On October 30 we published a blog post entitled “Protecting our Unsung Four-Legged Heroes” (http://wp.me/p5cvax-z). If you had the opportunity to read that post, you’ll remember that K-9 dogs face incredible dangers each and every day to protect us but we as a society do not necessarily do everything we can do to protect them. The criminal justice laws in most jurisdictions fail to adequately address (i.e. punish) those who commit heinous crimes against these animals. Today, we have some promising news to report out of Oregon and Pennsylvania, the sites of two of this year’s tragedies.
Back in April, Mick, a K-9 dog out of Portland, Oregon was killed in the line of duty. He sustained fatal gunshot wounds while trying to stop a suspect wanted in connection with a burglary. His handler, Officer Jeffrey Dorn, suffered wounds to both legs in a shootout with the suspect and credits Mick with saving his life that day. The individual arrested for killing Mick faced a multi-count indictment, including assault of a law enforcement animal and first-degree aggravated animal abuse, amongst other charges. The crime of killing an animal working in an official law enforcement capacity is a felony, albeit only a Class C felony, punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. For a bit of perspective, it is also a Class C felony in the State of Oregon to steal a chicken. Following the death of Mick, two women in Oregon have been working tirelessly to get support for a bill through a petition they created (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paws-People-for-Micks-Law/1484425531771536). The bill that is expected to be introduced to a legislative committee this week by State Sen. Arnie Roblan, would increase the punishment for killing an animal working in an official law enforcement capacity to a Class B felony, punishable by a maximum of ten years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. The proposal has been dubbed “Mick’s Law.” In related news, this past Friday, the man who murdered Mick was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his crimes (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/12/man_who_shot_portland_cop_with.html).
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the trial of the man who killed Pittsburgh police K-9 Rocco back in January 2014 is set to begin. Rocco died after suffering a 3-inch-deep stab wound that lacerated his muscle and kidney. The individual being charged for Rocco’s death also faces a litany of charges stemming from the attack including the felony of abusing a police animal and a charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty. The felony count carries a fine of up to $15,000 or up to seven years in prison, regardless of whether or not Rocco died. Following Rocco’s tragic death, a bipartisan state legislative effort strengthened those penalties. In July, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed “Rocco’s Law” that makes torturing or killing a police animal a second degree felony, punishable by a $25,000 fine and up to ten years imprisonment.
As the law currently stands in Michigan, under Section 750.50c of the Michigan Penal Code (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-750-50c), a person who kills or causes serious physical harm to a police dog can be convicted of a felony. The punishment associated with being convicted of that felony is no more than 5 years in prison and a fine of no more than $10,000. For those who feel this is insufficient, please take the time to lobby your state representatives, circulate a petition, and urge the State of Michigan to take a look at the changes being made in places such as Pennsylvania and demand that they follow suit. K-9s deserve better.
Abigail Murray and Michael Rouvina are Michigan attorneys who focus their law practice on Animal Law and Animal Companion Mediation, as well as Family Law, Probate/Estate Planning, Business Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the law firm of Murray & Rouvina, PLC in Kalamazoo, MI. You can find more information at www.zoocitylawyers.com.