A state prosecutor says the death of a $13,900 Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office service dog occurred because of "ordinary negligence" that can happen to anyone and not because of criminal negligence that would have led to charges against his handler, an officer.
The dog, Ivar, died Aug. 20, after an officer left the animal in a hot car. Livingston Parish District Attorney Scott Perilloux said that, after discussing the dog's death with Sheriff Jason Ard, he determined that a criminal prosecution was not necessary.
"There weren’t any facts that supported a higher level of negligence that we needed to reach," Perilloux said.
Prosecutors can, and have, pursued animal cruelty charges against others who have left animals in vehicles.
Since the summer of 2020, at least two people in Louisiana have been arrested for leaving dogs in overheated cars, according to a list compiled by animal rights activist organization, PETA.
In one incident, a 6-month-old puppy died in Slidell after being left in a car for more than an hour. One month later, someone called authorities to rescue a dog that had been left behind in a vehicle for 20 minutes in a Covington-area shopping center.
Law enforcement officers involved involved in similar situations have not escaped prosecution.
Just last week, a Zachary police officer was arrested for allegedly abandoning two dogs in a home for an extended period of time, resulting in their deaths. The officer was placed on administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation, but was not booked into jail — an unusual way of handling a felony case.
In the Livingston Parish case, the sheriff's office has declined to release further details surrounding the incident, citing privacy laws protecting the disciplined officer.
Ivar was acquired in 2016. Competing as one of 25 K-9 teams, he won several honors at the United States Police Canine Association Region 10 trials. The awards include second place overall, third place in outdoor search and "Rookie Team Narcotics K-9 Award," according to a Facebook post on LPSO social media that appears to have been deleted.
On the day of his death, a heat advisory had been issued for the greater Baton Rouge area.
The sheriff's office launched an internal investigation after the incident, but concluded "the unfortunate death of Ivar was an accident and did not rise to the level of any criminal offense," according to a prepared statement from LPSO.
A spokesperson with the office said they did not request that an outside agency investigate the matter because they have experienced veterans on staff equipped to handle such situations.
The investigation began several days before Hurricane Ida hit, but stalled in the aftermath of the storm while recovery and cleanup efforts were underway.
Ard disciplined the unnamed officer, but the officer was not arrested. The nature of the disciplinary action was not available via a public records request.
In general, issues of negligence are difficult to parse because "it’s really hard to tell where the line needs to be drawn," Perilloux said.
District attorneys face this challenge for similar cases, such as when a baby is left in a hot car or children die in accidental shootings after one finds an firearm left unsecured by a caregiver.
"That's kind of the same issue when you charge someone with a criminal negligent offense," he said. "Does it rise to the level of criminal negligence or just ordinary negligence? That’s kind of a grey or vague area to talk about."