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FORT LAUDERDALE -- Oozi, a Belgian Malinois, helped his partner capture 35 people this year. Number 36 turned out to be fatal.
The 7 1/2 -year-old Broward Sheriff's Office K-9 dog was shot and killed in Miami Beach on Thursday morning, leaving deputies with a heavy heart and his partner devastated.
"It can't be, not Oozi; this is one of the top dogs in the county," said Sgt. Dennis Additon, who supervises K-9s for the Sheriff's Office. "Sad, angry, the whole gamut of emotions - all of us train together every week. It's like wolves, that basic instinct of the pack - and we are a pack, and when you lose one of the members it affects everybody."
Oozi plunged into the line of fire as police shot at a man they chased from Oakland Park to Miami Beach. The suspect, 27-year-old Delvin Lewis, was hospitalized with three gunshot wounds and charged with aggravated assault with a vehicle on a law enforcement officer, aggravated fleeing and eluding, resisting an officer with violence and being principal to the death of a police dog. Five years earlier, Lewis was accused of attacking a police dog.
Investigators on Thursday didn't say who fired the shot that killed Oozi or whether Lewis had a gun.
Oozi's handler, Deputy Gerald Wengert, could not be reached to comment. The two were awarded employee of the month in January 2007 for their work in breaking up a Cooper City burglary ring.
But K-9s like Oozi are far more than just dogs. The bond between partners is intense.
"These dogs are part of our family," Additon said. "We spend more time with our dogs than we do our own family. They are with us eight, 10 hours at work, then they are home with us all the day. The dog is with us all the time. The bond goes beyond words."
The trouble started about 12:30 a.m. with a report of shots fired in a domestic dispute in the 300 block of Northeast 35th Court in Oakland Park. There Lewis barged into his girlfriend's home and slammed her against a wall, said Jim Leljedal, spokesman for the Broward Sheriff's Office. The girlfriend told police she saw he had a gun so she got her own and chased him off with a few gunshots.
The Sheriff's Office put out a bulletin for Lewis' car, and more than two dozen cruisers chased him to Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, Leljedal said. There, deputies and officers opened fire and "Oozi entered the line of fire and was fatally wounded," Leljedal said. Authorities initially said Lewis fired shots at police, but later backed off from that statement.
According to state records, Lewis has several convictions, including resisting arrest and battery on a law enforcement officer. Most of the charges were misdemeanors.
In 2003, Lewis was charged with trying to injure a Sheriff's Office police dog, though the charges were dropped. The dog survived and still works with deputies.
K-9 officers say their partners are fearless protectors raised from puppies with one purpose: save lives. They plunge into danger at their handler's order.
Plantation K-9 Officer Allan Radziwon, 35, has partnered with Bert, another Belgian Malinois, since the dog was 11 months old. Now, 2 1/2 , Bert is an elite police tool, 64 pounds of pure muscle that can drop a bad guy at 35 mph.
"As officers, we are given tools: Our gun, a Taser, a baton. When we're in a confrontation in the street, a bad guy can take all those away from us. He's the one tool we have that can't be turned against me," Radziwon said. "Ultimately, that is the dog's purpose, to save a human life."
Nine South Florida K-9s have been killed since 1997.
A Tamarac nonprofit group called the Atlas Guardian Angel Foundation bought special bullet-proof vests for police dogs in the past.
"Most of the guys, that dog is their baby," said Joann Knox, the group's founder. But her group closed this year because a lack of interest.
Knox's foundation was named for Atlas, a Miami police K-9 killed in a police shootout in 2000.
Staff Writer Kevin Clark and Staff Researcher Gail Bulfin contributed to this report.
Brian Haas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4597.