RIVERSIDE – Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff today praised the canine fatally shot last week while pursuing a gunman as a ”hero” who likely saved deputies’ lives by sacrificing his own.
”We’re all in mourning for Sultan,” Sniff told the Board of Supervisors after being asked to speak at the beginning of the board’s regular Tuesday meeting. ”We lost a valued member of our law enforcement family this past week.”
Sultan was shot in the neck during a search Wednesday afternoon in the 40200 block of Clark Drive in East Hemet. According to Sniff, the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois-German shepherd mix was the first K9 on county record lost in the line of duty.
The dog and his handler, Deputy Mike Wallace, were summoned to assist fellow deputies search for wanted felon Todd Allan Hodge, a 36-year-old Hemet resident who allegedly ran and hid from deputies when they attempted to contact him in the area of Mayberry Avenue and San Jacinto Street.
Court records show Hodge had prior convictions for burglary, auto theft and check fraud. He had been arrested in October by Hemet police for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Sniff said Sultan immediately locked onto Hodge’s trail, which led to a crawlspace underneath a house. The dog was set loose to check under the residence and was shot moments later, emerging from the hideaway with a bleeding wound. Sultan was taken to a veterinary clinic, where he died a short time later.
A sheriff’s SWAT unit surrounded the house and directed Hodge to surrender. When he didn’t come out after repeated commands, deputies fired a tear gas canister into the crawlspace, at which point the convicted felon came out — armed with a pistol, according to sheriff’s officials.
SWAT members shot him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
”Sultan, like all of our dogs, is a hero,” Sniff told the board. ”He undoubtedly saved a deputy’s life that day.”
In answer to concerns that the canine should have been wearing a specially fitted ballistic vest, the sheriff said Sultan and his handler had that gear available, but it would have been unwieldy to wear under those circumstances.
”It overheats the dog and confines him,” Sniff said. ”Using it in a crawlspace like that would have been a no-no tactically.”
Sniff described Sultan as a ”one person dog,” loyal to Wallace and ”not particularly social” with anyone else. The two had trained together and worked together for two years. They were assigned to the sheriff’s San Jacinto station. Sultan was owned by the city
”The dog would do anything asked of him — as long as he got a ball at the end of it,” the sheriff said. ”He loved water and to go for a run.”
A public memorial service is planned for Sultan on Feb. 11, though location and details are still being ironed out, Sniff said.
Anyone who wishes to contribute to the canine’s funeral, or the city’s cost to replace him, can make checks payable to: City of San Jacinto, K9 Sultan Fund, 595 S. San Jacinto Ave., San Jacinto 92383.
According to Sniff, the sheriff’s department has 28 K9 teams available countywide.