By BRENT MARTIN
St. Joseph Post
Missouri lawmakers will be asked in the next legislative session to enhance the penalty for killing a police dog.
State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer of Parkville says he has been moved by the story of K-9 Max, shot and killed June 30th during a confrontation with a suspect in south St. Joseph. Luetkemeyer says the penalty for killing a police dog is too light in Missouri.
“If you do something that hurts a police dog, it’s a Class C misdemeanor and, then, if you take a police dog’s life, that’s a Class E felony,” Luetkemeyer tells St. Joseph Post. “So, for a frame of reference, there are many property damage crimes where the high-end penalty is a Class E felony. So, we’re basically treating these K-9 officers the same way that we would just a piece of personal property.”
The felony charge for killing a law enforcement animal is the lowest level of felony in Missouri, bringing a sentence of one to four years in prison.
That prompted Buchanan County Prosecutor Ron Holliday to reach for another charge in the shooting death of Max. Holliday has charged 24-year-old Valdez McDonald with Armed Criminal Action rather than shooting a police dog, because the Class E felony of killing a law enforcement animal carries a lesser penalty. Holliday points out if convicted of the Class E felony, McDonald would face a prison sentence of one to four years. If convicted of Armed Criminal Action, McDonald faces a prison term of three to 15 years, which must be served consecutive with any other sentence handed down in his case.
St. Joseph Police, including K-9 Max, arrived at 5108 Barbara Street the evening of June 30th. Police say McDonald barricaded himself inside the residence. During negotiations, McDonald is alleged to have fled out the back of the residence, where he shot K-9 Max during the pursuit. Max later died of his wounds.
McDonald initially was charged with assault, accused of beating his mother. He later was charged with Armed Criminal Action.
Luetkemeyer is drafting legislation at the request of Officer Winder who he visited with last week to offer condolences and honor Max. Luetkemeyer wants to make killing a law enforcement animal at least a Class D felony, if not a Class C.
“A Class D felony would allow an upper sentencing range of seven years in prison and a Class C felony would increase that penalty up to 10 years in prison,” according to Luetkemeyer.
Luetkemeyer says the role of a police dog should not be overlooked.
“They’re put in very dangerous situations, oftentimes situations where there would be extreme risk of physical injury or death to a law enforcement officer if they weren’t sent in,” Luetkemeyer says. “These are dogs that make a big difference. They save people’s lives. They save the lives of law enforcement officers and I think we need to be doing what we can to make sure that they are protected and that they are honored.”
Luetkemeyer says he has been touched by the response of the St. Joseph community to the killing of K-9 Max. Luetkemeyer hopes his proposed enhancement of the charge will attract support in the legislature. He hopes to name the legislation after Max.