VANCOUVER, Wash. – A transient arrested for shooting and killing a Vancouver police dog could go to prison for life under Washington state’s three-strikes law if convicted.

Ronald James Chenette, 38, is accused of harming a police dog and unlawful possession of a firearm in the shooting of Dakota, a 5-year-old German shepherd.

Although harming a police dog is a low-level felony that carries a jail term of up to a year, use of a firearm in the crime elevates it to what could be Chenette’s third strike, Deputy Prosecutor James E. David said.

Chenette has an extensive criminal history dating to 1986, including two previous strike convictions: one for second-degree murder in 1991 and one for second-degree assault in 2000. If he is convicted of killing Dakota with a gun, Chenette could be sent to prison without the possibility of parole.

Dakota was shot in the head and killed Tuesday when he was searching for a man who had gone into a wooded area of Brush Prairie.

About 1:45 p.m., someone called 911 to report a man with a gun walking along the nearby Lewis and Clark Railroad tracks, and the man was seen fleeing as deputies arrived, Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Bieber said.

The caller said the man was armed with a .357 magnum handgun and had stated he wanted to “kill a cop,” Bieber said.

Dakota was searching the wooded area when officers heard a shot about 5:10 p.m.

When the dog did not return to his handler, Officer Roger Evans of the Vancouver Police Department, police sent a second dog to search. Akbar, whose handler is Deputy Ed Bylsma, found Chenette at 5:27 p.m. and bit him, as he is trained to do. Chenette resisted but was taken into custody after being shot with a Taser.

Dakota’s body was found a short time later.

When David outlined the incident in Clark County Superior Court Wednesday, Chenette remarked, “I should have shot the second dog.”

Judge Roger A. Bennett ordered him held without bail. Chenette will be arraigned Friday.

Chenette also is being held on multiple district court accusations and warrants, including stalking, trespass, harassment and malicious mischief.

As sad as the death of a dog is, Bieber said, they are used in dangerous situations to avoid the death of an officer.

“Dakota probably saved someone’s life last night, either the officer’s or the suspect’s,” he said. “These dogs are a tool used for this very reason.”

The mood at the Vancouver Police Department’s canine unit Wednesday was subdued. Evans spent the day at home.

“It’s been very tough,” said Kim Kapp, a police spokeswoman. “There is a close bond between a canine and his handler.”

Dakota was born in Slovakia in July 2002 and commissioned in Vancouver three years later. He became a SWAT dog in July 2006 and was responsible for 150 narcotics finds and more than 100 suspect captures.

He was dubbed Dakota after the department sought suggestions from local schoolchildren.

RB END GILBERT

(Holley Gilbert is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore., and can be contacted at holleygilbert(at)news.oregonian.com

2007-10-25-DOGKILLER-LIFE

AP-NY-10-25-07 1558EDT


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