Bill to increase penalties for killing police K-9s passes committee unanimously

Former police K-9 "Tess" attends a committee hearing regarding a bill to increase punishments for intentionally and knowingly killing a police dog.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Committee has unanimously passed S.B. 57, a bill that would enhance the penalties for killing police K-9 officers.

Under current Utah law, killing a police K-9 is a third-degree felony. If the bill is enacted into law, to intentionally or knowingly cause death to a police K-9 would become a second-degree felony.

To help put the bill into perspective, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jani Iwamoto (R-Salt Lake City), mentioned several crimes classified as second-degree felonies.

“There are a myriad of acts that constitute second-degree felonies from different sections of different codes. This legislation is not attempting, nor could it attempt, to address each code section or offense. However, what is clear under current law: theft over $5,000, wanton destruction, injury of livestock valued over $5,000, graffiti violations with damage over $5,000, mail theft with value over $5,000, et cetera. These are second-degree felonies,” Iwamoto said.

Law enforcement officers from the Unified Police Department and the Utah County Sheriff’s Office testified in the committee meeting Wednesday, where they related stories to demonstrate the value and life-saving merits of police K-9s. Among those was Lt. Chad Reyes of the Unified Police Department, who said two of the department’s K-9s saved his life.

“It’s without a doubt that had it not been for ‘Aldo,’ Sgt. Lovado’s former police K-9 partner and my dog, ‘Dingo,’ I wouldn’t be here today to testify,” Reyes said.

Reyes and Officer Luis Lovato, also of Unified Police, spoke about the deaths of Aldo  and Dingo, who were both fatally shot in the line of duty.

“Aldo was able to locate a wanted fugitive who laid in wait with a handgun, ready to ambush and certainly kill us. Aldo located Shane Anderson and engaged him, ultimately taking a bullet intended for me,” Lovato said.

Deputy Mike Graff brought his former K-9 partner, “Tess,” with him to Wednesday’s committee meeting. Tess suffered a gunshot wound to the head in August 2017 as officers were involved in a shootout with a carjacking suspect.

Tess was taken by ambulance to a care facility in St. George, then by helicopter to another in Las Vegas, where she was treated without the use of surgery. Tess’ injuries resulted in her retirement as a police K-9, but she survived and remains in Graff’s care. Graff, who worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at the time, is now employed by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

Watch FOX 13 News and for updates.