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'He was the tip of the spear': Lake Wales Police Department K-9 killed in shooting

The K9 was killed while apprehending a suspect, police say.

LAKE WALES, Fla. — A Lake Wales Police Department K-9 named Max was shot and killed by a 57-year-old man, who was subsequently fatally shot by officers, investigators said.

The deadly saga began just after 5 a.m. Wednesday near West Seminole Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Lake Wales.

Police say they responded when a 911 caller told dispatch that 57-year-old Earnest Borders had dragged her out of a car, choked her, slammed her head into concrete and repeatedly fired a gun outside her apartment. A second caller also reported the shots fired.

At a news conference, Police Chief Chris Velasquez played the 911 call made by the initial woman, and the woman can be heard saying that Borders told her before he started firing that she was "going to be in more trouble than he is."

Responding officers found nine shell casings, but they say Borders had already gotten away. Two hours later, police say he was spotted several hundred feet west of MLK Boulevard, near the railroad tracks.

It was unclear why he returned, but as officers made their way over there, they say he hid in the woods.

Lake Wales Police Officer Jared Joyner, 40, and K-9 partner Max, 7, began searching – with the help of other officers. When K-9 Max found Borders and grabbed the man's leg area, investigators say Borders shot and killed the Belgian Malinois.

Borders had ignored multiple orders to show his hands, according to law enforcement. Joyner and another officer returned fire at Borders, investigators said.

"The officers defended themselves by returning fire at Borders, who was still armed with a stolen Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun," the Lake Wales Police Department wrote in a statement.

First responders say they tried life-saving measures on Borders, who was taken to a nearby hospital. But, Borders died too.

When asked if officers had been fired upon by Borders, Velasquez said, "We don't know that but number one, when you have a subject that's armed that committed violent crimes as he already has this morning, he had a gun, he had already been reported to have fired shots, he didn't comply with the officers and he had a handgun in his hand.

"When the officers told him to put it down, he is going to get shot ... every time."

Investigators say Borders has a lengthy criminal history that included 24 felony arrests, four misdemeanor arrests and 18 felony convictions. He has previously been sentenced three times to Florida State Prison. Previous charges range from weapons possession to battery, assault, witness tampering, and grand theft – among others.

Officer Joyner, an 11-year veteran of the police department, had been paired with Max since December 2015.

Lake Wales PD said four independent investigations is their standard protocol in officer-involved shootings. In this case, the investigations will be handled as follows:

  • The Polk County Sheriff's Office will handle the shooting death investigation. 
  • Lake Wales Police will do an administrative inquiry.
  • The State Attorney's Office will lead an independent investigation parallel to the others.
  • The 10th District Medical Examiner's Office will work to determine the causes and manners of death for Borders and K-9 Max.

Velasquez said he believes if K-9 Max was not in service Wednesday that they would be speaking about dead police officers. Chief said Max performed as he was trained to do.

The police dog was described as "fearless."

"He was the tip of the spear," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. "He was the one sent in to protect the officers." 

Later in the news conference, community leader Rev. Joseph J. Pierce spoke and said he had been called; the department shared the video and information with community leaders to help address rumors floating around on social media about what happened in this case.

"They were transparent with us, and that’s what we wanted them to be. They were forthcoming and shared with us the fact that I just heard them share with the media here today and I appreciate them doing that," Pierce said.

Video from the Sky 10 helicopter earlier in the day showed authorities working in the area where crime scene tape was seen wrapped around telephone poles, and a patrol car appeared parked next to a railroad track.

Credit: Sky 10

The sheriff's office held a procession just before noon for the fallen K-9 from the Lake Wales Police Department to the county medical examiner's office for a necropsy — an animal autopsy.

In earlier Facebook posts, the Lake Wales Police Department said Max and handler Joyner completed 480 hours of Florida Department of Law Enforcement certification training to officially join the team. 

Authorities are not going to release a body camera video right now. However, once the investigations conclude, they said more information would be released.

The two officers who fired shots, including Max’s partner, are on administrative leave pending the progress of the investigation, which is considered standard procedure.

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