Nearly a year ago, a high-ranking Miami-Dade K9 officer's dog died during a training exercise. Although the incident report said that Sgt. Allen Cockfield tried to save his dog, anonymous e-mails began circulating almost immediately telling another story: that Cockfield had kicked his 4-year-old German shepherd, Duke, to death in a fit of rage.
He was finally charged today with animal cruelty and killing a police dog. Through his lawyer, he denied the charges. Click here for the story.
I did a lot of reporting on this case last year, much of which didn't make it into the story as you'll see it on the website or in tomorrow's Herald because of limited space, so I'll share some of it here:
"Miami-Dade Police Department's first two K9s joined the department in 1972 and were assigned to detect explosives at Miami International Airport.
There are now 14: eight Belgian Malinois, four German shepherds, a bloodhound, a Dutch shepherd, and a Belgian Tervuren used for drug, explosives, and human-remains detection, suspect searches, and trailing.
Duke was one of three dogs that the department requisitioned in late 2005. He cost $8,500 and was delivered on Feb. 25, 2006, by Tony Guzman of Metro-Dade Canine Services in the Redland, a long-time dog vendor to the county and other South Florida departments.
Duke was trained for ''felony apprehension and would have eventually cross-trained for explosives,'' according to police spokesman Roy Rutland. He was the fourth dog assigned to Cockfield in 21 years.
The day he died, Duke was training at Range 3, a grassy area at the training bureau. The activies were ''obedience control work,'' according to Rutland. ''No decoy or biting with suits or sleeves'' were being used.
Tissue samples from the dead dog were sent to a Antech Diagnostics, a laboratory on Long Island.
Following Duke's death, an anonymous e-mail was sent to various county agencies, animal-welfare organizations and media outlets, alleging that Cockfield had killed his dog and describing in detail what the writer said happened that day.
''Duke was on a leash at his partner's side. He barked at a time when his partner, Sgt. Cockfield, did not want him to. He was then strung up by his neck and kicked repeatedly. Duke let out a prolonged yelping cry, shook and went
limp. When put down on the ground he died IMMEDIATELY.''
Russ Hess is executive director of the USPCA: United States Police Dog Association. The retired chief of the Jackson Township (Ohio) Police Department spent 15 years as a K9 handler.
''The only reason to kick a dog is self-preservation, if a dog is attacking the handler,'' said Hess. ''If it's out of control trying to hurt the handler, it's the same as if [the handler] is fighting a person. But as a training method, I don't see that.''
Hess said that USPCA formed in 1970 because there were no national police K9 training standards, and there still aren't, though many departments use the group's methods and curricula. The State of Florida mandates 400 training hours for all K9 handlers.''
NOTE to the anonymous e-mailer, if you just happened to be reading this: You must feel vindicated, which is small comfort given the fate of poor Duke.
I'll keep everyone posted on developments in the case.