JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Jefferson County Deputy Zachary Oliver grabbed the door handle of his patrol vehicle — just below where the name Graffit is emblazoned in script on the door — and pulled it open. His new K-9 jumped out, sat by his side and looked up at him, waiting for a command.
Oliver stood confidently next to the Belgian Malinois and gently pet his head. Their relationship was relatively new, but K-9 Ragnar already meant the world to him.
"I had felt like I didn't have a purpose for a while after I lost Graffit," he explained. "And now, since getting Ragnar, I feel like I have a purpose."
The days, weeks and months since Feb. 13 have been difficult for Oliver. In the hours before sunrise that day, his partner K-9 Graffit was shot and killed while apprehending a suspect in Golden.
"I know that his sacrifice — it went with a good reason. He did his job, he loved his job, he did it well," Oliver said. "And it just helps me heal, knowing that he died with a purpose."
K-9 Graffit, a German Shepherd trained in narcotics and patrol services, was killed in the early morning hours of Feb. 13, 2023 as Jefferson County deputies responded to help the Golden Police Department locate a suspect in a wooded area near the Colorado School of Mines campus.
The suspect, identified as Eduardo Armando Romero, was found allegedly under the influence behind the wheel. When police woke him up, they said he tried to flee, rammed police vehicles and ran away from the officers toward a wooded area on campus. During the pursuit, police said he pointed a handgun at an officer before disappearing into the trees.
Oliver was one of the deputies called to the scene. He, along with Graffit, arrived by 1:12 a.m. Graffit located the suspect near W. 6th Avenue and 19th Street and Oliver gave the command to apprehend the suspect. The K-9 ran in front of the deputies, who followed him.
They heard gunshots.
A deputy returned fire. It missed the suspect.
K9 community remembering fallen Jefferson County police dog
At 10 years old, Graffit was close to his retirement — an added sting to his sudden absence for Oliver, his family and the sheriff's office.
"I have a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old, and losing Graffit — I think it was a real eye-opener for them," he said Tuesday. "And obviously, they went to his K-9 funeral. They both have pictures of him on the wall — artwork that people actually sent in. And he meant a lot to them. He really did. They know that he's not a normal house pet. They know that he has a purpose."
A few days after the shooting, Oliver explained through tears that Graffit was more than just a dog. And looking ahead, he wasn't sure what the future would look like without his partner.
But after the initial shock wore off, the path forward became clear.
"Being a K-9 handler has always been my passion and my dream since even before I got it," he said. "The minute I became a deputy sheriff, I tried to work towards that... And ever since fulfilling my dream basically a couple years ago of becoming a K-9 handler, I really just can't imagine doing anything else. So, I think after losing Graffit, I knew I was going to continue with that dream."
Nobody can replace Graffit, he said, adding that the dog will always have a special place in his heart.
In the wake of the shooting, community support poured in in the form of donations and dog supplies.
Jim Valbert, deputy sheriff with the sheriff's office K-9 unit, said one person close to the department donated enough to cover the cost of two new K-9s, plus two ballistic vests for them.
"The community has been unbelievable, stepping up and helping us out to be able to keep us at our full strength for our K-9 unit," Valbert said.
He knew Oliver wanted to be part of that effort.
"Once the whole part of Graffit (death) kind of settled down a little bit, he would not leave me alone as far as wanting to get a new dog and getting one trained up," Valbert said.
And so, a couple months ago, Oliver and Deputy Ryan Wagner traveled to California to select two K-9s from a training facility. There were plenty of dogs to choose from, but they had the chance to look at the top two. Wagner picked K-9 Rico, 14 months. Oliver was drawn to 2.5-year-old K-9 Ragnar.
"I feel like Ragnar and I just clicked the best," he said. "And my trainer Valbert said he’s going to be a really good dog, and he thought he'd be a good match for me."
The two pairs trained together for four weeks at a facility in California called Gold Coast K9, where their bond strengthened. Since they have returned home to Colorado, Ragnar has been making friends everywhere he goes, from the sheriff's office to Oliver's wife and young daughters.
Both new K-9s will work for about 10 to 12 more weeks before they will earn their certification for patrol work. And then they will head out into the community, ready to protect at a moment's notice — like Graffit.
"I feel like Graffit trained me more than I trained him, in a lot of aspects," Oliver said. "And now, I'm trying to — with Ragnar — live up to Graffit’s expectations."
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