• Lead K-9 trainer for Alachua sheriff removed from unit after K-9 partner's death

    By: Amanda Winkle

    Updated:

    The lead K-9 trainer for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office has been removed from the unit and suspended without pay for six days after his K-9 partner, Robbie, died in a hot car in July.

    ACSO said in a news release that the investigation into Robbie's death is complete and found that Deputy Sheriff Tommy Willcox violated several ACSO policies and procedures.

    ACSO determined the discipline for Willcox based on a number of factors, including "comparative disciplinary histories for similar sustained violations against other employees," ACSO said in the release.

    The Sheriff's Office will add electronic safety features to K-9 patrol vehicles to prevent another K-9 hot car death, authorities said.

    Sheriff Sadie Darnell released the following statement:

    “Nothing can undo the tragedy of Robbie’s death. I am convinced there was no intent by Deputy Willcox to cause harm to Robbie. Before placing judgment, I encourage individuals to read the investigations to gain insight into how much Deputy Willcox loved Robbie and considered him a part of his family. Deputy Willcox made a horrible mistake and continues to deal with great regret and despair every day.

    "Not as an excuse, but as explanation regarding some of the mitigating factors I considered in determining this discipline: Deputy Willcox suffered from significant mental and physical fatigue associated with being called out on his normal day off to respond as part of our SWAT team to assist the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office in apprehending a barricaded murder suspect. This callout detail lasted several hours; in addition, upon completion of the detail, Deputy Willcox was preoccupied with resuming a family outing which had been interrupted with no prior notice.

    "In his interview with the Office of Professional Standards, Deputy Willcox stated that Robbie was his ‘best friend,’ adding that he spent more time with Robbie than he did with his wife and his kids. Their emotional bond is undeniable, and there is no doubt in my mind that Deputy Willcox and his entire family have grieved more than any of us over this heartbreaking tragedy.”

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