- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Officers whose K-9 partners were killed in the line of duty asked South Carolina legislators Thursday to stiffen penalties for people who kill a police dog.

Under a bill discussed by a House Judiciary panel, anyone convicted of killing or torturing a police dog could spend between two and 10 years in prison. The crime is currently punishable by up to five years.

“As it looks now, they can get a slap on the wrist and walk away,” Greenville County Deputy Brandon Surratt said.

Criminals can get longer prison sentences for property crimes than killing a beloved partner and protector, he said. His dog of six years, Hyco, was fatally shot in October as they chased three men who ran from a wrecked vehicle after a false carjacking report.

“I lost my best friend that day,” said Surratt, who worked for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office at the time.

All three suspects remained in the Anderson County jail Thursday. Charges against them include cruelty to a police dog and attempted murder, for shooting at Surratt.

In addition to levying fines of between $2,000 and $20,000, the bill requires the convicted person to pay for the dog’s replacement, including training costs. Surratt said Hyco’s initial training was followed by 10 hours weekly of continual training.

“An awful lot of time and money is invested in these animals,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville.

The panel took no vote on “Fargo’s and Hyco’s Law.” The subcommittee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. David Weeks of Sumter, said legislators are concerned the proposed penalties are too high.

Fargo was a Richland County K-9 killed by a robbery suspect fleeing from officers in December 2011.

“These dogs are not only our lifeline but they are, in my opinion, unsung heroes,” said Fargo’s handler, Cpl. Warren Cavanagh.

They prevent fleeing suspects from ambushing officers, he said. Disputing the notion that a K-9 is a tool, he took his handcuffs and radio from his belt as examples of police tools.

“My dog is not a tool. My dog is a police officer. My dog is my partner. My dog was my wife and daughter’s security that I was coming home, and I’m thankful that he was there,” he said, tearing up.

Fargo’s killer, Maurice McCreary, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2014 after pleading guilty to five counts of attempted murder and killing a police dog. An armed robbery charge was dropped as part of the plea deal.

Cavanagh said he’s thankful for the attempted murder charges, stemming from McCreary shooting at him and fellow officers. Without those charges, he said, McCreary and Hyco’s shooter likely “would be on the street on probation.”

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