Walker County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Corey Griffin recently had to shoot his K9 partner, Rocky, when the Belgian Malinois trained apprehension dog turned on him during the serving of a felony warrant and attacked, biting his arm severely.
Griffin agreed to talk about the incident in an exclusive interview with the Messenger, and Sheriff Steve Wilson provided the meeting space. But, due to the length of the interview, the two-hour question-and-answer session will be published in two parts: Part I runs in this July 24 edition, and Part II will appear in the July 31 edition of the Walker County Messenger. (A memorial service for Rocky was held July 17.)
Now, in Corey’s own words, here is what is known about this incident and the day-to-day activities of this police partnership, as well as other information shared.
This is a sensitive time for you, Deputy Griffin, so I do not want to ask any questions that are insensitive. If I start to veer in that direction, please let me know. Also, I wanted to give you the chance just to say whatever you might want the public to know about the incident and about your loss and how that is impacting you as you decide how best to move forward personally and professionally. Let me start with a simple question: What was a typical day like for you and Rocky at the Sheriff’s Office?
It was kind of the same every day, because I’m assigned to a special operations team, which has, basically, been three different things throughout the years. It has been called TAPS, it’s been called CRU. It’s basically a specialized unit where we focus on traffic. So, it’s basically a traffic unit — dealing with vehicle traffic laws, but we do work a lot of narcotic traffic, too. We work with the drug task force a whole lot. They call us when they need to.
When we’re up to full staff, there’s four of us on the traffic unit. The dogs have always been assigned to the traffic unit. Right now we’re short two guys. One guy had just left and went to LaFayette P.D., so it was me and Leonard Schrader, the other K9 handler that day.
The normal day for us (me and Rocky) was to leave our house and either come to the Sheriff’s Office to see what was going on or to go straight to doing speed detection and checking for seat belt violation use; stuff like that as we move about the county. We are not assigned to just one area, because we don’t answer 911 calls, because we stop cars.
So, normally there are four of you and each one of you had a K9?
No, there has always only been two K9 dogs for the department at a time. Rocky and Missy makes the sixth and seventh dogs that the department’s had.
Taz and Tana were the labs. They were the original K9s. They were single-purpose dogs, which means they were only trained in narcotics. And, then after they retired we got Thea and Kuppa. They were the first Belgian Malinois that we got, and the first dual-purpose dogs.
Duo-purpose dogs means they are trained in everything, so they are apprehension, tracking, and narcotics dogs. So then when Taz and Tana retired we got Tonya, the one we lost in 2014 due to a shooting. She was a Dutch Shepherd, and she was a dual-purpose dog.
And, then, Rocky actually replaced Tonya. And, then Missy came along. Missy is a Dutch Shepherd. It’s kind of scary how similar, the same color and everything, Missy looks like Tonya. The first time I seen her I thought it was Tonya again. It was kind of rough. Tonya wasn’t even my dog. She belonged to Donnie Brown.
He was the last handler to have Thea. Thea went through three handlers just because they moved, got promotions. She worked til she was 12 or 13 years old, and then she died.
Thea’s death was just a natural death, though?
Hers was, yes.
But the dog that was killed in 2014, Tonya, that was a different situation?
Yeah, that was on a warrant service, too. A guy we were looking for shot her after we sent her into a camper trailer after him, and he was laying there waiting on her. Evidently he told in interviews after-the-fact that he heard the dog and he had been bit before by a police K9, and he knew how bad it felt, and he knew what was coming and he said it wouldn’t happen to him again. So, he shot her.
And, now you’ve had that horrible experience?
As an officer, I know that when you go into a scene you are trained to protect life, yours as well as innocent citizens that are in danger, and, you expect to be in danger by “the bad guys,” but you just don’t expect to be in danger by your own team’s person or animal.
