In the two and a half years since his partner’s end of watch, Officer Lucas Winder of the St. Joseph, Missouri, Police Department has been fighting to keep his memory alive. He and Max, a K-9 officer, had lived and worked together since 2019 and became inseparable until that fateful day.
“You could just tell our bond was there, unbreakable, beautiful,” Winder told the St. Joseph News-Press after the incident. “The kid was always there for me.”
In February, Winder testified before Missouri state legislators, explaining the intricacies of the personal–professional relationships with K-9 cops.
“It’s very apparent that these dogs are not only dogs. They’re family. They’re officers. We’re all in this together, so I feel that they’re our partners and should be treated as much,” he conveyed to the committee, reported the news organization.
Back in 2021, the partners were serving a felony domestic abuse warrant when Valdez William McDonald shot Max while attempting to evade police. Despite Winder immediately seeking medical attention for Max, the dog succumbed to his injuries. The shooter pleaded guilty to two charges: knowingly causing the death of a police animal and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to four years and eight years, respectively, and is serving them consecutively.
Winder and state Senator Tony Luetkemeyer agree the punishment for inflicting harm on animals employed by police departments doesn’t fit the crime. Under existing Missouri law, an assault on a law enforcement animal, without killing it, is a Class C misdemeanor that carries 15 days in jail and $700 fine. If the assault kills the creature, like Max, or causes its retirement, then the crime becomes a Class E felony with up to four years in prison. Luetkemeyer reintroduced SB 189 — which stalled in the Senate last legislative session — to change the class and extend sentences.
Under the bill, an assault on a law enforcement animal that does not require medical care would become a Class A misdemeanor with the possibility of one year in jail and $2,000 fine. If the animal is seriously injured, then the perpetrator could be charged with a Class E felony with a maximum four-year prison term. A death becomes a Class D felony and up to seven years in prison.
“These animals put their lives on the line every day to protect the public and the law should protect them,” Luetkemeyer said. “They are commissioned as law enforcement officers and we need to be standing with our police officers, whether they’re human police officers or whether they are K-9 officers. This legislation makes sure that their role in the police department is adequately recognized and makes sure they are being protected.”