DENVER — The Jefferson County deputy whose K-9 was killed while working to apprehend a suspect in February has applauded a recent bill signed into law to increase penalties for cruelty to K-9s.
House Bill 23-1286, titled "Increase Penalty Cruelty Police And Service Animals," was signed into law on June 2 after being introduced on April 5 by primary sponsors Rep. Ryan Armagost and Rep. Monica Duran.
It modified the penalties for second and any subsequent convictions for cruelty and aggravated cruelty to both animals and service animals. Offenders must pay a minimum fine of $1,000 and complete an anger management treatment program, or other appropriate program, for second or subsequent charges of aggravated cruelty to animals. This fee is doubled to $2,000 if the crime is against a service animal, a certified police working dog or police working horse. The treatment program also applies to these cases.
In addition, if a person is convicted of cruelty to a service animal, the courts must order restitution to the animal's owner.
"Sheriff Reggie Marinelli, members of the JCSO K9 Unit, and other employees from the Sheriff’s Office contributed to the bill's legislative process, and were present for the official signing of the bill," the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office wrote on Facebook on June 5. "At the end, Governor Polis said, 'This is for Graffit.' While it will not bring back our four-legged partner, this is a significant step forward in holding criminals accountable for their actions against law enforcement canines and other service animals."
On Tuesday, Jefferson County Deputy Zachary Oliver, handler of K-9 Graffit — who was shot and killed in Golden this winter while leading deputies to a suspect — said the dog's life is even more worthy because it resulted in this legislation.
"Thanks to Monica Duran and Ryan Armagost," he said. "They were able to help change the laws and try and make it a little stricter punishment for people who kill police K-9s. So, I think that's even another thing that Graffit did with the sacrifice. And that also means a lot to me."
"I feel like Graffit trained me more than I trained him, in a lot of aspects," he said. "And now, I'm trying to — with Ragnar — live up to Graffit’s expectations."
Questions arose in February after the shooting about why the suspect wasn't facing tougher penalties after he was accused of killing a police K-9. At the time, Colorado law did not have a specific statute protecting police K-9s. The state did beef up its legislation in 2016 with one statute that included service animals – including police dogs and police horses – in its animal cruelty laws, as well as House Bill 16-1348, which makes a person convicted of harming a police K-9 responsible for "all training and certification costs" associated with the injured animal.
In Colorado, aggravated animal cruelty remains a Class 6 felony — the least serious category of felony crimes in Colorado.
After K-9 Graffit's death, Deputy Oliver lamented the lack of stricter laws regarding police K-9s in Colorado.
"One of the heartbreaking things about this whole situation is that in Colorado, I know that we don’t have any strict laws or punishments against K-9 officers that are killed in the line of duty," he said in February. "And it’s pretty heartbreaking to know that the suspect can maybe get away with killing a police K-9 that saved our lives. And the worst charge for that might be animal cruelty."
The newly signed HB 23-1286 has been called "Jinx's Law" after K-9 Jinx, who was shot and killed in Manitou Springs in 2022. In the wake of his death, his family began working to create a law to impose tougher penalties for people who kill or injure working K-9s.
From the beginning of fiscal year 2019 to the end of fiscal year 2022, 67 people in Colorado were convicted and sentenced for charges of cruelty, or aggravated cruelty, to animals. Of those 67 individuals, 48 were men, 16 were women and three did not have their gender identified. In addition, only seven of the 67 were second or subsequent convictions.