CELINA — Chad Fortkamp choked up Monday morning when he publicly apologized for the death of his police dog, which Fortkamp accidentally left in his hot patrol car Wednesday.
The Mercer County sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay for 45 work days after the sheriff’s office completed its investigation as to how his 3-year-old police canine, Zak, died Wednesday.
“I am so sorry for what my actions have done to the sheriff’s office, to the community and most importantly to Zak,” Fortkamp said through tears. “I will always love and miss you, Zak”
Fortkamp started his unpaid suspension on Thursday, the day after the incident, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said at a news conference Monday morning.
Grey said he believes there will be no animal cruelty charges in the case and that the suspension, which will cost Fortkamp $6,500, is a punishment fit for what Fortkamp did.
“People have called for charges to be filed,” Grey said. “However, I will say as people call for him to be treated like any other person would be treated, I don’t see a crime. I see a mistake. And if you read the law, we don’t charge people in this country for mistakes.”
The county prosecutor’s office no longer has any involvement in the case and Celina law director, George Moore, is now looking at the investigation and deciding if anything else needs to be done. Animal cruelty charges are a second-degree misdemeanor in the state of Ohio.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have an estimate as far as when a determination may be made,” Moore said.
The prosecutor’s investigation revealed the exact facts of the sheriff’s investigation — ones that Grey shared in detail Monday.
Fortkamp left Zak in his car when he went inside the office at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday. Fortkamp told Grey that he thought he left the car running for the dog and was unable to bring him inside because his arms were full of equipment and supplies to work on a reconstruction incident. Grey said the rear passenger’s window was left down about three to four inches and the outside temperature was 81 degrees.
“I believe what happened is that when he got out of the car, he shut it off without realizing. And then when he got his hands full with everything that he was going to bring into the office, he decided not to get Zak out of the car and come into the office,” Grey said. “And just, sometimes we do things without thinking.”
Fortkamp did not set his car alarm for Zak, Grey said. If the alarm were set, when the patrol car reached a certain temperature, Fortkamp would have received an alarm on his pager, the patrol car horn would have went off, the windows would have rolled down and special fans would have been activated for Zak’s safety. That car alarm was installed in 2007 and cost the sheriff’s office $3,885.
“Deputy Fortkamp stated that he wasn’t routinely using the alarm because when he got home, if he forgot to turn it off, the alarm would activate even if he was off duty or even in the middle of the night when the inside got too hot,” Grey said. “He got in the habit of not using it because of that. That’s where I have a major issue. Turning on the car alarm is flipping on a toggle switch in the car.”
He returned to his car at 1 p.m. to find Zak unresponsive and rushed him to Coldwater Animal Clinic, where the dog was pronounced dead. According to a statement released by Urban Seger, the veterinarian who saw Zak, the canine’s “internal body temperature was taken by a glass thermometer and the mercury went to the end of the glass, which means it is greater than 108 degrees.” Seger said animals will suffer a heat stroke at 106 degrees.
Zak did have a pre-exisiting heart condition, which Grey said was not the reason for his death. Grey said Seger said even a healthy dog would not have been able to withstand those temperatures.
Losing a companion
One of Lima Police Department’s sergeants and previous dog handler, Chris Sprouse, said a police canine becomes more than a pet.
“They almost become a person to you. The dog goes through the ups and downs of the job with you and he’s always kind of looking out for you when you’re doing your job,” Sprouse said. “You get so attached to them because they’re with you eight hours while you work and then they’re with you all night while you’re at home.”
Losing a companion is a bigger punishment than the 45-day suspension that Grey decided on for Fortkamp, Grey said.
“I can tell you that while this 45-day-suspension is going to hurt him financially, the other thing that I struggle with is that it’s going to hurt his family financially, that doesn’t compare to what Chad is doing to himself,” Grey said. “He is very upset.”
This bond is one that another ex-canine handler, Robert Poe, said is what makes him feel like Fortkamp’s punishment should have been more severe. Poe handled a canine, Bouncer, in the U.S. Army.
“It’s regrettable. I think he should have been terminated,” Poe said. “If he doesn’t have that kind of common sense, I can’t understand how anyone would rely on him as a partner if he can’t take care of his own partner.”
But Grey said he doesn’t grant Zak “people status,” despite what people think.
“As important as those canines are, I will not give a canine people status. I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” Grey said.
Grey said the canine program is being suspended until further notice. He said they have gotten offers from one Celina resident and the Moose Lodge for funding for another dog, but he wants to wait to really re-evaluate the program. He said he is unsure if Fortkamp would get another canine if the program were to get reinstated.
“If we reinstituted a program, I’m not going to tell you that Chad would get the dog, but I’m not going to stand here and tell you that because of this incident, he would not get the dog,” Grey said. “There are other canine handlers that don’t have as much dedication.”
Fortkamp has one other dog at home, a wife and kids. After Zak was cremated, Fortkamp did take his ashes, Grey said. Grey said he was unsure of what exactly he planned on doing with them.
There was a community vigil for Zak, planned by Mercer County residents, Lori Taylor and Maria Suhr at the Celina Rotary Dog Park for Monday night. Sheriff’s office employees are not permitted to attend because Grey said he does not want to distract from Zak’s remembrance with all the negative comments that have come their way. Grey said the sheriff’s office plans on holding their own private service for Zak.
“He was a good dog. He was a playful dog,” Grey said. “I mean I played keep away with him in here with his little chew toy.”
“I can tell you that while this 45-day-suspension is going to hurt him financially, the other thing that I struggle with is that it’s going to hurt his family financially. That doesn’t compare to what Chad is doing to himself. He is very upset.” — Mercer County Sheriff Jef Grey
“I am so sorry for what my actions have done to the sheriff’s office, to the community and most importantly to Zak. I will always love and miss you, Zak.” — Mercer County Deputy Chad Fortkamp.