City K-9 injured in line of duty doing well after surgery

Posted: January 7, 2014

The Winchester Star

Winchester Police Cpl. Brittney Kotynski-Neer explains the injuries suffered by her K-9 partner Kota when he fell through an attic ceiling while apprehending a burglary suspect on Franklin Street on (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Winchester Police Cpl. Brittney Kotynski-Neer awaits word on her K-9 partner Kota who was undergoing surgery Monday after being injured Friday when he fell through a ceiling while apprehending a burglary suspect on Franklin Street in Winchester. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Kota, a 6-year-old German shepherd, has been on the force since May 2009. After breaking his right front leg and injuring his “wrist” while trying to apprehend burglary suspects, the dog tried to climb stairs to resume helping officers, his handler said.
Winchester Police Cpl. Brittney Kotynski-Neerand her K-9 Kota give a demonstration of police work to members of the Daniel Morgan Middle School student Crime Solvers group in March. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — A Winchester Police Department canine is doing well after a nearly four-hour surgery Monday to treat a broken leg that he sustained in the line of duty Friday.

Kota — a 6-year-old German shepherd that has been on the force since May 2009 — fell through the ceiling be low an attic at a residence in the 900 block of Franklin Street on the city’s northeast side while helping apprehend two suspects in a burglary.

He broke his right front leg and injured his “wrist” in the nearly 8-foot fall, but is expected to return home today.

His story has since gone viral, and people from all over the world have been sharing it on Facebook, writing his handler, Cpl. B.N. Kotynski-Neer, words of support, and posting photos of other animals with get-well-soon messages.

“It’s humbling — I’m not sure how to respond to it, I’m just taken aback and in awe of people’s desire to show their support for someone and an animal that they don’t even know,” Kotynski-Neer said. “If you look at the comments and the pages, 98 percent of them are very, very supportive and awesome, and I mean, I’ve seen people praying from California, praying from Singapore, praying from the Philippines — I’m just ... baffled at how fast the story got out and how fast people took an interest to it.”

Officers responded to the home just after 9 p.m. in reference to a security check, according to police spokeswoman Lauren Cummings.

They were told that two people were seen walking through a back yard and flashing lights were seen moving through the house.

The homeowner, Phillip Daniel Rush, 64, was not at the residence because he is currently being held without bond at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center on a charge of production of child pornography.

At the scene, an officer found a door to the house that was open and requested that a canine officer come to the scene — which is when Kotynski-Neer and Kota responded.

The suspects were hiding in an attic crawl space, and Kotynski-Neer said one of the men had completely covered himself in wall insulation so that all officers could see were the tips of his shoes.

“We were yelling commands at him for approximately 30 seconds, and he was not complying at all, he was not showing us his hands,” Kotynski-Neer said. “At that time, I gave Kota the command to apprehend that person.

“Kota did not see that person and he went sprinting to the back of the attic, which we couldn’t see, so I couldn’t see what he was doing and we continued to focus on the individual we could see, and then I heard an individual from the back of the attic saying, ‘OK, I give, I give,’ and I could tell Kota had located that individual and had apprehended him.”

It wasn’t long after that Kota fell through the ceiling to the first level of the residence, and officers could hear him yelping.

Even after his injury, however, Kota attempted to continue to assist officers, climbing back up the stairs before Kotynski-Neer even had a chance to check on him.

“At that point, I was thinking, OK then it’s probably not as bad as it sounded, maybe he just was scared of the fall, maybe he twisted something ... because he was able to get back up the stairs to us,” she said.

Kotynski-Neer said she carried her canine partner to her squad car and took him to a veterinary clinic, while other officers stayed on scene to deal with the suspects and logistics.

Officers arrested Mitchell Statler Brown, 19, and Robert Stanley Crosen III, 35, both of Winchester. They were each charged with burglary.

Brown was taken to jail and Crosen was taken to Winchester Medical Center to be treated for a dog bite, then jail.

Brown posted a $15,000 secured bond over the weekend, and Crosen posted a $40,000 secured bond.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the case, Brown and Crosen told police they did not have permission to enter the residence.

“Brown admitted he entered the residence and was going to steal any incriminating evidence belonging to Rush, as Rush had recently been charged with a criminal offense,” according to the complaint.

It is unclear from the document whether Brown was stealing evidence that could incriminate him or Rush.

According to court documents, Brown lives in the same block on Franklin Street as Rush, and has been previously convicted of raping a juvenile.

Cummings said the case remains under investigation.

Brown and Crosen are both expected to appear in Winchester General District Court Monday at 8:30 a.m. for arraignment.

It’s too early to tell if Kota will be able to return to full duty, but Kotynski-Neer is hopeful for a speedy recovery.

“They’re not quick to say, ‘Oh, he’ll be right back in the game,’” she said of the doctors. “They do say having a goal of at least bringing him back for narcotics work is a good backup plan, but of course we’re going to try and bring him back to full duty.”

Working without him in the meantime is going to be quite an adjustment.

“Saturday when I got ready to come to work, I put on my belt — you know we all have kind of a routine that we do — and I put on my boots and my belt, and then the next thing I usually grab is the leash, and that tugged at the heart strings a little bit,” Kotynski-Neer said, pausing and getting emotional. “That was hard, just knowing that I went to grab it out of habit and then, you know, he wasn’t coming.”

Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher said the department is going to do whatever it takes to make sure the team of Kotynski-Neer and Kota return to duty together as quickly as possible.

“We are thankful to Kota and for his heroic service in protecting our officers and the community,” he said. “He and the officers with him faced a challenge and risk similar to those [that] officers face every day, and performed in a manner that makes us proud.”

The surgery alone is estimated to cost more than $3,000, according to Kotynski-Neer — and the department does not budget for accidents like Kota’s.

Cummings said there have been a number of inquiries from the public about where to send money to help with his recovery.

Anyone wishing to donate can mail a check to: Winchester/Frederick County Law Enforcement Foundation, 231 E. Piccadilly St., Winchester, Va. 22601. Donors are asked to indicate on the check that it’s “for Kota.”

Kotynski-Neer and Cummings thanked the community for the outpouring of love and support.

“It’s overwhelming, we’ve had so many people reach out and offer support — emotional support, financial support — it’s all appreciated and welcomed,” Kotynski-Neer said.

To keep everyone updated, a Facebook page titled “K9 Kota” was created. By 11:20 p.m., it already had more than 3,900 “likes.”

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com