UPDATE | July 12 — House Bill 23-1286, titled "Increase Penalty Cruelty Police And Service Animals," was signed into law on June 2 after being introduced on April 5 by primary sponsors Rep. Ryan Armagost and Rep. Monica Duran. Click here to read our story.
DENVER — A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office K-9, Graffit, was shot and killed at the Colorado School of Mines on Feb. 12.
The suspect in the shooting, identified as Eduardo Armando Romero, 29, was booked into the Jefferson County Detention Facility on several charges including one Class 6 felony count of aggravated animal cruelty.
Denver7 viewer Julie reached out to our Follow Up inbox to ask why the suspect is not facing stiffer penalties.
The answer is that Colorado law does not have a specific statute protecting police K-9s. The state did beef up its legislation in 2016 with one statute that included service animals – including police dogs and police horses – in its animal cruelty laws, as well as House Bill 16-1348, which makes a person convicted of harming a police K-9 responsible for "all training and certification costs" associated with the injured animal.
Laws around cruelty to police dogs vary state by state. In Colorado, aggravated animal cruelty is a class 6 felony — the least serious category of felony crimes in Colorado.
Handler of K-9 officer killed in the line of duty thanks community for support
In the wake of Graffit's death, his handler, Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Zachary Oliver, lamented the lack of stricter laws regarding police K-9s in Colorado.
"One of the heartbreaking things about this whole situation is that in Colorado, I know that we don’t have any strict laws or punishments against K-9 officers that are killed in the line of duty," he said. "And it’s pretty heartbreaking to know that the suspect can maybe get away with killing a police K-9 that saved our lives. And the worst charge for that might be animal cruelty."
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, three police K-9s have been killed in the line of duty so far this year. Twenty-five were killed in the line of duty in 2022, including El Paso County K-9 Jinx. Oliver said Jinx's handler reached out to him in the hours following Graffit's death.
Oliver said he would "100%, without a doubt" speak to the legislature about stiffer penalties for the killing of police dogs in Colorado if given the chance.
"I really hope that someday in the future, maybe something can change about that, because these dogs are more than just a typical animal," he said.
A memorial service for Graffit was held Monday morning at Flatirons Church in Genesee.