Hialeah police officer Nelson Enriquez may have been “neglectful” when he left two police K9s to swelter to death inside an SUV at his Davie home, but he didn’t intentionally kill them, an investigation by the Broward state attorney’s office found.
And since there is nothing equivalent to a manslaughter charge in the state’s animal cruelty statute, Enriquez should not be held criminally liable for the death of Hektor, a 3-year-old Belgian Malnois, and Jimmy, a 6-year-old bloodhound.
“In order to be held criminally liable for his acts, proof would be required that officer Enriquez intentionally left his dogs in a closed hot car in Davie, Fla., in late May. There is no evidence to support this ghoulish proposition,” Broward Assistant State Attorney Alex Urrela wrote in his three-page report.
Enriquez had been suspended with pay since May, when the dogs were found.
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Now that the Broward criminal investigation is concluded, Hialeah police can continue with its internal investigation of the incident, said department spokesman Carl Zogby. “Officer Enrique continues to work in administrative duties,” Zogby said.
Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera agreed Enriquez was neglectful, but said the demands of his job played a part in the accident.
“I think he was exhausted from the job. The demands of working a midnight shift are very harsh on the body,” Rivera said.
The death of Hektor and Jimmy rocked the Hialeah Police Department. The department’s Honor Guard escorted the K9s to the University of Florida where necropsies were performed. The dogs received a full memorial service when they returned to Hialeah.
Davie police and Broward prosecutors spent more than three months studying forensics and interviewing witnesses and medical experts trying to determine how the dogs died in the back cabin of Enriquez’s Ford Explorer, and why the engine to the SUV was turned off. If the vehicle had remained on, the cooling system would have automatically kicked in.
Their conclusion: Exhaustion and neglect on the part of Enriquez — not intent.
The investigation into animal cruelty began mid-afternoon May 27, when Enriquez, a 13-year veteran who had spent the past seven years in the K9 unit, returned to his truck in the driveway of his home and found the dogs dead. He immediately contacted his officer in charge, Richard Quintero, who contacted Davie police.
Broward investigators concluded that after working his midnight shift, Enriquez returned home at 7 a.m. on the day the dogs died, but was soon called by a supervisor to report back to work and help find a missing child. The child was found. Enriquez returned home, again, some time after noon.
Then, “for some inexplicable reason, he turns off his car and leaves his dogs inside,” the report says. Enriquez who said he was “exhausted,” forgot to retrieve his dogs and went inside his home to sleep. He discovered the dogs several hours later in the middle of the afternoon. When Quintero arrived, he contacted Davie Detective Gregg Brilliant, who found the animals on the front lawn covered in a blanket.
Quintero said he moved the dogs “because it seemed the right thing to do,” according to the report. The following day, Hektor and Jimmy are taken to the University of Florida Veterinary School for necropsies. A veterinarian found the dogs died of hyperthermia, or overheating. Brilliant and the veterinarian couldn’t say for certain if they died in the vehicle, or how long they had been dead.
However, in weighing whether to charge Enriquez, investigators determined general intent is required. For example, the report states, if someone threw a puppy off a balcony toward a pool and it landed on the pavement, the person who tossed the dog could be charged with animal cruelty because the act was intentional.
Though charging an officer with a K9’s death is rare, it’s not unheard of. In 2007, Miami-Dade police Sgt. Allen Cockfield was charged with animal cruelty after prosecutors decided a kick to his German shepherd Duke was fatal. He was acquitted at trial.
A year later, Miami officer Rondal Brown was charged with animal cruelty when his dog Dynasty was found starved to death. Brown left the department and agreed to serve probation.
The Broward state attorney’s report on the K9s found that Enriquez and other officers “share a unique relationship with their partners. At the end of the day they go home with their handler and fall into the role of family dog loved by the entire family. They are fawned over by the officer’s children and spouse and are disciplined when they chew up dad’s new shoes.”
Enriquez has a wife and two children. No one has said if anyone other than the officer was home when the dogs expired.
Just like Dynasty, Jimmy the bloodhound was donated to the Hialeah Police Department by the Jimmy Ryce Center, a charity named in honor of the South Miami-Dade boy killed in 1995.