Civilian Attack in Knoxville, Tenn., Prompts Review of Kenneling for Police Dogs

Elko was wet and scared when he darted through a gap in a kennel created by a violent thunderstorm and began roaming a Campbell County subdivision.

In the veteran Knoxville Police Department K-9's confusion, authorities think, he sought out the first familiar sight he encountered – a passing Mercury Marquis that looks similar to the Ford Crown Victoria police cars he rode in and worked around.

Elko, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, trotted up to the open garage door as 70-year-old Gora Watts emerged from her car at her Jacksboro, Tenn., home. Watts, who had never seen the dog, clapped her hands, waved her arms and yelled to shoo him away.

"Her behavior is probably something the dog perceived as aggressive," said Harold "Ben" Bennett, president of the North American Police Work Dog Association. "If she had just closed the garage door, the dog would have left."

Elko charged Watts in her garage, sinking his teeth into her right shoulder and arm and forcing her to the concrete floor, causing injuries to other parts of her body. He was shot to death shortly after.

The 3 p.m., June 9 attack on Watts has spurred a $450,000 lawsuit, a KPD internal affairs probe, a review by police of its canine unit policies and a national police dog organization's questioning if it should create standards for kenneling of the trained animals at officers' homes.

Fred Watts came to his wife's aid that day, grabbing a tree trimming pole to beat Elko 20-25 times. Elko ran into the yard, and continued prowling around the Wattses' yard. Fred Watts closed the garage door and used a curtain to stem the flow of blood from his wife's tattered shoulder.

Campbell County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jason Heatherly was the first officer to arrive at the Wattses' home.

"While I was in the garage the dog came back up to the garage door but did not cross into the threshold area of the garage," Heatherly told KPD Lt. Kenny Miller, who conducted an internal probe of Elko's escape.

"At that point I stood and drawed my weapon in case the dog did come back into the garage and try to attack again. I walked toward the dog and the dog backed off into the yard."

Heatherly said he got his shotgun from his cruiser "because it's a better weapon" and "stayed out in the driveway with the dog." Elko continued walking around the yard and at one point was within five feet of Heatherly.

Heatherly, just as the Wattses, didn't realize Elko lived about 100 yards away on the same street where it was kept by its handler, KPD officer Jonathan Chadwell. No one was at home at the Chadwell residence when the kennel was shifted about three feet by the storm.

"The dog was just walking back and forth," Heatherly said. "He never was aggressive towards me."

Heatherly noted in his interview with Miller that he owned a Belgian Malinois, the same breed as Elko, and he knew "how to deal with 'em."

During the postattack confusion, Fred Watts got on a balcony of his home and fired two rounds from a handgun at Elko. Fred Watts told officers he was unsure if he struck the dog, but he noted "it kind of limped" afterward.

An examination later showed the rounds had struck Elko in the rear right knee and the lower right side of his body.

About 15 minutes after Heatherly's arrival, Campbell County Animal Control officer Otis Poore pulled up. After speaking with Heatherly, Poore grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun loaded with turkey shot and searched for Elko. Poore found the dog on the side yard of the house. He noted the dog had no tags, just a choker chain on his neck.

"The dog saw me and started running toward me and I had no other choice but to shoot it," Poore told the News Sentinel. He fired a single round from a distance of about 30 feet. The blast caught Elko in the chest and the dog immediately dropped.

CONSEQUENCES

Elko's escape and attack was a "worst nightmare scenario" for police dog handlers at KPD.

"We've talked about, you know, our worst nightmare scenario would be for the animal to get away and injure somebody," KPD Sgt. Will Wilson, who oversees the canines, told an internal affairs investigator.

About half of KPD's 13 police dogs are housed in kennels at their handlers' homes, Wilson said. Under policy, each handler must pay for his or her own kennel.

Wilson noted that no one inspects the kennel to ensure adequate construction, and that KPD has no "home care standards" for canines.

"In retrospect, after this incident, I'm thinking that might be something we look at for policy," he said. Wilson, however, said that after looking at Elko's kennel, he would have approved it as reasonable.

KPD officer Darrell Sexton, training coordinator for the K-9 unit, agreed that the agency needs to establish standards for home kennels. Sexton said he inspected Chadwell's 10-foot-by-10-foot kennel after the attack and would have approved it.

KPD's internal probe concluded that Chadwell "utilized appropriate equipment in a reasonable manner to ensure his K-9 would remain safe and secure in an adequate enclosure."

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch, however, has ordered a more comprehensive review.

"I've set up a critical incident team to review the incident to see if we have to revise our policies," Rausch said.

The chief noted that the agency is in the early stages of a $2.6 million, multiyear capital plan to build a new K-9 facility. Rausch said that while investigating the Elko attack he learned there are no national canine standards on housing the dogs.

Rausch said the International Police Work Dog Association, which KPD is a member of, has no such standards. Bennett, president of the North American Police Work Dog Association, said there are no home kennel standards for its 3,000 members.

"Now that you've brought this up, it might be something that we need to look at," Bennett said.

"It's unusual that when one gets out, it would attack somebody," added Bennett, a former Norfolk, Va., Police Department officer who has been involved with police dogs for 40 years. "Usually they run around and then come back home.

"It sounds like the dog was a little confused. I don't see gross negligence. But the lady deserves to be compensated for her injuries."

Blount County Sheriff James Berrong said the seven to nine canines in his department are housed at officers' homes. Blount County builds the kennels and there have been no canine escapes since he took over the department in 1994.

The Knox County Sheriff' s Office has the same situation for its 16 canines, according to Assistant Chief Bobby Spangler. The county builds a kennel at the handler's home. In his 20 years of involvement with police dogs, Spangler said he recalls one escape of a canine, which chewed through a kennel fence before the department adopted a stronger gauge wire.

Rausch said the department already had replaced Elko and added two more police dogs, bringing the total of canines at KPD to 15. Elko initially cost $ 4,500.

Chadwell, however, is no longer a canine handler. He has since been promoted to sergeant, making him ineligible as a handler.

Rausch struggled when asked if Elko would have been permitted back into the KPD canine ranks if the dog had not been killed in Jacksboro.

"That's a tough one to answer," the chief said. "We would have reviewed the situation."

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