Refugio County, TX – A non-aggressive tracking dog was brutally stabbed to death by an illegal immigrant during a foot pursuit on Monday, police said.
The incident began at approximately 8:45 a.m., during a traffic stop on Highway 77, KWES reported.
A Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper quickly realized that two men inside the vehicle were illegal aliens from Honduras, and that the driver was the subject of a federal investigation into a major human trafficking operation.
Refugio County Sheriff’s deputies also responded to the scene to help translate, and the officers ultimately decided to take the three suspects into custody.
But as they moved in to arrest the illegal aliens, both ran off in opposite directions.
Bodycam footage showed one of the suspects as he fled across two roadways and into the thick brush, quickly putting distance between himself and the pursuing officer.
The officers dispatched two non-aggressive tracking dogs equipped with GPS tracking collars to help locate the suspects.
The dogs belong to Refugio County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Braman, who operates a kennel, the El Paso Times reported.
One of the suspects was apprehended four miles south of Woodsboro, according to KWES.
But the second suspect managed to escape after he stabbed Deputy Braman’s dog to death.
“These dogs actually…have saved officers’ lives,” Refugio County Sheriff Pinky Gonzalez told the news outlet. “If we had found him in the brush, who’s to say they wouldn’t have stabbed my deputies the way they’ve been stabbing these dogs?”
Four tracking dogs have been killed in such operations in the past year alone, and these chases have been occurring on at least a weekly basis, Sheriff Gonzalez said.
The sheriff said that the suspected human traffickers and illegal aliens law enforcement officers have been stopping in the area are becoming more and more violent.
In September of 2018, an illegal alien managed to strangle two of Deputy Braman’s dogs, K9 Grunt and K9 Nell, during a foot pursuit in Aransas County.
That attack occurred after an Aransas County deputy attempted to stop the driver of a black pickup, leading to a vehicle pursuit, the Caller Times reported.
The driver appeared to be stopping, but then “took off at a high rate of speed,” and barreled through a fence line, Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills said in a Facebook post.
The truck lurched to a stop near a dense patch of brush, at which point “14 to 16” individuals scrambled out and took off on foot, scattering themselves throughout the vegetation, Sheriff Mills said.
“Refugio County offered a canine unit to assist,” the sheriff explained. “They brought tracking dogs that were non-aggressive, non-bite trained. We have used canines like these to ensure safety of individuals in events like this. We have other well-trained canine units that can defend themselves, but we consciously avoid deploying them off leash in environments.”
K9 Grunt and K9 Nell were Deputy Braman’s personal dogs, and were not owned by the sheriff’s office.
The duo were trained trackers, and had helped locate disoriented Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in the past.
“They’re not real aggressive dogs — they'll just hold someone at bay until you get there," Deputy Braman said, describing K9 Grunt and K9 Nell. "I just wasn't able to get there quick enough."
In addition to deputies from Aransas and Refugio counties, officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Department of Wildlife and U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrived to assist in the search, the Caller Times reported.
“With handlers on horseback and Officers on foot, the law enforcement team soon located and detained 3 individuals,” Sheriff Mills’ post read. “As the search continued and moved about a very large area, three more individuals were detected in a heavy thicket.”
Two of those individuals surrendered quickly, but a third taunted the officers from the brush.
“If you want me, come and get me!” he told the officers in Spanish, according to the sheriff.
Officers then discovered the bodies of K9 Nell and K9 Grunt.
“The collars…had been twisted tightly about their necks, causing their deaths,” Sheriff Mills said.
The officers apprehended a total of six illegal aliens during the search – one female and five males.
One of the males had a tattoo “known to show Cartel affiliation,” the sheriff said.
“Two highly valued canines were destroyed by individuals believed to be in this country illegally,” Sheriff Mills wrote. “It was an afternoon that left me wondering how many lives of Dementia and Alzheimer’s individuals in the future may have been put at risk with the deaths of these two Canines.”
"That could be an officer that got hurt just as easily as [these] dogs," he told the Caller Times. "These were some valued dogs that had saved lives, found people in Refugio County and neighboring counties, and I feel horrible for the kennel owner.”
Both were females – a mix of bluetick coonhound, redtick coonhound, and black and tan coonhound, Deputy Braman said. K9 Grunt was eight years old, and K9 Nell was three.