But, it really speaks to your abilities as a deputy that you can go into a situation that is so high risk and be willing to use your training and deal with any threat to you or to your men (even from within your own ranks) — and still perform as trained. You dealt with threat to you and your men from your own inner circle, from your own partner. It is one thing to be able to draw down lethal force in the face of danger knowing it is a criminal committing a crime. But it is another thing to still be able to do that knowing it is because one of your own has gone bad. But, you still know you have to do it. As a citizen in a community, I would have a greater desire to have you be the officer on the scene if I am ever in danger, because I know you will not hesitate to save my life — just as you saved yours and others’ by your actions on July 6.
I don’t know who trained you, but they did a great job. Who did train you?
I did have a couple of good FTOs (field training officers) when I first came out. I’ve been here 16 years. I started in the jail and then went to mandate in 2005.
Have you ever had to draw your weapon before and use it?
Yes. One other time. I’ve been involved in six shootings, just being on the scene, because I’m on our special operations team, essentially, our SWAT team. So I’m on it. We’ve been in call-outs before that’s ended in shootings.
But, the first time that I ever drew my gun and fired it at somebody was December 2016.
That’s not that long ago, is it?
No. Actually, me and Rocky had gotten called out in the middle of the night. They (the Sheriff’s Office) had gotten a call on Mission Ridge Road about a guy going around banging on cars as people drove by him. He was trying to stop them, so one of the deputies went out to talk with him, and he took off running and turned around and shot at the officer. So they called me to come track him from where they had last seen him.
We started there, of course. And, from the time I told’em we were starting the track, it was 32 seconds later we were saying more shots were fired. They guy had run up the street just a little bit and hid in some brush and Rocky tracked right to him. And, actually, to this day I don’t know why the guy didn’t just sit there in that brush. You know, he could have shot Rocky and then shot us.
Thank God for miracles, eh?
But he jumped out and took off running and as he ran he turned and shot at us again. And we returned fire. He was struck in the leg — in the butt, really, up on his left side. But he still wouldn’t show us his hands. He would show us one, but wouldn’t show us the other one; the one we thought he had the weapon in.
And, Rocky was actually sent in on that one. It was Rocky’s first street apprehension. After all was said and done, it was a 16-year-old kid. He was going through a rough time, on a bunch of drugs, stealing stuff, and it was his dad’s gun he had taken. It went to trial and is over now.
How was that case adjudicated (resolved legally)?
He got put on probation for a very long time. He didn’t get sentenced to serve much. Actually I don’t think he got sentenced to serve any time. The judge that handled the case ...
Is he getting some kind of treatments or anything?
Supposedly he has been. Since that happened he’s been in and out of treatments and has done some stuff, but the way we look at it is ‘that don’t exempt you from what you’ve done in the past.’
But, that was strictly up to the judge. That was his decision.
Right, but if you risk your life to protect and serve it must get to you when someone breaks the law and the punishment is a slap on the wrist, especially since any of your officers could have been shot and killed by his actions.
I don’t guess we have to like it, but I guess we have to respect it (the judge’s decision). That’s the judge’s call.
Right. That’s why I’m not a judge. I’m just the one who tells the stories. On another note, how are you doing with your arm after your attack?
It’s getting better.
Is there going to be nerve damage?
I’m not sure. I go back to the orthopedic on Monday (July 22). I’ve had one appointment with him already. It’s tender now down through my radial.
So, you’re getting some feeling now back in it?
Yeah, but I think that’s the swelling finally going down, and it’s exposing those nerves again. So it might just still be tender I guess due to the trauma. But it’s still knotted up on top where it’s opened up.
I have heard that sometimes people assume that just because they get feeling back in an area after trauma — and have some use of it — that there will be no issues to address later, but that isn’t always the case. It is good you are going back to your doctor to find out before being put back on duty. And speaking of that, what is next for you now that you have lost a partner, if you can look that far ahead this soon? Do you go back to the traffic unit on your own? Do you get another K9? Do you do something else? You have to have a lot to think about since you have essentially lost a family member by losing Rocky.
It’s over four years since you and Rocky were first paired together, right?
March was four years.
That’s a long time to have a partner and to then lose your partner, especially in such a tragic way. How are you feeling about getting another partner?
