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JACK SIMPSON: Loyal public servant laid to rest

I was shooting the breeze with Corporal Charles Cook in the Newton County Sheriff’s office when he told me the story about Sasha, a certified narcotics detector and K-9 police officer with the Warwick Police Department. This well-trained dog died recently after being unintentionally left in a Warwick police vehicle by her handler, Lt. Thomas Frye.

Warwick Police Chief David Morris expressed the sentiments of the department and community when he said, “Losing Sasha caused a void within the Warwick Police Department that can never be filled. She will be forever missed. Thank you, Sasha, for your service.”

Being a dog handler himself, Corporal Cook was among police dog lovers and trainers who returned Sasha from cremation at the University of Georgia to her home in Warwick. Attending a tribute to Sasha at the Warwick Police Department were officers from Newton County, Porterdale, Chattahoochee Hills, Dooly County, Ashburn, Georgia State Patrol, Crisp and Worth counties. Many of these officers had never seen or worked with Sasha, but they shared a bond handlers have with their dogs. They knew Sasha wasn’t just an ordinary dog. Corporal Cook stood in reverence knowing he was not attending an ordinary ceremony. About 100 to 150 people stood at the newly erected monument to honor Sasha with bagpipe music and a Boy Scout bugler playing taps. There were speeches praising Sasha from the mayor, Chief Morris, Holly Cripps, members of “We Ride to Provide” as well as a high school honor guard. It was quite a tribute for a Dutch Shepard described by retired Florida Police Officer Eugene Bedel, who knew Sasha well, as a “gentle, loving dog.”

In view of circumstances, Lt. Bedel is still seeking “justice for Sasha.” He and others are not satisfied with current explanations of the dog’s death. Corporal Cook tells me hundreds of people have gone online joining Lt. Bedel in his desire for further inquiry.

Members of the K-9 community are strong in support of each other and dogs in their charge. They wonder how any dog could die of a heat stroke in the back of a police car.

Lt. Frye believes Sasha somehow let herself into his SUV vehicle while he was away for the weekend. He found her upon his return, buried her in the back yard, and did not notify city officials of the death for two weeks, according to media reports. Corporal Cook told me the story about Sasha includes details that she ripped up the interior of the vehicle trying to escape after being trapped inside.

Investigation has not resulted in any arrest and Lt. Frye has resigned from the police department.

Intentionally injuring or killing a police dog is a felony. Naturally the death of one of these dogs brings official and public attention. As Corporal Cook proceeded with Sasha’s remains from the Veteran’s Memorial in Jackson to Warwick, people suddenly appeared on highway overpasses along the route paying tribute to a police dog they had never seen. They cared and they came in respect. To Corporal Cook and other participants, this was an overwhelming experience he and they will long remember.

Rest in peace, Sasha, gentle, loving public servant. A grateful community and your fellow officers remember you as a dedicated, strong, proficient team member.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, a veteran, an author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.