Sheriff’s K-9 dies in line of duty

Marion County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Leo [Photo courtesy of MCSO]

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Posted February 20, 2024 |

A Marion County Sheriff’s Office K-9 has died after being shot in the line of duty.

Leo, the K-9 partner to Cpl. Justin Tortora, died Tuesday morning after spending several days being treated for his injuries at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine hospital in Gainesville.

“Over the last few days, Leo maintained that fighting spirit. However, Leo’s injuries were too severe to overcome this morning, and his passing will be felt by all of us here in my office and in our community,” said Sheriff Billy Woods in an update on Tuesday.

The K-9 was shot while deputies responded to a call at Northeast 144th Court in Silver Springs on Saturday, where a suspect was accused of battery by strangulation.

The suspect, 44-year-old Jeremy Beshere, is said to have opened fire on the deputies, striking Leo, and the deputies returned fire on Beschere. After Beschere was taken down, he was apprehended and transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased, according to MCSO.

In the state of Florida, killing a police K-9 can warrant a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

“Leo did exactly what he was trained to do, and that is to fearlessly defend and protect those deputies—to charge directly at danger,” Woods said.

In an effort to save Leo’s life, Marion County Fire Rescue transported the K-9 in an ambulance from the local UF emergency veterinary clinic to the Gainesville hospital, arriving at 11:57 p.m. on Saturday.

This rescue was one of the first of its kind, after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 338 in 2021 which allows EMTs to provide emergency care to K-9s injured in the line of duty, in addition to allowing the use of ambulances for emergency transport of K-9s.

The analysis that accompanied the bill indicated that 48 K-9s had been killed in the line of duty in 2020.

MCFR EMT Mike Josey, Capt. Bethany Smith and Paramedic Caitlin Mays transported Leo. All three said this was the first K-9 rescue of their careers. Smith and Mays have received training in the past year for events involving K-9 rescues.

While Leo was receiving treatment in the veterinary hospital on Saturday, a hospital spokesperson told the “Gazette” they could not provide any updates on the K-9’s condition without the consent of his owner. The “Gazette” then requested Leo’s medical records and asked for a status update on the K-9’s condition from MCSO but received no information prior to the announcement of Leo’s death on Tuesday morning.

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