CASS COUNTY, Mo. – A Missouri K-9 named Champ is recovering after being stabbed in the neck as he was trying to stop a suspected thief – who may only spend a couple weeks in jail.
Champ tracked Zachary Wilbanks, 17, from the Harrisonville Walmart to a field behind a nearby strip mall.
“It was pretty amazing how many cops showed up," witness Jake Niemann told WDAF.
The deputy handling Champ heard a bark and a yelp. Wilbanks was tracked down a short time later. But as the deputy took a closer look at Champ, he realized he was bleeding heavily, and Champ had a 1.5-inch stab wound to the side of his neck.
“Absent that dog we ask ourself, 'would it have been the deputy who would have been stabbed?'" Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber said.
In Missouri, assault on a police animal is the same as stealing a library book. It’s a Class C misdemeanor, carrying a maximum of 15 days in jail.
“The penalty should be steeper than that," the witness, Jake Niemann said. "Especially given the fact this is an armed criminal and to be out in 15 days, that’s kind of unnerving."
Champ is a German shepherd who has been with the sheriff's office since 2013. He will need time to recover from his wounds, and then additional training to make sure there are no lingering after-effects that could prevent him from returning to law enforcement. In the meantime, Cass County will make do with just one K-9.
"He's a great dog, really has done a lot for us in terms of apprehension of suspects, finding key evidence in crimes, and finding drugs," Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber said.
In Kansas, assault on a police animal carries a minimum 30 day jail sentence. In Iowa, you can be sentenced up to 5 years in jail. Federal law protecting police animals allows defendants to be sentenced to up to 10 years behind bars.
“It’s unfortunate they are viewed that way. We would hope that something like this would spark legislators to look at changing that law, because I’ll tell you our deputies working here feel that charge should be similar to if they hurt an officer," Sheriff Weber said of Missouri's state statute.
Wilbanks, who is also charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest requires only a signature bond to be released from jail. His Facebook profile picture depicts him with a dog filter and his cover photo appears to be a family pet dog.