By Manuel C. Coppola
From: Nogales International
A 15-year-old Nogales High School girl was bitten and taken to the ground by a police dog Thursday while its handler and two other officers were inside a classroom conducting a presentation on gun safety.
Students ran to the classroom at about 2:45 p.m. to alert the officers. The dog’s handler immediately ran out to retrieve the German shepherd, which had backed off after the teen was on the ground, said NPD Capt. Heriberto Zuniga.
The incident is under investigation by the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office, but Zuniga said he believes “somebody opened the door allowing the dog out of the vehicle,” a 2011 Ford Expedition specially outfitted as a canine unit that was parked about 10 feet to 15 feet away from the classroom.
The doors are normally locked and officers were perplexed how somebody was able to open one of them from outside the vehicle, he said. So the Expedition, which was outfitted at a firm in Phoenix, was sent to a sister company in Tucson for inspection. Technicians discovered a fuse in the spring-loaded electronically controlled door had failed. “This has been addressed and corrected,” Zuniga said.
“Our first concern is the girl,” who was transported to Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital by ambulance after sustaining bites to the arms and scratches on the lower back, Zuniga said. Both Zuniga and Principal Judith Mendoza-Jimenez said the teen was “OK.”
“We were extremely lucky. The dog is trained to bite and pull,” he said. “That didn’t happen. It appears in this case the dog realized the girl did not pose a threat.”
Mendoza-Jimenez said, “It was an isolated incident. (The dog) got out of the car. We don’t know how. The girl saw the dog coming and she started running so the dog attacked her. Once she was on the ground the dog let her go.”
Mendoza-Jimenez said that precautions are always taken when a K-9 unit is brought on campus. “I just hope this does not affect the relationship with the Nogales Police Department and Nogales High School.”
So far, nobody is confessing to having opened the door, “but we’re hoping that through interviews, the sheriff’s investigators will get some leads,” Zuniga said. “You know there are warning decals all over the vehicle.”
It was the first such incident since the department has had trained dogs as part of their enforcement methods. “Obviously we are reviewing our policies and equipment to make damn sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Assistant Chief Roy Bermudez.
Santa Cruz Animal Care and Control took a report of the incident but did not quarantine the animal. “As a working dog,” Zuniga said, “it has all the background documents of its care and proof of vaccinations.”
(JB Miller contributed additional reporting.)
Read more: Nogales International