Pa. House passes Rocco’s Law with harsh penalties for harming, killing K-9

Published Mar 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm (Updated Mar 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm)

Acting in the name of Rocco, Pittsburgh’s K-9 who died earlier this year in the line of duty, members of the Pennsylvania House unanimously passed legislation on March 18 increasing the penalties for attacking or killing a police dog while it is on duty.

State Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, whose district includes Peters Township, sponsored the bill.

Maher, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a news release that the fatal stabbing of K-9 officer Rocco just six weeks ago in Pittsburgh was a stunning loss for Rocco’s police partner Officer Phil Lerza, Pittsburgh and the law enforcement community. Maher said Rocco’s violent death also revealed a weak spot in Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws.

“In Pennsylvania, killing a police dog carries no more penalty than simply taunting one,” said Maher. “I believe a far more substantial penalty should apply for violence against K-9 officers.”

Under Maher’s legislation, a perpetrator would be charged with a felony of the second degree for the willful or malicious torture of a police dog, or if he or she, mutilates, injures, disables, poisons or kills the dog. House Bill 2026 carries a maximum fine of $25,000 and 10 years in prison.

“Rocco’s death was a senseless tragedy,” said Maher. “Any officer will tell you these dogs are intelligent, well-trained and fiercely loyal. The pain of losing one is felt strongly.”

The Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police supports Maher’s legislation. The state Department of Agriculture oversees dog law enforcement regarding the welfare of dogs and puppies.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved House Bill 2026 last week.

State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, who also represents Peters along with other communities in southern and western Allegheny County, is sponsoring similar legislation in the state Senate.

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who also introduced stiffer penalties for those who injure or kill a police dog on duty, said March 18, “The majority party sets the agenda on what bills move. I fully support the Maher version of the bill. It addresses the fundamental problem, which is really all that matters.”

Rocco died from multiple stab wounds in late January after police said he was attacked by John Lewis Rush, 21, formerly of McKees Rocks, in a vacant house in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Rush was wanted on warrants for probation violations and failing to register as a sex offender.

Rush, who remains incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail, would not be penalized under a future Rocco’s Law because its provisions would take effect only if and after the governor signs it.

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