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October 11, 2007
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Minn. K-9 recovering after being shot in paw

By Mara H. Gottfried
The Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Rico's career as a St. Paul police dog isn't over, even though he took a bullet while chasing a suspect Tuesday night, police said Wednesday.

Police say Hector C. Aguilar, 41, fired at least three gunshots at Rico and his handler, St. Paul police officer Robert Edwards. Edwards returned fire and shot Aguilar, of Bloomington, in the buttocks and hand.

Aguilar, who had warrants out for his arrest and has a prior conviction for fleeing police, was listed in satisfactory condition Wednesday at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, police said.

Rico, a 3-year-old German shepherd, was released Wednesday from the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. He had been shot in the right front paw. Police dogs live with their handlers, and Rico returned home with Edwards.

Even though Rico is a working dog, he'll likely be getting some extra TLC while he recovers, said Sgt. Paul Dunnom, who supervises the canine unit.

"Obviously, there's a very strong bond between the dog handler and the canine," Dunnom said.

St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus praised Rico.

"It's impressive that the dog takes a bullet, which potentially could have struck the officer or anybody else for that matter, and then continues on with the apprehension," he said.

Police say Aguilar continued to flee after he was shot, and Rico, although wounded, kept chasing Aguilar and soon caught him.

The chase began in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

An undercover officer was supposed to meet Aguilar in the parking lot of the Starting Gate bar on West Seventh Street to buy drugs, when Aguilar apparently became suspicious and drove away, said Tom Walsh, a police spokesman.

Officers in marked squad cars tried to pull over Aguilar to arrest him on Hennepin County warrants for drugs, but Aguilar kept driving, Walsh said.

Aguilar drove west on Minnesota 5, eventually heading into South Minneapolis. Near Chicago Avenue South and Minnehaha Parkway, Aguilar struck a sport utility vehicle. The man in that vehicle was taken to HCMC, where he was treated and released, Walsh said.

Aguilar got out of his pickup truck and started running. Edwards and Rico ran after him.

After the shooting, Edwards, a St. Paul police officer since 1998, was placed on three-day administrative leave, which is standard policy. He has been assigned to the canine unit since 2006, the year Rico graduated from the department's police dog training academy.

Police dogs are trained under gunfire -- blank rounds are used -- to apprehend suspects, Dunnom said.

"Rico's performance was outstanding," he said. "I think he performed exactly as we train them to do."

If all goes well, Rico could be back to work in a month or two, said Dr. Brian Rose, a veterinarian at the U's Veterinary Medical Center who treated Rico on Wednesday.

Rico was seen in the center's emergency room Tuesday night, Rose said. X-rays determined the bullet hadn't hit bones or damaged any muscles or ligaments, he said.

The wound was bandaged and Rico was sent home, on "strict cage rest," with anti-inflammatory and pain medication, Rose said.

Rico will have to go back to the center daily for a week for treatment, Rose said. He may need surgery to close the wound.

Aguilar hasn't been charged. He could face a charge of harming a police dog, a gross misdemeanor; or animal cruelty, which can be a felony; or both, said Pat Diamond, deputy Hennepin County attorney.

The warrants, for which Aguilar was placed under arrest, stemmed from 2006 drug possession and sale charges, according to Hennepin County District Court records.

Bloomington police found more than 200 grams of cocaine, more than 400 grams of marijuana and 38 grams of methamphetamine in a search of Aguilar's apartment in 2006, according to a criminal complaint.

During the search, police also found a semiautomatic handgun. Aguilar told police he had been buying and selling drugs for a man for about a year and had asked the man for a gun "just so he could fit in with the other guys who had guns," the complaint said.

Copyright 2007 Pioneer Press

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