JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - A Jonesboro police officer used poor decision making during an April 30 incident at the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department firing range in which a K9 officer was shot, according to findings from an internal affairs report released Wednesday by Jonesboro police.
Jonesboro police, in the report, say the incident took less than 10 seconds to happen.
“Officer Myers should have had K-9 Rocket out off-lead while at a training range where shots may be fired on the range at any given time, especially when gunfire is not considered a ‘neutral’ thing to him at this point in his training (neutral in the sense that gunfire has become a normal thing that he is used to hearing without keying in on it and responding immediately to it. This was a poor decision that ultimately lead to this evening occurring,” Jonesboro Police Department Captain Scott Baxter said of Officer Jason Myers. “K-9 handlers are required to properly control their K-9′s at all times. They are tasked with controlling the K-9′s specialized capabilities and ensuring the safety of innocent persons in their vicinity. Officer Myers failed to do that in this instance.”
The report, released to Region 8 News due to an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, provides details about the incident. In the four-page report, Baxter interviewed Sgt. John Porbeck, Patrolman Jason Myers and Detective Josh Wiiest about the incident. Officer David McDonald also gave a statement on the incident.
Porbeck was justified in using deadly force to protect himself, the report noted.
Myers received a one-day suspension as well as a written reprimand in the aftermath of the investigation.
There was also questions by the media and others about the delay in the reporting of the shooting to the public.
According to the report, Porbeck was conducting annual firearms training at the range and had sent the class to lunch, except for a couple of people including himself and Wiiest.
Wiiest was having trouble with his rifle sights and Porbeck stayed to help him.
“He said that he gave Officer Wiiest some suggestions on some adjustments to make on his sight system and while he was making those adjustments at the 25 yard line of the range, Sgt. Porbeck stepped down the line away from him to fire his handgun. He said that he was standing and Officer Wiiest was in the prone position. He made sure the line was clear and then fired the pistol he was testing. When he fired a second time, he heard quite a commotion behind him. He said that the commotion was a bunch of yelling, like a panicked yelling,” Porbeck told Baxter during a May 13 interview. “He looked over his shoulder to see K-9 ‘Rocket’ coming at him at a full speed. He said that he yelled for him to stop and even used a command that he has heard handlers commonly use, but the dog did not respond to him. He said that Rocket continued at a full run and lunged at him.”
Porbeck told Baxter that he was able to dodge the dog and that the dog missed the first time.
However, Porbeck said Rocket continued.
“Rocket then circled and was barking and he specifically remembered the drool slinging and Rocket squared off with him to re-engage again and he (Sgt. Porbeck) fired two shots, striking Rocket at least once,” the report noted.
Porbeck said while he knew Myers had the dog with him at the range and had petted the dog earlier, Porbeck did not know the dog was back out when he decided to fire the handgun he was testing.
Porbeck also said he knew Rocket “had an aggressive posture.”
“Sgt. Porbeck said he was afraid he was going to be significantly injured. He indicated that he is familiar with the possibility of a K9 attack resulting in ripped muscle or ripped tendons; potential career ending injury,” the report noted. “Sgt. Porbeck said that he had no protective gear and no other options readily available to stop the attack.”
Baxter also interviewed Myers on May 13, the report noted.
Myers said he also attended the firearms training class and brought Rocket.
When the class went to lunch, Myers said he went to the parking lot to let Rocket go to the restroom.
“He had his tug (toy) in his mouth as he headed toward the wood line in front of where he had parked. He said that he didn’t know that anyone was on the range about to fire (The range training building sets in between the parking area and the actual firing range). Officer Myers heard what he thought was a rifle shot and looked to see K-9 Rocket drop his tug out of his mouth, look toward where the shot came from and take off,” Myers told Baxter. “He said that he put his phone down, grabbed his e-collar controller and started yelling ‘OFF, OFF’ as he ran toward Rocket, then hollered at Sgt. Porbeck and said ‘coming atcha’ and the dog was already there. He said that during this, he also had cranked the e-collar up and was hitting it as well.”
Myers said he saw Porbeck turn around and come back at Rocket, yelling “PHOOEY, No Rocket!”
The dog, at first, did not engage but later broke down into a bark and hold position, the report noted.
“He believes that Rocket wouldn’t go into the ‘down’ position because he saw Sgt. Porbeck was moving and still had a gun in his hand. He described that Sgt. Porbeck started back peddling very fast and of course, Rocket wasn’t going to let any distance get in between them so he stayed moving too. He then heard two shots and when he got to them, he asked Sgt. Porbeck if he shot him and he replied ‘yeah, I had to’ and Myers grabbed his dog and took off with him to get him to the medical clinic," Myers told Baxter.
Myers also told Baxter that it appeared that Rocket was in a holding position instead of an attack position when the dog went toward Porbeck.
In the report, Myers also said the dog is trained around gunshots.
“Officer Myers said they have worked Rocket around gunfire but gunfire is not a neutral thing with Rocket yet. He said that he had no idea that anyone was going to be firing from the range on the other side of the building,” the report noted. “He said that he couldn’t see the range from where he was at on the parking lot. He thinks Rocket was in a position that he could see Porbeck when the shot was fired, however. Officer Myers said that Rocket is trained to get in a position where he can see his handler and once he got to Sgt. Porbeck, he jumped to the side to get in that position and while he has no doubt that Sgt. Porbeck thought he was still attacking, he actually was not. He said that the dog is only about a foot away when he gets into this position and is looking for a bite on the bite command."
Myers also told Baxter there was nothing that could have been done if Rocket had attacked Porbeck, noting officers should receive more training on the issue.
“Officer Myers said that Rocket did not engage Sgt. Porbeck and if he had, he would have got Sgt. Porbeck and there would have been nothing he could have done to prevent it. He said he works with the dog all the time and knew what he was doing but there is no way Sgt. Porbeck would have known or realized that,” the report noted. “Officer Myers said that officers should stand very still in a situation like this until the handler can retrieve the dog but conceded that standing still when a dog appears to be attacking you and appears to not be responding to the handler, can be extremely difficult. He added that he wished there was more opportunity to train with officers with this.”