BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s been five months since Bakersfield police K-9 Jango was shot and killed in the line of duty.
The whole community mourned the loss of Jango, but no one was as devastated as his partner and handler, Senior Officer Brock Mueller.
For four years, Mueller and Jango were inseparable. Partners and best friends, they did everything together at home and on the job.
“You just become such a close partnership, and it’s so much more than just a pet or just a dog,” Mueller said. “It’s a brotherhood, you’re two brothers, you’re two best friends. It’s everything.”
But, everything changed the night of April 27.
Bakersfield police officers, including Mueller, were in pursuit of a car thief. After crashing into a fence on Highway 58, the thief took off running.
It was dark — Mueller released Jango to help capture the suspect.
Moments later, 20-year-old Dalton Kooiman, began shooting. Police returned fire and killed Kooiman. But Jango, shot three times, did not survive.
Jango became the first K-9 killed in the line of duty in the Bakersfield Police Department’s 123-year history.
A memorial service for Jango was held at Mechanics Bank Theater in May.
An emotional Mueller paid tribute to his canine partner and best friend.
“For the past four years Jango and I have been on so many calls, hunted dangerous suspects, forced criminals to surrender and have been tested on several occasions. Many of you here today have shared these moments. I want to thank you for trusting Jango and I to keep you safe.”
Mueller has been without Jango for five months.
For the first time, he’s talking publicly about that night and the loyal partner who saved his life.
“I like to say I’m moving forward. I’m getting past some of the really hard parts. I can have a normal day, however, there are certain things that bring up certain emotions.”
The job of a police officer is inherently dangerous, but Mueller says having a K-9 partner like Jango, is added protection.
“They’re just invaluable, You can’t even put, it’s hard to describe, but without them there’s numerous criminals that would have gotten away from law enforcement. There’s a lot of people that would have been, we just wouldn’t have found … especially people that are running away from us.”
“The incident that took Jango, we didn’t, we had no clue that guy had a gun. And, if it wasn’t for Jango that would have been officers approaching that guy. And, we see it time and time again, criminals will wait ’til the very last moment to produce a weapon to ambush officers because they’re trying to take out as many as they can before they go. And, because of Jango it was just him,” said an emotional Mueller.
When asked if he thinks Jango is a hero, Mueller replied, “Absolutely.”
The loss of Jango is still fresh. After his death, some people took to social media to question why Jango wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest the night he was killed.
“At the time the vests that we had, they’re bigger and they’re bulkier. They were stab-proof and bulletproof but they’re not custom fitted so they are very big and bulky, and they kind of restrict the movement of the dog so they were nothing that we could, we couldn’t have the dogs wear them 24/7.”
“So, the only times we would use that is when we knew for a fact they were possibly going to encounter either a firearm or somebody armed with a knife.”
But after Jango’s passing, all 12 K-9s in the Bakersfield Police Department got custom fitted vests that are lighter and can be worn throughout their shifts.
The vests were donated in Jango’s memory, and there are other reminders of the K-9 hero.
“Legends only die when their name is spoken for the last time,” Mueller said. “Our field down here is named after him. I just want him to be memorialized. I know throughout the years here during training it will be brought up constantly as a reminder of what we do every single day. But, he’s a hero and he was family.”
Monday on 17 News at 5, Mueller gets ready to return to the streets with a new K-9 partner.
He talks about Mando and how the K-9 is driving this officer forward after his great loss.