More than six years ago, Hialeah patrol officer Nelson Enriquez was teamed up with a dog named Jimmy, a bloodhound named after Jimmy Ryce, the 9-year-old South Florida boy whose abduction and murder 20 years ago transfixed the nation.
The dog lived in Enriquez’s Davie home with his wife and two children. Enriquez took him to work each day, trained Jimmy and fed and cared for him. Hialeah police considered Jimmy’s adoption “one of the best day’s in Hialeah police history.”
On Wednesday morning after returning home from his midnight shift, Enriquez entered his home without Jimmy and a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois he also cared for named Hector. He left the dogs in the back cabin of a Ford Explorer SUV with the engine turned off.
When Enriquez returned to the car several hours later, the dogs were dead.
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Several questions remained unanswered Thursday. Top among them: What happened during the nine-hour window when Enriquez parked his vehicle in his home driveway and when he called Davie police at 6:50 p.m?
Though Hialeah police wouldn’t give an exact time, they said Enriquez’s midnight shift ended at 7 a.m., and that he was home by sometime “mid-morning.” They said the dogs were alone in the car for four or five hours in the broiling midday sun. Davie police, the lead investigators on the case, said Enriquez didn’t contact them until 6:50 p.m. Wednesday. They released no other details.
Enriquez, a 13-year veteran who has spent the past seven years on K9 patrol, has been suspended with pay. While Davie police investigate, Hialeah police are running a parallel investigation into Enriquez’s actions through internal affairs.
But on Thursday, Hialeah police mainly focused on the sadness of losing two members of their K9 crew.
“The entire Hialeah Police Department is in mourning. We have lost two beloved members of our family,” said Hialeah Police Sgt. Carl Zogby. “They were a three-member team.”
Enriquez, Zogby said, is “extremely distraught.”
Like fallen officers, the dogs will be honored. The city’s Honor Guard escorted Jimmy and Hector on Thursday from a veterinarian’s office in Hollywood to the lab at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where necropsies will be performed. Zogby promised a full memorial service when the canines’ corpses are returned to Hialeah.
According to Zogby, Enriquez, Jimmy and Hector worked from 11 p.m. Tuesday until 7 a.m. Wednesday. He said the three were delayed several hours because Jimmy was needed to help in the search for an elderly person after Enriquez’s shift ended.
Zogby couldn’t explain why it took until almost 7 p.m. for Enriquez to call Davie police.
The department spokesman also said he didn’t believe Enriquez’s two children or his wife were at the Davie home Wednesday between the time the officer got home and when he discovered the dogs were dead. Zogby said Enriquez called Hialeah police before informing Davie police of the deaths.
If Enriquez is charged with a crime or malfeasance for the unnatural death of a K9 partner it would be unusual, but not unheard of.
In 2007, Miami-Dade police Sgt. Allen Cockfield was charged with animal cruelty after prosecutors determined a kick he administered to his German shepherd Duke during a training session was a fatal blow. Cockfield was later acquitted at trail.
Then in March 2008, Miami officer Rondal Brown was arrested and charged with animal cruelty after his bloodhound Dynasty starved to death.
Dynasty, as was Jimmy the bloodhound, also was donated to the department by the Jimmy Ryce Center, a charity named in the child’s honor. Dynasty was discovered starving and emaciated. Brown later left the police department and agreed to serve probation on animal cruelty charges.
Weighing in Thursday on the loss of the dogs was Don Ryce, Jimmy Ryce’s father and an advocate in helping police find missing children since his child’s murder in 1995 in South Miami-Dade. Jimmy, who did search and discovery primarily for children, was the department’s only bloodhound.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of two remarkable police dogs,” Ryce said. “Our mission is stronger than ever and with the public’s help we hope to be able to raise funds to replace these dogs.”