocent was overwhelming. The expert EPD hired said that the suspect was rising up when Sgt. Laird pushed him back to the ground. The two experts that the DA’s office hired said that the force was reasonable and appropriate. The defensive tactics instructor who trained Adam said he acted consistent with his training in apprehending a high risk suspect in a dangerous situation. In total, five separate police practices experts reviewed the case and unanimously said Sgt. Laird acted appropriately". "It is hard to imagine what it must be like to risk your life apprehending a known gang member only to be charged with using excessive force when the suspect stated that he did not even feel the contact at issue. It is simply bizarre that Sgt. Laird was ever charged with a crime". Thank you. My family and I will forever be grateful for your service, Sergeant Adam Laird
- Dan Lovelace Chandler LEA
Thank you for the funding and support. I would be in jail right now if it were not for LDF. I would not have had the funding to pay for the case. It was a tremendous help having [my representative] and his support team and the many experts supplied by LDF. I speak for myself, my family and other members of my association.
- Kim Jasper Alhambra POA
Excellent service, prompt and courteous.
- Micheal Chad Heiser Santa Rosa POA
LDF is a valuable resource that no law enforcement officer should be without.
- Clyde Williams San Diego Harbor POA
Thank you for all of the work related to my officer involved shooting case.
- Gregory Carbett Ontario POA
The attorney assigned to my case was GREAT! It's sad, but it's impossible to be an officer in today's world without a defense fund like PORAC LDF. I am now retired and signed up for the retired officers CCW LDF. Thanks!
- Greg Harman Kensington POA
[My representative] is the best!!
- Steven Curtiss Shasta Co DSA
This was my first need for LDF support and I was very happy with the level of service. Thank you.
- Marshall Henderson Vancouver Police Officers Guild
I have used LDF in 3 OIS's. Each time I have been very well taken care of. I highly recommend [ representative ] and the PORAC system. Well done and thank you.
- Melissa Geraci Oakland POA
This is my 1st time using LDF and was very pleased with the service I got. [My representative] was so friendly & always returned my calls & even called to update me without provocation.