The Bexar County Sheriff's Office is changing a number of policies and procedures in response to the death of two of their K-9s, who died from heat exhaustion last week after their handler, Deputy Steve Benoy, left them in a police vehicle overnight.
"On the day of the incident Steve got off duty in the middle of the afternoon. He went to his house which is out in the county, and he had a set routine. Whenever he got home he got out of his vehicle. He would then make sure that the dogs would have enough food and fresh water in their kennels. He did all of that and left his Tahoe running at the time," said Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz.
With the dogs still in the running vehicle, Deputy Benoy then went out to administer medicine to his horse, who had an injury to his front leg from barbwire.
"And then he came back and turned off that Tahoe. He then went inside his house and started getting ready, as he was leaving that afternoon. I can't put it in any other terms other than he simply forgot to get the dogs out of the Tahoe and place them in the kennels," said Sheriff Ortiz.
In a press conference Monday, the Sheriff's office said that they have had two heat sensors for their K-9 vehicles in their possession since 2010 but have never installed them.
"One of the heat sensors was sent to the Vehicle Maintenance Shop to be installed. They were for the ford vehicles we were using at the time, not the Tahoes that we use now. The Vehicle Maintenance Shop, either because they didn't have the expertise to install them, or there wasn't enough information along with the equipment to install them, that one never got installed. The other sensor remained in the office of the K-9 Unit," said Sheriff Ortiz.
However, Sheriff Ortiz maintains that the heat sensor wouldn't have made a difference, as Benoy wasn't at home at the time the vehicle overheated, and therefore wouldn't have heard an alarm that could have warned him.
Following the death of the dogs last week, the Sheriff's Office ordered two new K-9 Tahoes with the latest heat sensor technology, and have suspended the use of their K-9s during the heat of the day until they arrive.
"Those two Tahoes will have the latest technology different from the first sensors, in that the latest technology will have the remote start feature in it. It will start the vehicle (when it overheats), it will turn on the A/C, as well as activate the emergency lights and the sirens, and then it will place a phone call to four different telephone numbers. So four people would be notified in case of an emergency that something was wrong," said Sheriff Ortiz.
Once the Bexar County Sheriff's Office completes their investigation of the incident, the report will then be sent to the District Attorney's office, who will then decide whether or not they will move forward with criminal charges against Deputy Benoy.
In the meantime, all of the K-9 training officers with the Sheriff's Office will be undergoing additional training to make sure they are up to date with the latest procedures and tactics.
"The K-9s are an integral part of this operation and we miss them," said Sheriff Ortiz. "We have a reserve unit here at the office, and both the volunteers and members of their nonprofit operation have collected funds and offered to buy one additional K-9 for the Sheriff's office. We are going to do some fundraising to get the other dog, because they really help keep our officers safe."
Deputy Benoy has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the investigation.