COLUMBIA, S.C. — A police dog handler has been suspended without pay for five days but won't face criminal charges after his dog was left in a police vehicle for more than six hours and died from the South Carolina heat, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.
Master Police Officer David Hurt had the air conditioning on, but for some unexplained reason turned off a heat alarm and left his windows open July 26. Hurt failed to even come to his vehicle to let the Labrador retriever mix named "Turbo" use the bathroom — behavior that shocked seasoned dog handlers, Holbrook said.
"He didn't give any logical reason," Holbrook said at a news conference.
The chief also presented the findings of the internal investigation to prosecutors, who decided that Hurt used terrible judgment but wasn't criminally negligent and no charges should be filed.
"It was a mistake of the heart he will have to deal with the rest of his life," said Holbrook, who added he didn't fire Hurt because he immediately took responsibility for his grave error.
Hurt also will be suspended from the bomb squad and can never handle a police dog again.
Turbo was the first dog given to Hurt, who was selected to be a handler and went through hundreds of hours of training. The 22-month-old explosive-sniffing dog had been with Hurt for seven months.
Hurt was at a high school July 26, getting active shooter training, and didn't take the dog inside because of the loud noises and crowd, Holbrook said.
Other handlers also left dogs inside vehicles because they could be needed for a call on a moment's notice but they all checked on their animals frequently, the chief said.
When Hurt returned to his vehicle at the end of the day, Turbo had white foam around his mouth and was listless. Hurt immediately recognized the dog was suffering from heat stress and took it to a veterinarian. The dog was put to sleep two days later after suffering organ failure, Holbrook said
The high temperature in Columbia that day was 94 degrees (34 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service. Investigators don't know the temperature in Hurt's vehicle because he immediately went to the vet, the police chief said.
Hurt accepted the punishment and remains heartbroken at what happened, Holbrook said. He has children who loved the dog.
"It's like losing a partner or a family member," the chief said. "It is devastating."
Holbrook estimated the police department lost about $25,000 in training and other expenses from the dog's death.