DETROIT (WJBK) - A Detroit Police K-9 dog handler is under investigation after the dog died in a hot SUV earlier this summer. It was a series of failures that led to the death of Vito, a drug sniffing tracking K-9, according to police.
"It is very tragic and the officer feels terrible about this," said Cmdr. Darin Szilagy, who heads up the Detroit Police K-9 unit.
It happened on June 26. We're told the K-9 officer, who had only been paired with the donated black German Shepherd since March, placed him in the Dodge Durango parked at their training site and started the police SUV with a remote starter. The officer checked on Vito a few times to make sure the car was running, then he left with another officer to pick up a vehicle at another site.
"They were gone about 40 minutes and during that time the vehicle had shut off and the heat safety alarm system, which normally activates when the vehicle turn 95 degrees, failed to operate," Szilagy said. "At that time the windows should have came [down] and the fans turned on."
When they returned they found the K-9 barely alive inside the hot vehicle. They rushed Vito to emergency but the dog died the next day from cardiac arrest.
An investigation revealed not only were there mechanical problems with the safety devides on the vehicle but the officer did not follow policy, which says the canine must be checked on every 30 minutes. They cannot rely on safety devices alone.
"Unfortunately the officer knew there were some inconsistencies and the inconsistency wasn't reported so it could have be diagnosed," Szilagy said.
Since then, an investigation revealed inconsistencies with the entire fleet of K-9 vehicles, which is now being addressed. And the officer who has been with DPD for the last decade is awaiting a hearing to determine what discipline he will face.
"I was a K-9 handler once myself," Szilagy said. "There is no punishment that we can render that that officer doesn't already feel, I can tell you that. But we do have to ensure, through training and discipline, that this never, ever happens again."