Oskaloosa K9 Played Vital Role In Suspect Tracking

Oskaloosa K9 Officer Austin Rogers and his partner Duke recently helped to track down a suspect in connection with the Ottumwa officer involved shooting.

Oskaloosa K9 Officer Austin Rogers and his partner Duke recently helped to track down a suspect in connection with the Ottumwa officer involved shooting.

by Ken Allsup

Suspect was found hiding in water with only face showing.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – Practice makes perfect, but real life work can be of the ultimate value, as Oskaloosa K9 Officer Austin Rogers and his partner Duke discovered during a manhunt in Ottumwa.

Two Oskaloosa Lieutenants, Vanderpol and Plumb were on their way to Ottumwa to offer assistance. Lieutenant Boston, who was working the street asked if Rogers would like to go assist. “Yeah, definitely,” said Rogers. “This would be Duke and I’s first chance to get out there and see what we could do for tracking.”

When Rogers and Duke arrived at the Ottumwa Rural Fire Station on the south side of Ottumwa, they were the only K9 unit there. After a brief intel update, Austin and Duke became part of Contact Team 3, and Rogers needed to get some additional officers to make up the rest of the team.

That team started out with Lt. Vanderpol and Lt. Plumb with Oskaloosa Police Department, Deputy Ben Johnston and Brian Rainey with Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office, and Chad Malone, DNR Officer at Lake Keomah. “It was all Mahaska County guys, which was awesome.”

Rogers and the rest of Contact Team 3 started out from the original scene, where one suspect was killed, and the other was seriously injured after a gunfight had broken out between law enforcement and suspects.

That starting point, where the suspect had fled from, allowed Duke to start tracking the suspect. “The downfall of this being our first track is one, Duke is an all black German Shepard; so he is a sun sponge. Also his tracking harness is black, his ID collar is black.”

The temperature was 100 degrees and was hot, not only for Duke but the officers who all had their full body armor on, which equated to nearly 70 pounds of additional gear. The concerns of keeping hydrated, not only for the K9 but also the officers, was vital to them being effective.

A contact team’s job is to make contact with a suspect, who in this case is believed to have already fired at officers, so being at the top of your game is essential.

An early track took the contact team through a bean field and near a timberline, when the trail then became cold. The team took the time to cool off and rehydrate.

Fellow Mahaska County law members Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem and Deputy Jesse Sanders had also made the trip to Ottumwa to assist. They were assigned to working the perimeter to help keep the suspect contained. Mahaska County Deputy Matt McCain also arrived to help search for the suspect, utilizing some drone technology.

Sanders and Van Renterghem was positioned along Lake Road when a deer had been kicked up, which made him suspicious.

“It wasn’t too much later that the suspect actually came out of the timber,” explained Van Renterghem. “He was actually about 100 yards from us, coming out and [he] seen us and immediately turned and headed to the north. We notified incident command what was going on and all of us that had this perimeter set up, then we became a contact team and we headed down in there.”

“Because he was younger and carrying a lot less gear than we were he got away from us in there. Shortly after this happened the airplane did spot the suspect to the north of us quite a bit. So about half of us who were originally on the perimeter broke off to re-establish the perimeter to the north. Deputy Sanders remained in the timber and he met up with the contact team that Ben was on, that Ben Johnston and Austin Rogers were on”, explained Van Renterghem.

Contact Team 3 was now at Lake Road and ready to enter the timber area where the suspect was seen heading back into the tree line. The small opening into the timber lead down to a creek bed, which was filled with metal scrap and wire that could be hazardous to navigate. “What I did to save Duke from getting his pads injured, I actually picked him up, [Duke is 82 pounds], this is after already being worn out. I picked him up, we went across that area and finally got into the timber to a spot where we could get down on the creek bottom,” explained Rogers.

“That’s when things really changed,” said Rogers. “For the whole time we were there, this was the time that was worth it.”

The group of Mahaska County lawmen began to work the timber area, with Duke and his nose leading the way. “Through training, we learned what good tracking behavior is, and actually what it looks like,” said Rogers. “A lot of times, it’s hard to read your dog.”

“Duke, he was pulling me along the creek bottom. He was doing on and off-ramping. So I was telling the guys, ‘hey, he’s on to something’. I was 100 percent sure he was on a real track. He was smelling human odor and ground disturbance,” explained Rogers. “When we got on that track, and he was pulling me, I looked down, and I saw footprints.”

