Deputies investigate death of K-9 in hot patrol car

K-9 Robbie's handler shot, killed another retired K-9 in 2008

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – After a police dog died in the back of his handler's patrol car, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office said it is investigating the K-9's death, but not his handler.

K-9 Robbie, who died from heat exhaustion, was one of nine K-9s in the Sheriff's Office, deputies said.

He died Friday, and deputies are investigating how he died.

“The whole incident is traumatic, not only for Deputy (Tommy) Willcox, but the family,” Lt. Brandon Kutner said. “Robbie was more than just his partner. He was a family pet.”

Deputies said Willcox and Robbie responded Friday morning to a SWAT call in Gilchrist County, but when Willcox got home after the call, he never took Robbie out of the patrol car.

“Sometime between that transpiring, he realized that Robbie may not have been taken out of the vehicle and brought into the home when he returned to the home, and that's when he discovered Robbie was in fact in the back of the vehicle and unresponsive,” Kutner said.

The Sheriff's Office said all of its K-9 vehicles are equipped to protect dogs from heat exhaustion.

“If the internal cabin temperature reaches 87 to 92 degrees, there are electronic mechanisms in place that will (activate),” Kutner said.

If it gets too hot in a K-9 vehicle, the windows will automatically roll down and the fans will come on. Then an audible alarm goes off so the deputy can hear that it’s too hot for the dog.

“The car does have to be turned on for those mechanisms to take place,” Kutner said. “At this point, although the investigation has not definitively said whether or not that's the case, based on what we know at this point, there is a high probability that the vehicle was not on at the time that Robbie expired.”

Robbie, a 6½-year-old Belgian Malinois, was the primary police dog for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office SWAT team and had been with the agency since 2010.

Before Willcox came to the Sheriff’s Office, he was a military police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He served for four years as a canine handler for the military.

Willcox has been a handler for the Sheriff's Office for 13 years, has had four K-9s and is currently the lead K-9 instructor for the Sheriff's Office.

Willcox was criticized in 2008 for fatally shooting his retired patrol dog, Kozar, whom he had adopted.

The Sheriff’s Office said 13-year-old Kozar, a German shepherd, had been having difficulty walking and was going blind. Deputies said that despite Kozar being in that condition, Willcox put on his bite suit, engaged Kozar in a training exercise and then shot and killed the dog.

“The manner in which he was euthanized caused the Sheriff's Office to revisit its policies with regards to euthanizing our animals, and at that point the sheriff mandated that any dog either in service or retired needed to be euthanized (by) a veterinarian,” Kutner said.

Willcox was placed on paid administrative leave on Monday at his own request.

“There's a possibility that there have been some policy violations. There's a possibility that statutorily this may be an issue. I don't want to speculate at this point of the investigation. That's why we are doing the investigation,” Kutner said.

Deputies said it’s too early to tell if there will be charges against the deputy and too soon to know how they will replace Robbie. 

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