Hialeah Police Officer Nelson Enriquez, who killed two police dogs in Davie when he left them in a hot police SUV all day, will not be charged criminally, the Broward County state attorney's office said on Tuesday. In May, Enriquez's K-9 partners Jimmy and Hektor were found dead inside his police vehicle, but the state attorney said they decided not pursue criminal charges against the officer essentially because the dogs' deaths were accidental.
"In order to be held criminally liable for his acts, proof would be required that Officer Enriquez intentionally left his dogs in a closed hot car in Davie, Florida," a statement from the state attorney reads. "There is no evidence to support this ghoulish proposition. Nelson Enriquez may face departmental discipline, but will not face criminal charges in this matter."
On the night before the dogs died, Enriquez, a 13-year veteran, had finished working a midnight shift on a missing person's case. When he went inside his home in Davie, he left Jimmy and Hektor in his SUV with the windows rolled up. According to reports, it wasn't until the late afternoon that Enriquez checked on the dogs, where he found them dead. Enriquez immediately called police, investigators say.
According to the Broward County State Attorney's office, the the necropsy results for the dogs "revealed that they died as a result of overheating or hypothermia."
Enriquez has been on paid administrative leave while the Hialeah Police Department investigates the matter.
As it stands, however, there was a good chance Enriquez would have gotten a light punishment anyway, and was likely only facing a third-degree penalty, according to a Florida statute. And, as New Times pointed out in May, police officers who are responsible for their own dogs' deaths rarely get punished harshly.
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While the death of an animal left inside a hot car is a third-degree felony, some are making efforts to push through initiatives to save animals from dying this way. PETA has been pushing the idea for a heat alarm system for K-9 unit vehicles that would automatically turn on once the ignition of a cop car was turned off, or of the A/C happens to breakdown while the dog's partner is out of the vehicle.
“No K-9 officer should experience an agonizing death locked inside a hot car, and a heat-alert system is an easy way to prevent that,” says PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “PETA hopes police and K-9 agencies everywhere will join us in promoting the protection of these brave and loyal dogs by endorsing the installation of these lifesaving systems in every single K-9 patrol car.”
Meanwhile, just this month, a Florida legislator put forth a bill that would allow emergency response personnel, and animal control agents, to break into a vehicle where a pet has been left locked inside, and not be liable. The bill would also allow a good Samaritan to do the same should they be instructed to by a police officer or 911 dispatch.
As for Enriquez, the Hialeah Police Department has not commented on the state attorney's decision, but has said that the officer is still employed, though he remains suspended.