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K-9 units suspended

September 15, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jerro and his partner Trooper J.A. Laing will continue working out, but for now the dog and another 11 West Virginia K-9s have been benched, pending a review of the program.

The 2-year-old black German shepherd has been with Laing since April 1996, but a dozen dogs dual-trained for narcotics detection and officer protection have been pulled from service until an independent evaluation is completed. The assessment comes after one K-9 dog ran away and bit a woman in the face and another died of heat exhaustion while inside a cruiser, a spokeswoman said.

Snoop, a dog handled by Trooper Tracy Landis, took off after a deer and was gone for two days in Kanawha County in July. Last month Snoop bit a woman who was helping load his toys and other items into a cruiser. The woman required two stitches under her left eye.

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Snoop has since been dismissed from the K-9 police dog unit.

Also in July, Robby, the drug dog in Moundsville, died after being left in a cruiser with the windows open.

Four state police narcotics dogs are still on patrol.

A Monday press release said State Police Superintendent Col. Gary L. Edgell had the dogs removed from service to "be evaluated for aggressiveness, response to commands, relationship with its handler and general nature."

Asked if the aggressiveness of the dogs is a problem, state police spokesperson Karen Ann Simsen replied, "I'd say the largest factor is the promotion and transfer of Sgt. Mayes." Mike Mayes was the head trainer for the state police until becoming an assistant detachment commander in Romney.

"There is a concern that there may be a few that are aggressive by nature," Simsen added. She said the number of dogs on patrol has tripled in two years.

"Any time you have growth in a particular program, it is wise to evaluate its direction," Edgell stated in the press release. The handlers have been instructed to continue training with the dogs.

"Jerro's never had a bad bite incident," Laing said Monday outside the Martinsburg barracks. The K-9 officer for the Eastern Panhandle, Laing said he was told to take Jerro out of service Thursday.

"There have been some critical incidents cited, particularly in the Charleston area," he added.

Last year Jerro and Laing took part in 10 tracking or search operations resulting in 23 felony and 24 misdemeanor arrests and one "bite apprehension." The dog helped find 50 pounds of marijuana and a quarter kilogram of cocaine in drug searches that resulted in nine more felony and 10 misdemeanor arrests.

Jerro was out of service for a few months while Laing's cruiser was out of operations, but in April they were back on patrol. Since then they took part in 34 operations with six arrests, one involving a bite. The dog helped uncover a handgun, clothing from a suspect in a robbery, a bicycle used as a getaway vehicle and $2,700 in drugs.

Laing said Jerro recently found two ounces of marijuana in a pickup's engine compartment that might have been missed. He said the dog could have come in handy Thursday night when two suspects wrecked stolen vehicles and fled on foot. Both suspects were eventually caught.

According to Laing, demonstrations for school children by the K-9 unit have also been put on hold. Jerro, like most of the state's K-9s, was purchased for about $6,000 through private donations, Laing said. Feeding and training for the dogs are provided by the state.

Laing said he and Jerro were recertified in March and all K-9 units must participate in four in-service training sessions each year. Until the head trainer position is filled and the independent evaluation of Jerro is done, Laing said he will be "a regular patrol officer who needs to keep in training with his dog."

While Jerro is out of service, there will still be K-9 units in the area. Martinsburg City Police have three K-9 teams, which are not under the jurisdiction of the state police.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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