SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah’s most decorated police dogs was shot and killed in the line of duty Thursday night while trying to apprehend a wanted violent fugitive who was also shot and killed after officers say he displayed a gun.
Members of the Herriman Police Department were emotional Friday as they talked about how losing Hondo — a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois born in Europe and who began his police career in Utah in 2015 — was like losing a member of their family.
“These animals are not just pets. They’re a part of our family, they’re a part of our law enforcement family. And we grieve for their loss in the line of duty the same as we would an officer. Tragically, when a K-9 loses their life it’s because they did their job.
“And Hondo did his job last night, which was to allow (Sgt. Ben Ricks) to return home to his family,” said Herriman Police Lt. Cody Stromberg.
The deadly incident happened just before midnight in downtown Salt Lake City near 400 East and 300 South. The U.S. Marshal’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team was looking for Brian Francis Filion, 41, a wanted parole fugitive from Salt Lake City with a violent criminal history, according to Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Brandon Holt.
Filion was wanted in connection with a homicide investigation in North Ogden on Feb. 8. Two people have already been arrested and charged with murder in that case.
The fugitive apprehension team is made up of local and federal agencies. There are two Herriman police officers on the team, including Ricks, who was on duty with Hondo Thursday night.
After Fillion was spotted coming out of an apartment, the team tried to arrest him but he ran, Holt said. That's when Hondo was put into action.
“Officers deployed the use of a K-9 in an attempt to stop the suspect. When the K-9 approached, the suspect pulled out a firearm. Officers engaged the suspect (Filion), and the suspect was shot and killed,” the U.S. Marshal’s Office said in a prepared statement.
At some point during that confrontation, Hondo was shot in the sternum. He was rushed to a local clinic where he died from his injuries. Hondo was not wearing a bulletproof vest as police dogs sometimes do.
On Friday, Herriman Police Chief Troy Carr was visibly shaken by the loss of Hondo, saying his department is “heartbroken.” He often paused between sentence to compose himself as he talked about the “tremendous K-9 partner.”
“Hondo was a true warrior and his actions last night assured that his loving friend and partner, Ben, would be able to return home to his wife and children,” the chief said. “We mourn the loss of a member of our family. But we honor his sacrifice.”
Stromberg said the team of Ricks and Hondo was “one of the top K-9 teams in the state of Utah if not the entire country.” Hondo was responsible for more than 100 arrests in Salt Lake County and assisted in taking hundreds of pounds of drugs off the streets, he said.
Hondo began his career with the Unified Police Department before moving to Herriman when it launched its own police department in 2018. Because Hondo was 7 years old, Stromberg said Ricks was starting to look at retirement for his beloved partner.
Friday’s press conference at Herriman City Hall was filled with city leaders, members of the police department and the Unified Fire Authority. Officers put black bands over their badges and flags out front were set at half-staff.
A makeshift memorial for Hondo grew throughout the day in front of Herriman’s City Hall, where blue ribbons were tied around trees and blue ribbons hung from a police patrol car in his honor. Inside City Hall were more pictures of Hondo as well as a mailbox with Hondo’s name on it. Residents were invited to write notes to Ricks and his family and put them inside the mailbox.
Many local law enforcement Facebook pages changed their profile pictures to the Herriman police patch next to a police K-9 badge in honor of Hondo.
“Our hearts are broken this morning after learning of the death of Herriman City Police K9 Hondo, who was shot and killed late last night while apprehending a violent parole fugitive. Our thoughts are with Herriman PD and particularly with the K9 handler and his family, who lost their beloved partner and friend,” Unified police tweeted Friday.
“The USMS sends its deepest sympathy to the Herriman Police Department on the death of its beloved K-9 and our task force colleague Hondo. Hondo was a warrior, and due to Hondo’s heroic actions, the lives of his human partners were likely saved today,” said marshal Matthew Harris.
Holt offered his “deepest sympathies and condolences” to Carr and Herriman at the press conference, while adding, “The ability for us to take dangerous fugitives off the street is a direct result of the partnerships the U.S. Marshal’s Service has with our federal, state and local partners.”
“Such a great partner, this hero will be sincerely missed. He sacrificed his life to protect many other officers. Godspeed,” South Jordan police tweeted about Hondo.
Stromberg said there would be a funeral for Hondo, but the department will wait until Ricks is ready before planning anything.
Thursday’s incident marked the second officer-involved shooting in Salt Lake City in less than four days.
On Monday, a Salt Lake police officer responding to a domestic violence incident was shot in the leg during an exchange of gunfire with a man suspected of killing his girlfriend. Michael Tyson Nance, 30, of Layton, was injured by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police. Once he is released from the hospital he will be booked into jail for investigation of murder.
In 2017, Unified police K-9 Dingo, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was shot and killed while trying to apprehend a suspect. Last year, Torey Massey, 31, of West Jordan, was sentenced to at least 11 years and up to life in prison for Dingo’s death and other crimes.
In 2018, Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law a bill that increased the penalties for killing a police service animal. Intentionally killing a police K-9 is now a second-degree felony and intentionally injuring a service animal is a third-degree felony.
Filion had an extensive criminal history, according to court records, including conviction for felony drug possession, theft and aggravated assault.
Contributing: Felicia Martinez