A Columbia police dog handler has been suspended without pay for five days after his dog died from the heat while sitting in a vehicle more than six hours.
The department announced the death last month of two-year-old yellow lab “Turbo,” but it did not give details until finishing an investigation.
Police Chief Skip Holbrook said Master Police Officer David Hurt left Turbo in his car for six hours while attending active shooter training. While Hurts left the car’s rear windows down and air conditioning powered on, he also turned off the car’s heat alarm.
“It’s installed in order to activate when the temperature reaches a certain setting,” Holbrook told reporters in a Thursday press conference. “Upon activation, the vehicle’s horn will go off, lights will flash, the windows go down and the fans come on.”
Holbrook said Hurt had asked another officer to check on Turbo roughly three hours into the training at C.A. Johnson High School. The other officer said the dog seemed okay However, Hurts returned to the car several hours later to find Turbo panting heavily, with foam coming from his mouth.
Turbo was later euthanized after suffering organ failure. The lab had worked as an explosives-detection K9 officer for seven months.
The chief said Hurt used poor judgment, but was not criminally negligent. He was suspended five days without pay and will be barred from handling another dog in the future.
Holbrook said Hurt “didn’t give any logical reason” for shutting off the heat alarm.
“He owned it, for lack of a better word,” Holbrook said. “Did not make excuses, was devastated by what happened and certainly recognizes where he failed in terms of his responsibilities as a K-9 handler.”
Holbrook said the police department has made several changes in response to Turbo’s death. The department will now bar its officers from turning off a car’s heat alarm while a K9 is inside and must check on the dog each hour if they must leave it behind.