More than a month after a Cass County K-9 was stabbed in the neck while going after a suspect, Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber says he’s supporting proposed legislation that would increase the penalty of assaulting a law enforcement animal in the state of Missouri.
The sheriff’s office announced in a news release Friday that the sheriff testified in front of a Missouri House of Representatives committee on crime prevention and public safety. Weber called on improved protection and penalties for law enforcement animals in the state.
State Rep. Robert Cornejo, a Republican legislator from St. Peters, has sponsored House Bill 1649, which would change the charge of assault on a law enforcement animal from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. In addition, if passed, the the bill would also increase the penalty of assault resulting in death or disability of a law enforcement animal from a Class E felony to a Class C felony.
“It was important to me to provide insight to our legislatures on this issue as it relates to this office and our community. My concern and outrage for the minimum penalty imposed on someone for intentionally stabbing a law enforcement K-9 was echoed throughout our community and required my action. 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,” Weber said in a statement Friday.
Co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Donna Pfautsch, of Harrisonville; Rep. Chrissy Sommer, of St. Charles; Rep. Nick Schroer, of O’Fallon; and Rep. Jim Neely, of Cameron.
The bill is scheduled for a second committee hearing on Jan. 23 in Jefferson City, a news release from the sheriff’s office said.
The bill was filed on Dec. 18, one week after a Cass County Sheriff’s Office K-9, Champ, was stabbed in the neck while pursuing a teenager suspected of stealing in Harrisonville.
Champ and his handler were helping Harrisonville police on Dec. 11 in the pursuit of the suspect near Missouri 291 and South Commercial Street. The sheriff’s deputy and the K-9 found the suspect, later identified as Zachary T. Wilbanks, 17, in the 2400 block of Rock Haven Road. The sheriff’s office said Wilbanks kept running, and Champ followed him into a field.
The deputy lost sight of them both but then heard a bark and a yelp, and Champ soon returned.
Wilbanks was arrested a short time later, and the deputy then found blood in the kennel area of his patrol car.
The K-9 had a 1.5-inch knife wound on the side of his neck. The injury was not life-threatening, and Champ went back to work as a K-9 for the sheriff’s office on Jan. 9, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman.
The Cass County prosecuting attorney’s office charged Wilbanks with resisting or interfering with an arrest, a Class A misdemeanor, and assault on a police animal, which is currently a Class C misdemeanor. He was issued a signature bond for those charges.
Wilbanks did not appear for a Jan. 2 court date in Cass County Circuit Court, according to online court records. A warrant has been issued for his arrest for failure to appear in court. Bond was set at $4,000, with 10 percent cash allowed.