When Zachary Wilbanks allegedly stabbed a Cass County police dog in the neck, it was a misdemeanor punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine of $700.

But under a proposed new law, the penalty could be considerably worse: up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000.

If an attack kills or incapacitates a police dog, the perp would be facing at least three and possibly 10 years behind bars.

The bill was filed a few days after Champ, a Cass County Sheriff’s Department K9, was stabbed in the neck by a man wanted for stealing who was being pursued on foot in Harrisonville.

Earlier this month, Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber testified in favor of the tougher penalties before the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives.

“My concern and outrage for the minimum penalty imposed on someone for stabbing a law enforcement K9 was echoed throughout our community and required my action,” Weber said in a statement released by the Sheriff’s Department. “I am hopeful that this bill becomes law and in so doing we recognize the valuable contribution these animals make to our efforts of keeping our community safe.”

About 5 p.m. on Dec. 11, Cass County deputies were called to assist Harrisonville police in a foot pursuit of a wanted man that began near Walmart. A deputy and Champ located the suspect between some businesses and chased him into a field. The deputy lost sight of the suspect and Champ.

“He then heard a bark and a yelp, and K9 Champ returned to him,” according to a news release at the time.

The suspect was apprehended. The deputy later noticed blood covering the kennel area of his patrol car and found a wound to the dog’s neck. A veterinarian in Raymore tended to the 1.5-inch knife wound, and Champ was sent home with his handler to rest.

The next day, 17-year-old Wilbanks was charged with resisting arrest and with assault on a police animal. Court records indicate Wilbanks was staying at the Crittendon Children’s Center in south Kansas City, which tends to mental and behavioral issues of adolescents.

Wilbanks was released on his own recognizance, but he failed to appear at a scheduled court hearing on Jan. 2, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The warrant was still active Tuesday, and Wilbanks remained a fugitive.

The state charge of resisting arrest is a Class A misdemeanor, but assault on a law enforcement animal is a lesser Class C misdemeanor.

State Rep. Robert Cornejo of St. Peters, a St. Louis suburb, filed House Bill 1649 to stiffen the penalties for attacking a K9. Killing or injuring a police animal so that it cannot return to duty would go from being a Class E felony up to a Class C felony. Among four co-sponsors is Rep. Donna Pfautsch of Harrisonville.

On Tuesday, the committee voted to approve the bill and send it on to full House.

Meanwhile, Champ has recovered from his wound.

“He is back to duty,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Capt. Kevin Teaman said Tuesday. “He returned January 8th, although his training is ongoing.”

Matt Campbell | Kansas City Star

Statement from Governor Eric Greitens:

“Today, after some meetings in Kansas City, I stopped by for a workout with some Kansas City police officers. We were joined by guys from the Cass County Sheriff’s office—and Champ, one of the K-9s who works with them. He’s a German Shepherd who has been with the Cass County Sheriff’s office for four years.

Last month, Champ was stabbed in the side of the neck while pursuing a suspect.

In Missouri, stabbing a police K-9 carries about the same penalty as not returning a library book.

That’s not right.

In Iowa, if you hurt a police animal, you can go to jail for up to five years. If you hurt an FBI dog, you can go to jail for up to 10 years.

We need to strengthen Missouri’s laws. These K-9s do incredible work on behalf of our people. They are trained, tough dogs, and they help keep Missourians safe. There’s a bill to do that working its way through the legislature now. It’s called “Champ’s Law,” and it’s a bill I support.

Champ is a fighter. He’s recovered from his wounds, and he’s back on duty. We’re grateful for him and for the men and women of law enforcement.”