The shooting death of an Omaha police dog last weekend came as officers were trying to end a standoff that could have led to the death of the suspect or a police officer, the commander of the Omaha police K-9 unit said Monday.
“The overriding factor is there is still human life that has to be preserved,” Sgt. Steve Worley said at a press conference. “And K-9 Kobus basically gave his life for that.”
The suspect in the standoff, Mark L’Heureux, 59, surrendered about 6:30 p.m. Saturday after firing at Douglas County sheriff’s deputies and killing Kobus about 4 p.m.
Officers sent in Kobus, who had served as an Omaha police dog since 2008, when they thought a flash-bang device had disoriented L’Heureux.
At that point, the standoff at a home near 83rd Street and Keystone Drive had been going on about 22½ hours.
No loss of human life resulted, although a sheriff’s deputy avoided serious injury or death because he was holding a bulletproof shield, Chief Deputy Tom Wheeler said Monday. Two bullets struck the deputy’s ballistics shield, Wheeler said.
The deputy, whose name was not released, is a 16-year veteran who has spent eight years with the emergency service unit, Wheeler said.
Sgt. Worley said “almost every tool in our toolbox was used” before deploying Kobus.
“Commanders on the scene decided there was an opportunity to apprehend the suspect … I strongly believe they made the right decision, even though the outcome was obviously tragic and not what we wanted.”
Authorities shot water from Fire Department hoses into basement windows, which ultimately prompted L’Heureux to surrender, authorities have said.
Kobus, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois, lived at the home of his handler, Officer Matthew McKinney. The dog’s death has been difficult for McKinney and his family, Worley said.
“He’s taking it really hard, but he’s a really tough individual,” Worley said of McKinney. “(Dogs) are a partner at work. They are a family member at home ... He was probably our toughest dog in our unit. We liked to joke that Kobus saved all his love for his family.”
Kobus was scheduled to retire in March and was the first Omaha police dog killed since the unit was re-established in 1996.
“Kobus was attempting to do his job to the very end,” Worley said. “I had to watch Officer McKinney’s kids say goodbye to Kobus. But I would rather do that than have them say goodbye to … Officer McKinney.”
The standoff began about 5:30 p.m. Friday, when deputies went to the house to serve a warrant ordering a psychiatric evaluation for L’Heureux.
He was booked on suspicion of three counts of attempted first-degree homicide, four counts of use of a weapon to commit a felony and one count of harassment of a police animal, which also is a felony.
Wheeler said a search of L’Heureux’s home after his surrender uncovered three fully automatic handguns, one semi-automatic handgun, two rifles, a shotgun and two revolvers.
“We are still investigating which weapon he used to fire on the officers,” Wheeler said, adding that officers believe it was a long-barreled handgun.
The police K-9 unit has nine handlers and active dogs.
The First Responders Foundation has set up a memorial fund for Kobus on its Facebook page. Funds raised on the Internet or mailed to P.O. Box 540158, Omaha, NE 68154 will help with the purchase of working dogs.
McKinney received a new dog, Harley, in December and has been training with the animal.