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Euthanized dog spent hours in hot car; no felony case planned

Veronica M. Cruz, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson –

A Department of Public Safety K-9 euthanized in mid-July was left in a hot patrol car for longer than initially reported, a recently obtained document shows.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office will not pursue felony charges against Officer Korey Lankow, the dog’s handler, but Lankow could still face misdemeanor charges.

In a letter dated Aug. 9 from the County Attorney’s Office to DPS Director Robert Halliday, Chief Criminal Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson cites information from a criminal investigation by the Tucson Police Department showing that Jeg, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was left in a squad car for nearly three hours on July 11.

DPS initially said Lankow left Jeg in a squad car while switching vehicles at the department’s headquarters at 6401 S. Tucson Blvd., realized the mistake while on his way to a crash on Interstate 19, and immediately turned back to rescue the dog an hour later.

But the letter says Lankow began his shift at 9:30 a.m. and was using a patrol car while his regular vehicle, a Chevrolet Tahoe, was being serviced. When Lankow arrived at DPS headquarters, the Tahoe was ready and he moved his belongings between the vehicles, cleaned part of the Tahoe, spoke to co-workers and put gas in the vehicle. Jeg remained in the first car that was left running, the letter says.

Lankow turned off and locked the first car and thought he had moved Jeg into the Tahoe.

When he left headquarters, Lankow logged on to a call about a rollover on Interstate 19 at 10:32 a.m.

While at the scene, a paramedic asked Lankow for information about the vehicle involved in the wreck. Lankow told the paramedic the information was in the Tahoe and made a joke that the dog may bite, the letter says.

The paramedic got the information from a computer in the Tahoe and looked in the back. The paramedic told detectives he thought he saw a dog in the Tahoe, the letter says.

Lankow left the scene at 10:55 a.m., spent an hour on patrol on Nogales Highway, gave warnings to two motorists and realized he needed more warning books. He went back to state DPS headquarters for more supplies, parked the Tahoe and left it running while he went inside.

When he returned to the car, Lankow did not see the K-9 stand up, looked in the SUV and realized Jeg was missing, the letter says.

Lankow was “puzzled and thought Jeg had somehow escaped from the car,” the letter says. Lankow then realized he left Jeg in the first car, got back in the Tahoe and drove across the parking lot where the car was parked. Lankow took Jeg out of the car and called for help at 12:17 p.m.

Paramedics took Jeg to a veterinary hospital where he was treated overnight, but DPS officials and veterinarians decided to euthanize Jeg the following day.

A necropsy showed Jeg “suffered from heat stress that caused trauma to his internal organs,” the letter said.

The County Attorney’s Office declined to pursue felony charges against Lankow.

“The evidence in this case clearly demonstrates that Officer Lankow was completely unaware of the fact that he had left Jeg in the (first) car,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “The evidence indicates that he believed Jeg was in the Tahoe when he left the Department of Public Safety headquarters. Because his conduct was not intentional or knowing, there is no evidence that Officer Lankow committed felony animal cruelty.”

Tucson City Prosecutor Baird Greene received the case from the County Attorney’s Office Aug. 9. The City Attorney’s Office will determine if misdemeanor charges will be filed against Lankow.

“I expect a decision to be made fairly soon,” Greene said. “The officer came over on Monday to present evidence to us.”

It is standard procedure for Tucson police to present cases to the city attorney if the county attorney declines to prosecute, said Sgt. Maria Hawke, a police spokeswoman.

Lankow has returned to work and continues to patrol the highway looking for drugs, guns and illegal currency, said Officer Carrick Cook, a DPS spokesman.

Though Lankow is not currently working with a dog, he is still a dog handler, Cook said.

The DPS is still conducting an internal investigation, which is expected to last through the end of the year.

“The tricky part with …our investigation is, we have to look at policies, procedures, training and equipment and evaluate all of those aspects based on what happened with the circumstances,” Cook said.

“What they’ll end up doing is making recommendations to the department to prevent this from happening in the future.”

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