Ariz. officer arrested in death of K9 partner

Lindsey Collom
The Arizona Republic

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Chandler police sergeant in the death of a K-9 left for more than 12 hours in a hot patrol car.

Sgt. Tom Lovejoy was booked Wednesday at 3 p.m. into an East Valley jail facility on suspicion of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor. He was released at 4:50 p.m. on his own recognizance.

The death of his K-9, Bandit, touched a nerve with the public, and the story circulated through the media and talk radio. When Chandler police announced that Bandit's services would be private, members of the community organized their own memorial that drew nearly 200 people.
Lovejoy's arrest was the culmination of several weeks' investigation into the death of Bandit, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois of whom Lovejoy had been a handler for at least three years."This was a difficult decision," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. "I am certain Sergeant Lovejoy has suffered greatly from leaving his dog in a sweltering car. I do not relish the idea of compounding his sadness. However, Lovejoy must be treated like anyone else in similar circumstances."

Records show deputies have made 16 animal-cruelty arrests since January. The sheriff's Animal Crimes Unit has made more than 100 arrests since its inception in 2000. Arpaio said 98 percent of animal-abuse suspects are booked into jail facilities; others are cited.

About 25 animal-cruelty cases are prosecuted annually in Maricopa County.

If convicted, Lovejoy faces up to six months in jail, more than $1,000 in fines, probation and prohibition from owning another animal.

Lovejoy discovered Bandit's body late Aug. 11 while checking equipment in his work-issued SUV. Bandit had been in the vehicle since they returned home from an off-duty assignment that morning.

Arpaio said he couldn't get an answer as to why Lovejoy lost track of the canine, but the sergeant's actions did not appear to be intentional. Reckless, yes, but not intentional, Arpaio emphasized.

The Sheriff's Office investigation revealed that Lovejoy was on an off-duty assignment with Bandit about 3 a.m. and returned home about 9:15 a.m. He parked the SUV outside his home in a county island and left Bandit in the vehicle.

Arpaio said Lovejoy and his stepdaughter then departed in a personal vehicle for an errand, during which time he received a call that his stepson was involved in a vehicle crash and needed help retrieving insurance documents. That ordeal took about 40 minutes, Arpaio said.

Throughout the remainder of the day, Lovejoy left the home several times in his personal vehicle and at one point took a nap and then had dinner out with his wife, the investigation showed.

Meanwhile, temperatures outside rose to 115 degrees. Lovejoy did not locate Bandit until after 10 p.m. that night. By that time, the dog was already dead.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on Lovejoy's arrest because of an ongoing internal investigation.

"As a department, we respect and support the criminal justice systems and processes in place," Kiyler said, adding that police officials "remain saddened by the loss of K-9 Bandit."

Lovejoy returned to work last week from paid administrative leave. Sgt. Rick Griner, a Chandler police spokesman, said Lovejoy has a "limited duty status" working in the office.

Lovejoy's wife, Carolynn Lovejoy, recently posted a comment on azcentral.com defending her husband after a number of readers berated the sergeant's actions. Chandler police verified its authenticity.

Copyright 2007 THe Arizona Republic

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