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Canine Trauma

Warm Weather Tragedy
Annotated by Moc Klinkam

On April 4 a SDPD K9 Officer Lawrence "Skip" Cahill was acquitted of negligence charges and a possible year in jail and $20,000 fine when the jury deadlocked on the verdict. The 10-year veteran was charged with the death of his K9 of four years service, "CJ". The officer had left CJ in the patrol car in 77-degree weather for 90 minutes with the air conditioning on. Unfortunately, the air conditioning unit failed -- leading to the tragic death of Cahill's beloved K9 partner. The reason for the air conditioning failure: the system was clogged with dog hair.

Consider adding an annual AC system check and cleaning to your checklist for dog safety and avoid a similar tragedy. A simple mesh screen over interior AC intake vents may also be wise, allowing for accessible cleaning on a regular basis.

In his article "Jury Deadlocks Over Police Dog's Death9-3 Acquittal Vote for Officer Charged With Negligence" of April 4, 2000, San Diego reporter Randy Dotinga writes:

"A jury deadlocked today on whether to convict a police officer whose police dog died after being left up to 90 minutes in a sealed car on a warm summer afternoon. Although Officer Lawrence "Skip" Cahill had left the air conditioning on, the cooling system failed and the dog died in the heat."

Cahill was charged with negligence following the tragic death. Dotinga goes on to report,

"That led prosecutors to charge Cahill with negligence for having failed to fix the air conditioning in the weeks before the animal's death."

During the trial on April 6, 2000 in San Diego, Cahill was acquitted. According to Dotinga,

"Nine of the 12 jurors disagreed, voting to acquit Cahill of misdemeanor animal cruelty; the other three jurors declared him guilty. If convicted, Cahill could have faced a year in county jail, a $20,000 fine or both punishments. He remains a police officer but no longer works in the K-9 division."

Various local and national news sources described officer Cahill as breaking down repeatedly during the trial, sobbing in grief as he recounted his deeply loving relationship with his K9 partner. Dotinga reports:

"In testimony during the four-day trial, Cahill wept as he described his loving relationship with the dog, a 7-year-old German shepherd named C.J. The prosecutor did not dispute Cahill's devotion to his dog but argued that he recklessly put the animal in danger by knowingly placing C.J. in a car with a broken air conditioning system."

It was determined following the accident that the air conditioning system was to blame. Dontinga reports that

"According to testimony, the cooling system failed because it was clogged with dog hair. Cahill's attorney argued that his client didn't know the air conditioning was in danger of failure. The attorney also claimed that there was no evidence that the dog suffered as he died after being in the heat for at least 90 minutes. The high temperature in San Diego on the day of the dog's death was 77. The car was parked in the sun because no shaded parking spots were available at the police department's canine unit headquarters."

This was an emotionally charged case, and the jury was hard-pressed to reach a verdict. When the verdict was returned, Dotinga reported that the panel appeared weary. He further commented:

""The jury deliberated for three hours Friday and three hours today. The 10 women and two men on the jury looked grim and weary as they told a judge that they could not reach a verdict."

Reporting from the courtroom, Dotinga further notes:

"When the judge asked the forewoman if the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, the woman looked questioningly at the other jurors. One juror nodded her head at the forewoman, who then quietly said yes. The judge declared a mistrial. On April 25, another judge will hear a motion that the case be thrown out. Cahill, his attorney and the jurors went out a back entrance. None of them was available to be interviewed by reporters."

The ramifications of this deadlocked trial go beyond the courtroom and the jury's verdict. Dotinga writes:

"Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Jonathan Pyatt said jurors told him they were stuck on the issue of whether Cahill was reckless. Despite the lopsided vote by the jury, the city attorney's office believes it had a strong case, Pyatt said. The office prosecutes misdemeanors in the city. "The law is the law, and the law protects life," Pyatt said.

Prosecutor Pyatt spoke to the rights and protections of working K9s such as CJ. Dotinga interviewed Pyatt and reported:

"The law protects those who find themselves under the care of adults, such as children, the elderly and animals, he said. Pyatt said the city attorney's office would consider whether to retry the case. The San Diego Police Officers Association, an employees union, paid for Cahill's defense."

Reporter Dotinga also spoke to Bill Farrer, President of the police association, and quoted Farrer as saying:

"We would have preferred an acquittal, but the 9-3 vote reinforces our belief that this should never have been brought to trial."

More about this tragic loss.

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