COLUMBIA, S.C. — A police service dog died from the heat after being left in a vehicle for more than six hours. The K9 handler has been suspended without pay for five days but won’t face criminal charges, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.
Master Police Officer David Hurt had the air conditioner running, but for some unexplained reason turned off a heat alarm and left his windows open July 26. Hurt failed to even come to his vehicle to let the Labrador retriever mix named “Turbo” use the bathroom. As a result, this inaction shocked seasoned dog handlers, Holbrook said.
“He didn’t give any logical reason,” Holbrook said at a news conference.
The South Carolina chief also presented the findings of the internal investigation to prosecutors, who decided that Hurt used terrible judgment but wasn’t criminally negligent and no charges should be filed, reported WIVB.
“It was a mistake of the heart he will have to deal with the rest of his life,” said Holbrook. He didn’t terminate Hurt because he immediately took responsibility for his grievous mistake.
Hurt also will be suspended from the bomb squad and can never handle a police dog again.
Turbo was the first dog assigned to Hurt, who was selected to be a handler and went through hundreds of hours of training. The 22-month-old explosive-sniffing dog had been with Hurt for seven months.
Hurt was at a high school July 26, attending active shooter training. Consequently, he didn’t take the K9 inside because of the loud noises and crowd, according to Holbrook.
Other handlers also left K9s inside vehicles, but they all checked on their service dogs frequently, the chief said.
When Hurt returned to his vehicle at the end of the day, Turbo had white foam around his mouth and was listless. Hurt immediately recognized the dog was suffering from heat stress and took it to a veterinarian. The dog was put to sleep two days later after suffering organ failure, Holbrook said.
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The high temperature in Columbia that day was 94 degrees (34 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service. Investigators don’t know the temperature in Hurt’s vehicle because he immediately went to the vet, the police chief said.
Hurt accepted the punishment and remains heartbroken at what happened, Holbrook said. He has children who loved the dog.
“It’s like losing a partner or a family member,” the chief said. “It is devastating.”
Holbrook estimated the police department lost about $25,000 in training and other expenses from Turbo’s death.