VANCOUVER, Wash. - Clark County law enforcement honored their fallen K-9 companions on Wednesday and now have a permanent reminder of the partners they have lost.
"These K-9s are just so special," Chris Sutter, Interim Police Chief for the Vancouver Police Department, told a crowd that had gathered at the East Precinct to dedicate a plaque for fallen K-9s of Clark County. "They not only protect our community but they literally protect the lives of our officers on high risk, very dangerous calls."
And sometimes a K-9 doesn't survive one of those calls, as was the case in 2007 during a standoff in Brush Prairie, Wash. That's when Dakota, a 5-year-old German Shepherd that worked with the Vancouver Police Department, was shot and killed.
The man who shot Dakota, Ronald J. Chenette, was sentenced to life in prison in 2009. His sentence was dictated by a 'three strikes' law that locks away felons for life after three violent crimes. His first two strikes were second-degree murder (he killed a drug dealer) and second-degree assault.
The loss of Dakota was a tough one for the department and especially for Officer Roger Evans, the dog's handler. During a remembrance in 2007 following Dakota's death, Officer Evans said "Dakota, thank you for being a great partner, a friend, companion, police dog. Thank you for protecting my fellow officers and me. Thank you for being a warrior and thank you for dying a hero. Dakota, you were a good boy."
In 2008, a Milwaukie artist created a sculpture of Dakota and it was put on display at the East Precinct. But other than the police officers who work there, no one really knew what it represented.
"Up until this time when people came into our lobby they saw this wonderful sculpture and we all knew what it was for - memorializing Dakota. But the public didn't know," Chief Sutter said.
Dakota, the Vancouver Police Department K9 that was shot and killed in 2007, is seen in this file photo.
A woman who stopped by the police department a few years ago to report a suspicious call on her cell phone took a special interest in Dakota's statue and decided there should be something there to recognize the K-9, and the others that lost their lives while serving the public.
Jean Morris helped fund the creation of a plaque, which now sits next to Dakota's statue and has his picture on it, and saw the project through to its completion. At the dedication, she received an honorary plaque of her own as a thank you from the police department.
"I just feel really invested in it," she said. "I'm just so pleased with the results and so absolutely stunned that I'm getting the attention that I am."
"To have the community supporting our officers and our K-9 program means everything," Chief Sutter said. "The members of the community have helped pay for our K-9s as we have needed to replace them - sometimes due to tragic circumstances, such as the death of Dakota, but in other circumstances too."
The Vancouver Police Department has four K-9 teams. Officer Evans, who lost Dakota, now has a new K-9 partner, Eron.