Q. This month, a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office SWAT member shot and killed a man after a standoff on the Southside as, police said, the suspect was threatening a police K9 with a knife.
The incident on April 12th in the Bentwater Place subdivision happened after the suspect, Matvey Klimenko, fled from police after a 10-hour standoff when they arrived to investigate a reported kidnapping and burglary at the home, police said.
As SWAT worked to get Klimenko out of the house, which they say he had been broken into, he ran into the backyard with a knife, police said. After an attempt to stop him with what police called “a less lethal round,” he was fatally shot as he raised the knife at a police K9 that was sent to stop him, Chief Alan Parker said during a news conference that day.
“He was holding the dog back with his left hand. As the SWAT officer is there, close, giving commands, he raised the knife in an apparent attempt to stab the dog,” Parker said. “The officers were well within the reactionary gap. The SWAT officer engaged him, fired his rifle and the suspect was down at that scene. He did not survive his injuries.”
Frank H., a Jacksonville Today newsletter reader, asks:
A: In response, a JSO spokesperson, Officer T.N. Dash, tells Jacksonville Today, “The incident remains under investigation and we are unable to comment on active investigations.”
When asked about policies related to attacks on police K9s more broadly, Dash referred us to the Florida statute regarding offenses against police canines, 843.19.
That state law says anyone who “intentionally and knowingly, without lawful cause or justification, causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or death to, or uses a deadly weapon upon” a police canine commits a second-degree felony.
Punishments for such crimes include making “restitution for injuries” and paying the replacement cost of the animal if, as a result of the offense, it can no longer perform its duties.
We asked local defense attorney Curtis Falgatter, who spent years as an assistant federal prosecutor, for his thoughts on Frank’s question. Falgatter, who is not involved in the April 12th case, said, “Here, since he never hurt the dog, (that) would drop it to a second-degree misdemeanor,” which carries a punishment of up to 60 days in jail.
Falgatter said, “Police are not supposed to use lethal force on misdemeanors. Of course, the dog was attacking the man, not the other way around.”
A person can only use “deadly force” in defense of a person, not a dog, Falgatter added.
And a police officer can legally use deadly force on a person fleeing, but only to “defend himself or another,” and only where the officer “reasonably believes the fleeing felon poses a threat of death or serious physical harm to the officer or others.” That is in Florida Statute 776.05. Falgatter says he is certain that “others” refers to people, not K9s.
We then asked JSO to respond to Falgatter’s assessment, and specifically, why deadly force should have been used in the April 12th case, “or any person’s attack on a police, rescue or medical K9?”
Officer Christian Hancock, another JSO spokesman, again replied that the shooting of Klimenko continues to be an active investigation with the State Attorney’s Office.
“Mr. Klimenko’s actions and subsequent death, the responding officers’ actions, and their reasons for those actions are what is currently under investigation,” Hancock tells Jacksonville Today. “Until the outcome, and determination as to the circumstances surrounding the entirety of the incident, we would not be able to speak to the investigation.”
Lead image credit: News4Jax drone footage of the SWAT standoff that led to the deadly shooting