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Alaska State Troopers mourn slain K-9 as suspect appears in court

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 28, 2016

Alaska State Trooper K-9 Helo was shot and killed while tracking a suspect. Helo, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, started work with AST in June 2013. (Alaska State Troopers)

PALMER — Alaska State Troopers wore black tape over their badges Wednesday in an Anchorage courtroom to mourn the loss of Helo, the first trooper K-9 to die in the line of duty.

Helo, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, was a "dual-purpose" K-9 who served as a patrol and scent-detection dog and started with the troopers in June 2013. He was shot during a suspect pursuit early Sunday and died a few hours later. Troopers on Wednesday identified Helo's handler as trooper Christopher Havens, the dog's partner since March 2014.

Troopers, including the court officers at the Wednesday hearing for 25-year-old Almando Abarca — the man accused of shooting Helo — are wearing the black tape over their badges through Oct. 1.

Abarca is accused of shooting the dog as it pursued him after a low-speed crash. Court documents say Abarca led troopers and Palmer police on a high-speed pursuit down the Glenn Highway before turning down a long driveway and emerging from his Geo sedan with a pistol in hand.

Helo was shot by Abarca, troopers say, when the man opened fire on the dog, Havens and a Palmer police officer. Havens and the officer then returned fire, troopers said, hitting Abarca in the shoulder.

Troopers identified the Palmer officer as Antonio Aldesperger, employed with the force since June 2014. Havens has served with the troopers since February 2012.

Abarca was arrested Sunday on felony charges of harming a police dog as well as third-degree assault and failing to stop at the direction of an officer.

When the shooting happened, Abarca was out on probation for burglary charges stemming from a 2014 ATM theft and appeared in an Anchorage courtroom Wednesday to answer for numerous probation violations.

Abarca, whose arm was in a sling beneath his yellow jail-issue shirt, said little at the hearing. A public defender had to instruct him to answer out loud rather than shaking his head. He yawned early in the proceedings.

Abarca admitted to six probation violations, including failing to report for drug and alcohol testing, failing to report to his probation officer and failing to appear at a hearing.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge William F. Morse kept his bail on the probation charges at $20,000 cash, the same amount of a warrant issued for Abarca on June 30. The judge set a sentencing hearing for Nov. 30.

Helo had been issued a stab- and bulletproof vest, according to troopers spokesperson Megan Peters. He was not wearing the vest at the time of Sunday's incident.

It wasn't immediately clear why that was — Peters in an email said she couldn't comment specifically because of the ongoing criminal investigation. Troopers have said the dogs are generally outfitted in vests for specific, high-level responses.

"Our K-9s are not required to wear their vest during the course of their regular duties," Peters said.

Helo assisted in 95 felony arrests, 16 misdemeanor arrests and was responsible for 14 apprehensions, she said. He also was responsible for a large number of drug seizures, including approximately 35 grams of heroin, 55 grams of methamphetamine and 111 grams of marijuana. During those incidents, $28,768 in cash was recovered.

Troopers have yet to decide whether to replace Helo. They warned the public not to donate money to any of several GoFundMe or other fundraising sites on the dog's behalf and said any money would come out of existing funding.

Peters said the Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers has agreed to accept donations to the K-9 program "for anyone who is wanting to show support by donating, but AST is not actively soliciting any donations at this time."

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