A New Orleans police dog left unattended in a police vehicle in late May died from shock likely associated with heat stroke, after ripping up the car's seats in a desperate attempt to get out, according to a report obtained by the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Primo, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, collapsed at a veterinarian's clinic with a temperature of 109.8 degrees, a necropsy report by the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory shows.
Later transferred to the Southeast Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Clinic in Metairie, Primo got emergency treatment, but died after suffering three seizures, according to the report obtained by the Crime Commission, an independent law enforcement oversight group.
A dog's body temperature, under normal conditions, is slightly higher than a human's, with medical texts warning that dogs need to be immediately cooled off if temperatures rise above 105 degrees.
Photographs of the K-9 unit SUV where Primo was reportedly left by officer Jason Lewis, also obtained by the Crime Commission, offer evidence of the distress experienced by the dog while left inside the car. The dog, a trained member of the New Orleans Police Department, tore up both of the front seats of the SUV. The photos show the seats were reduced to chunks of yellow foam and fabric.
Police Department procedures generally bar direct media contacts with officers, and Lewis couldn't be reached for comment Monday.
"Those photos confirm the horrible and excruciating death this animal suffered, " said Rafael Goyeneche, the president of the Crime Commission.
Goyeneche said Primo's death should be investigated for possible criminal charges and referred the case, along with the details of two other recent dog deaths within the K-9 unit, to the Orleans Parish district attorney's office to consider under a state cruelty to animals statute.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said his office is investigating the incidents, declining to comment further.
Bob Young, police spokesman, said the department's Public Integrity Bureau is investigating the circumstances of Primo's death. If investigators believe there is a possible criminal case, they will refer their findings to the DA's office, he said.
But Young noted that while the necropsy report found a likely cause of death was "shock due to heat stress, " the medical examination did not definitively find that the temperature inside the vehicle caused the heat-related symptoms. While Young acknowledged that the dog was left unattended in the vehicle, he said the report could not rule out the possibility that another medical problem caused the dog to overheat.
But Goyeneche said it lacks common sense to leave an animal in a car in late May. Temperatures at Louis Armstrong International Airport peaked at 88 degrees on May 27, the day of the incident.
"Police officers are supposed to treat these dogs as their partners, " Goyeneche said.
Often mistaken for the German shepherd, the Belgian Malinois is an agile sheep-herding dog, elegant in its build but known for its strength and high energy. Like the shepherd, it is popular as a military and police working dog. The NOPD often uses members of its K-9 unit to search buildings believed to be harboring dangerous suspects.
The Police Department spends thousands of dollars buying and training such animals.
A transfer list obtained from the city Civil Service Department shows that on June 21, Lewis was transferred from the K-9 unit to the 2nd District. Young said Lewis asked for the transfer.
The death of Primo occurred about the same time as two other deaths within the K-9 unit, according to the Crime Commission. A dog named Phantom died after plunging down an elevator shaft during a training exercise at the Charity Hospital building, while another dog, Carlos, died from heartworms, Goyeneche said in his letter to the DA's office.
The NOPD is not investigating the death of Carlos, who was 14 and died of a heart attack, Young said. But Public Integrity investigators are looking into the circumstances around the elevator-shaft death, he said.
During the search training exercise, the dog was able to squeeze through a small opening in an elevator door. Phantom was on a long leash, held by a handler, but the K-9 officers were not able to save him after he dropped into the shaft, Young said. The ring that held the leash to the dog's collar snapped, allowing the dog to fall, he said.
Young said the recent deaths have been felt within the K-9 unit.
"For these dog handlers, that is their partner. It is very traumatic to them also, " he said.
Indeed, dogs trained to work with law enforcement agencies are considered official members of the department, typically living with their human partners when not on the job. Intentionally injuring or killing a police animal is a crime punishable under Louisiana law with a minimum of one year jail time. The cruelty to animals statute, a misdemeanor, applies to all animals. It can be applied to people who mistreat an animal through criminal negligence, and can result in jail time or fines.
There are currently nine dogs in the K-9 unit, including seven experienced animals and two in training.
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Click to view image: 'Torn interior of crusier'
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