Killing a law enforcement canine or horse in Florida will now come with a more severe penalty, up to triple the prison time. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law Wednesday flanked by officers and their four-legged partners.
Officer Matt Herrera was partners with Fang, who was killed in September of last year. He was emotional as he recalled the pursuit that led to Fang’s killing.
“We went to try to get the bad guy. Just like every time, I pulled Fang out the door – ‘Go get him buddy.’ And that was the last thing I said to him,” Herrera said. “He went out of my sight, doing what he loved, going to get the bad guy. And three gun shots rang out, followed by a yelp by my dog. And that was the last noise he ever made.”
Debbie Johnson founded the nonprofit K9s United. The killing of Jacksonville police canine Fang, who was shot while pursuing a carjacker, inspired her to push for what became a new state law this week.
“The passing of this bill says that we stand behind these loyal and brave four-legged officers,” Johnson said. “It says that we value their service, and keeping our community safe.”
Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill in the Capitol Courtyard, surrounded by a group of law enforcement officers – some of whom had lost their canines on the job.
“The bill I’ll be signing today increases the penalty for intentionally and knowingly causing great bodily harm to a police, fire or search and rescue canine or police horse, to a second degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine,” DeSantis explained.
The Governor, too, says he has worked closely with service animals in the military.
“When I was in active duty and deployed in Iraq, we had made use of canines in some very difficult situations,” DeSantis said.
Officer Herrera says the man responsible for killing Fang still has not been sentenced for his crimes. But, Herrera adds he thinks the heftier penalty will make suspects think twice in the future.
“We subsequently got the suspect in custody. He is awaiting trial, and awaiting justice. I hope this bill never even has to get used. Honestly I do,” Herrera said. “But I can tell you right now that the penalty being stiffer, I hope, will make somebody think twice before they put another bullet in a canine’s head.”
Senator Aaron Bean says talking with Officer Herrera made him all the more pleased to see harsher penalties go into effect.
“Officer Herrera, I got a moment to spend time with him this morning – it’s truly, it’s just sad. And I’m sorry that happened, that Fang was executed for no reason,” Bean said. “So, today we’re going to take steps to make sure that if you do harm an animal – whether it be a K9 officer or a horse, don’t forget horses, they’re here as well, that you will be held accountable for your actions.”
The new law will go into effect in October.