Well, I had actually — the week of that incident happening — I had actually applied and turned my letter in for a detective spot that is open now, which I’ve had the opportunity to turn that in in the past, too, but I just passed on it because of Rocky, because there were more things I wanted to do with him. I was hoping for the big drug seizure, ya know.
Because, as much as work narcotics on the traffic unit, stopping people and running him around the cars to sniff for drugs, I was kind of holding out for the big stuff (bust) to come through one day. But it never did, so I put in for that detective slot.
Well, you have been with law enforcement for 16 years. That is a long time. And I know a lot of officers that want to try new jobs in the agency. So you had been a jailer, a traffic cop, and a K9 handler, so now you were looking to try being a detective?
People have asked me in the last week or so, “What do you want to do?” And, I’ve said “If, you’re asking me right now, I’d rather just go upstairs and be done. Just because it’s still a sore subject and it hurts.”
Now, you know, if something panned out with that (the detective application) and I didn’t (get it), I would talk to the sheriff and my captain about — on down the road (maybe getting another K9), because they are very expensive dogs, and the training to go back through ...
We were grateful that Rocky was donated to the sheriff’s office.
When Tonya’s incident happened that went worldwide (Tonya was shot and killed by a suspect holed up in a camper trailer who purposefully shot and killed her), it was on every news station that you could turn on.
So, there’s an organization in Texas — I believe she’s out of Houston --and it’s called K9 for Cops. And what they do is they provide law enforcement agencies with K9s who do not have the proper budget to handle that expense. So they provide you that dog. So when Tonya was killed, the story I was told was that K9 for Cops reached out to us and said, “We’re sending you (the agency) an application, fill that out, and at our next committee meeting we will bring your agency up and try to get your application pushed through for another dog.
I think August was their next meeting. Tonya’s incident happened in June, and by February of the next year I was in school and getting a dog.
So, I went to Annistan, Alabama, which is where AMK9 is, the kennels. They kind of specialize in military dogs — sending out dogs for contractors that do private sector contact work that go overseas. So they do a lot of bomb dogs. They are actually patrol dogs. They’re the same thing like Rocky was, except where Rocky was narcotics, these dogs are bomb. You can’t train them (the dogs) to do both. It’s either narcotics or bomb (training).
I see, and so you received a dog with military training?
At first that was the understanding, that I was going to get a retired military dog, because when the military retires their dogs they send them back to the kennels they get them from, in most situations.
Like AMK9, they would get those dogs back if their health and drive and all that were still there (to be able to do the work), then they transitioned the dogs back into law enforcement work. But if the dog’s health wasn’t good or they were old, then those dogs would be adopted out to families.
What a benefit to a family.
Right. Right. so, that was my understanding. I thought that would be pretty neat to have a dog that was previously in the military and comes out and comes back home. but, when we actually got down there — there were five other people in the class with me — they (AMK9) had got six green new dogs in that had never been worked, at all.
So that is the sixth dog that we (as a Sheriff’s Office) got. So Rocky was actually green (not trained at all and never a military dog). He was born in the Netherlands and had never been worked at all. He stayed there in the Netherlands until he was about a year old and then AMK9 bought him. Well, actually, K9 for Cops bought him, but then he was shipped to AMK9.
Then I got him. When I got him he was probably about 22 months old, because while we were at school he turned (age) two.
So Rocky really had no formal training before you got him to equip him to do what you two did together?
None other than just the basic training that the breeders did. These breeders that breed these dogs are very known, reputable breeders that do this for a living. As soon as a puppy is walking and seeing, they start working with them. And they try to weed out the good ones from the bad ones and see which ones have the prey-driven in them — the drive. Because, those will be the dogs that will be used for patrol and the apprehension part.
The ones that don’t really have that big of a drive, then they are strictly used for bomb (detection) dogs or narcotics (detection) dogs, because they do still have the smell ability. They just don’t have that other drive or instinct. The natural instinct of an animal.