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Man bite initiates K-9 bill

March 25, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Man bite initiates K-9 bill

ANNAPOLIS - Eno was trying to subdue a man in Thurmont, Md., as part of his job with the Frederick County Sheriff's Department last week when the man took a bite out of the 3-year-old German shepherd's ear.

The man-bites-dog story is no joking matter to the dog's handler, Cpl. John Williams, who joined other police officials Tuesday in support of legislation that would impose civil penalties on people who harm police dogs. The proposal is before a Maryland General Assembly committee.

Attacks on a police dog are nothing new for Williams, a 26-year police veteran who has seen a dog stabbed and struck in the head with a hammer during his career as a K-9 officer.

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"There's probably more of them (attacks) than what we're aware of," Williams said.

Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Bill Blair described an incident that took place several years ago in which a suspect tried to strangle a Hagerstown City Police dog by pulling its chain collar tight.

"This is not an uncommon thing," Blair said.

It can cost $15,000 to $20,000 to purchase and properly train a police dog, police officials said. Replacing one of the canines can take months.

"There has to be a way to reimburse the state the tax dollars that go down the drain," said Sgt. Randy Mishler, assistant K-9 commander for the state Division of Correction at the prison complex south of Hagerstown.

The legislation, sponsored by Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, would make a person liable for the purchase, care and training costs of a replacement dog if the person, while committing a crime, kills or harms a police dog.

Police officers who attended the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee said they ultimately would like some type of criminal penalty attached to harming a police dog, but will start with civil fines.

The same bill failed in the Judiciary Committee by one vote last year. In response, police officers have been telling panel members about the need for preventing attacks against police dogs, Mishler said.

"It's not a loss only to us. It's a community loss," he said.

It was Williams' appeal that was the most dramatic. He told of a March 16 incident in which a man took hostages in a Thurmont store and then lunged at officers after negotiations broke down.

The suspect battled with police and two dogs for several minutes. At one point, the suspect put Eno in a head lock and bit off a piece of the dog's ear, Williams said.

Eno, who hails from the Czech Republic, did not let the attack stop him from doing his duty.

"He just stayed there and performed the job he was trained to do, and that was to protect us," Williams said. Eno was treated for his injury and is recovering.

In that incident, Harry William "Billy" Shuff Jr., 30, was charged with numerous offenses, including assault, false imprisonment, resisting arrest, animal cruelty and felonious malicious destruction of sheriff's office property.

Poole said the Thurmont incident could help the legislation's chances this year.

"If man bites dog, there ought to be a new day for the bill," he said.

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