Canine nabs suspect, honorsA split second decision, an unlocked door and a reliable partner may have saved a man’s life April 22.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A split second decision, an unlocked door and a reliable partner may have saved a man’s life April 22.
Superior Police Officer Todd Maas and his canine partner, Blek, responded to a stabbing incident at Catlin Courts that morning. As he drove along the 500 block of Catlin Avenue, Maas saw a man in a bloody shirt running across the street. He stopped the car and ordered the man, Donald Lavail Christopher, to get on the ground. Instead, the man advanced on the officer, throwing his knife in Maas’ direction. The officer pulled his back door open, and 82 pounds of canine erupted, heading straight for Christopher.
“I just thank God my back door was unlocked,” Maas said. If it had been locked, he said, it would have been bad for everyone involved because this was a situation that called for deadly force.
“He was going to force me to shoot him,” the officer said. “It was going to be suicide by cop.”
Christopher, 41, remains in Douglas County Jail. He faces six felony charges – two counts of attempted first-degree homicide, two counts of substantial battery, aggravated battery and burglary – stemming from that incident. A jury trial is scheduled for February.
“Probably having Blek saved the suspect’s life,” said Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters. “I don’t know how you put a price on that.”
The way the partners handled the incident won Maas and Blek the 2009 Meritorious K-9 Apprehension Award last month from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handlers Association. It’s the second canine award Maas has received. In 2004, Maas and then-partner Dargo won the Meritorious Narcotics Find Award for their role in detecting more than six ounces of methamphetamine and more than a pound of marijuana in the hidden compartment of a seized car.
“Todd is a great officer,” Peters said. “He has a great deal of training and experience that he has put to work to benefit our department and in particular our service to the community.”
The canine unit, which was reintroduced to the department in 2003, is “an essential tool for the police department,” the chief said, preventing injury to officers and even civilians.
Maas gives a lot of credit to his gung-ho partner, Blek.
“Dargo was a phenomenal drug dog,” he said. “Blek is all that and more.”
The 4-year-old German Shepherd can’t wait to get to work every day. When Maas puts on his uniform, Blek literally bounces up and down in front of the door like a Jack Russell Terrier. Once the door opens, the dog races out to the car and runs laps around it.
“He’s that excited to go to work,” Maas said with a smile.
For Blek, it’s not work, it’s play.
“He’s not being vicious, he’s not being mean,” Maas said. “He wants to play.”
The reward for a search or apprehension is either a game of tug-of-war or his toy. Blek is intensely focused on that end reward.
“He has the drive to do the job,” Maas said.
Maas and Blek respond to an average of 160 calls a year, ranging from drug detection and building searches to crowd control and demonstrations. Along with more intensive training, the pair trains daily.
“Bite work is the most trained and the least used,” Maas said. In fact, he said, the April incident was Blek’s first real bite situation since the canine joined the force three years ago. When Maas opened that door and issued the command, Blek did exactly what he should. That in itself is a big reward, said Maas.
“I’ve got the best job on the department,” he said, noting the satisfaction he gets from finding a dangerous criminal or key evidence, of seeing Blek do exactly what he’s been trained to do.
“Blek is our community canine, our community’s dog,” Peters said.
In fact, community support launched both the Superior Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department canine programs in 2003. Individuals and businesses contributed $25,000 to start the programs.
Since the program began, Dan’s Feed Bin has supplied food for the canines, Superior Animal Hospital and Boarding Suites has provided veterinarian services and Tri-State Business Supply has funded specialty items such as a light that attaches to a gun. And when Dargo became too badly injured to work, AMSOIL Inc. founder Al Amatuzio stepped forward with funds to purchase Blek.
“With budgets the way they are, people like that are our saving grace,” Maas said.