“No one else had been in this wooded area, and I knew that Duke was on it. Duke’s doing his thing, and it’s awesome to see him work a real track,” added Rogers.

Tracking along the creek continued until the team arrived at a place where a tree and animals had created a dam in the area. “It was nearly impossible for Duke and I to get through.”

The pair paused for a moment, then climbed up the berm out of the creek bed and around the area. “We got to a certain point, and Duke lost interest,” said Rogers, who was learning just as much from this track as Duke was.

Rogers went back to his initial training, and advice other K9 handlers, that if your dog loses interest then backtrack. The pair started backtracking and hadn’t gotten much of a signal from Duke that he was back on the trail.

So, the group took a few moments to rehydrate in the still and humid air of the timber. Rogers got Duke to calm down for a few moments, giving his K9 partner the last of his water.

The group started to work back when the Ottumwa Police Officer, who had joined their contact team, spotted a face in the water and began to yell out commands for the suspect to show his hands.

Duke, anxious to be a part of the takedown of the suspect, pulled Rogers “like a sled dog. I literally almost flew off my feet.”

“All of our training for apprehension and for tracking is we do these practical things. Let me see your hands, get on the ground,” said Rogers. “I remember him, he started pulling me and pulling me, and he just pulled me straight down the hill.”

Duke really wanted to get close to the suspect he had tracked for so long, so badly that he pulled Rogers into waist deep water. “After all was said and done, the area that he pulled me into, that waist-deep water, where I actually got stuck in the mud, was the area we went around on our initial track,” explained Rogers. “So we passed him. He was right there and we passed him.”

“I give credit to Duke,” said Rogers of his partner’s work of bringing law enforcement to the suspect. “Him being new, our training, he leads us to an area where the suspect was, and we weren’t going to leave that area until we found him.”

According to Van Renterghem, “the suspect had actually gone completely under water. Well, he couldn’t hold his breath much longer, and he came up. When he surfaced again, just his nose and mouth to breath, they spotted him there. And then the contact team came in and took him into custody. He didn’t offer any resistance at that point. He’d been out there for hours at this point. He was probably tired, injured, and seen five officers there who, you know, are in pretty good physical condition, and a dog who’s ready to have lunch if need be.”

“I’m glad he was taken into custody with no officers getting hurt. You know, the man was shooting earlier in the day at officers. You know you don’t know whether he’s got a weapon or not. Am I gonna sit here and try to convince you I’m not very proud of Jesse and Austin? Absolutely not. They did a wonderful job,” said Van Renterghem.

“You know Jesse and Ben, this is nothing against Matt or me, they’re in good physical condition. They’ve had a lot of training in active shooters and contact team training. I had picked who I sent down there, and it worked out great. You know with the state tac team, would that contact team have done just as well? Probably. Would the 2nd contact team, which I think was maybe Ottumwa officers, done just as well? Probably. Ben and Jesse, I’m telling you, did a very good job,” added Van Renterghem.

“I am very proud of my guys; I’m very proud of everybody that was down there really. You know, if you were an outsider looking in at the operation, it probably really looked like a cluster going on. But when you’re trying to secure a perimeter this big, this many people, guard a school, guard a residential area, because this was right on the edge of Ottumwa, I tell you what, I don’t know who all was at Incident Command, but I thought they did a wonderful job,” said Van Renterghem.

Duke and Austin are still new to the street and are learning each other, growing as a team. This tracking experience was something that helped both gain needed experience.

“Every day I learn something new from him,” said Austin of his partner Duke. “You learn to read your dog. You learn to trust him. He learns to trust you. Once we create that trust and the bond, we’re going to do extraordinary things; it’s just getting to that point. This put me another step on the scale of trusting Duke more.”

This past week, it was announced by the Oskaloosa Police Department that K9 Duke would be getting his own body armor, within the next ten weeks.

The armor, which is both bullet and stab proof, is being made possible by a donation from Vested Interest in K9’s Inc. Each vest has a value up to $2,283, and weighs between 4 to 5 pounds.

The armor will be embroidered with the sentiment “In memory of K9 Rocco, Pittsburg Bureau of Police”.

Posted by on Sep 16 2018. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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