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K-9 Bruno retires; homicide detail recognized

A standing-room-only audience packed City Hall Tuesday evening to cheer Bruno the police dog, who officially retired several weeks after being shot in the face protecting his partners from an armed gang member.Bruno and RJ Young

The audience also applauded Anaheim’s homicide team – and sex-crimes Det. Laura Lomeli – who in late April arrested two men suspected of killing at least five women.

After receiving a proclamation from the state assembly, Bruno yelped, which drew cheers from the audience.

His handler, R.J. Young, choked back tears as he described Bruno’s retirement as “bittersweet.”

“He’s retiring on top,” said Young, who thanked his colleagues, the community and the world for its support.

He gave special thanks to the Friends of the Anaheim K-9 nonprofit for providing funds to ensure the care “quality he’s earned” in retirement.

Bruno’s story drew international headlines, millions of likes on Facebook and more than 13 million impressions on Twitter. On Tuesday night, many residents wore “Hero” K-9 Bruno T-shirts.

Mayor Tom Tait called Bruno “our most famous K-9,” and Police Chief Raul Quezada said he was “so proud of our community” for coming together in support of Bruno, the K-9 unit and the police department.

City Hall’s corridors were lined with men and women in uniform, who applauded Bruno’s career – and the achievement of the homicide unit.

The investigators worked tirelessly to identify and arrest registered sex offenders Franc Cano, 27, and Steven Gordon, 45, on suspicion of killing at least five sex workers.

Great police work stops serial killers, saves lives

The interrogation is chilling. But it was also strategic.

To see a KTLA-TV report on the Ocampo interrogation, click on the photo

To see a KTLA-TV report on the Ocampo interrogation, click on the photo

Sgt. Darren Wyatt knew the serial killer, a former Marine, would respond best to an authoritative tone.

“You know what’s right and you know what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” answered Itzcoatl Ocampo, hours after his January 2012 arrest for a homicidal spree that left six dead, including four homeless men. Police released a video recording of the interview last week.

“Do you think that what you’ve done is right or wrong?” Wyatt asked.

“Wrong, but it had to be done,” Ocampo explained. His disturbing rationalization: homeless people are a drag on the economy and must be eliminated.

He was arrested after Lt. Bob Dunn, the police department’s spokesman first on scene, set up a perimeter.

Ocampo killed himself in November, swallowing a lethal amount of Ajax while in his jail cell, police said.

Dunn and Wyatt aren’t the only Anaheim police officers who made news in April for tracking a serial killer.

Anaheim’s entire homicide unit – with assists from Santa Ana police detectives, FBI agents, parole and probation officers and Anaheim sex crimes Det. Laura Lomeli – identified, tracked and ultimately arrested two homeless sex offenders in April. The men are accused of killing at least five sex workers.

The investigation began after 21-year-old Jarrae Estepp’s body was found on a recycling conveyer belt.

Hunting for clues, Det. Bruce Linn crawled through the reeking dumpster looking for clues. More than 75 investigators searched through dumpsters, interviewed witnesses and worked around the clock. The detectives scoured information from registered sex offenders’ GPS ankle bracelets and cell phone data from the dead and missing women.

The effort led to two suspects, but it would be more than a week before they could make the arrests.

“It’s frustrating when you know who it is and you can’t do anything,” Julissa Trapp, lead detective on the case, told the Orange County Register.

In a bizarre coincidence, police arrested Franc Cano, 27, in the same parking lot where they had arrested Ocampo two years earlier. Also arrested was Steven Gordon, 45.

In both the prostitute and homeless serial killing cases, police showed tremendous tenacity, smarts and compassion.

In both cases, work remains. Police hope to identify the fifth victim in the prostitute killings and find the bodies of Kianna Jackson, 20, Josephine Vargas, 34, or Martha Anaya, 28.

But this much is certain, officials say: great police work prevented more killings.

Sadly, it’s not just pimps who victimize sex workers

* This column is scheduled to be published in the Anaheim Bulletin on May 1.

Jarrae Estepp

Jarrae Estepp

The Anaheim Police Department’s approach to policing sex workers shifted four years ago.

They began treating them as victims, offering services and trying to help them get off the streets.

Since then, they’ve rescued more than 380 women while pursuing and arresting dozens of the pimps who enslave them and profit off their bodies. It’s an approach that has earned praise from federal law enforcement and has become a model for police agencies around the nation.

But as we learned recently, it’s not just pimps who victimize women sex workers.

Tragically, women sometimes find themselves confronted by violent predators aiming to satisfy deranged desires.

Two registered sex offenders were arrested on suspicion of raping and killing four women: Martha Anaya, 28, Josephine Vargas, 34, Kianna Jackson, 20 and Jarrae Estepp, 21.

Police also announced that the suspects, Steven Dean Gordon, 45, and Franc Cano, 27, terrorized and killed at least one other yet-to-be-identified woman.

Mayor Tom Tait called it a “sad and solemn” situation.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas commended investigators for putting “a stop to a serial killing that would have likely continued.”

The case has drawn national headlines.

One aspect of the case that has drawn significant attention is the way investigators solved the case – using GPS histories from ankle bracelets worn by the registered offenders, who were on parole.

Shortly after March 14, when Estepp’s body was found at an Anaheim recycling center, investigators began examining monitoring devices worn by local registered sex offenders.

The goal: to see if they could link one or more to the location of the victims.

Their effort paid off.

Within about a week of the discovery of the body, investigators had identified the suspects, connecting them to Estepp and the three missing women from Santa Ana.

The bodies of the Santa Ana women have not been found, nor has the body of the unidentified fifth victim.

The sad reality is that Orange County – with is wonderful climate, beautiful beaches and tourist attractions – is an attractive place for pimps and sex workers to do business.

It’s another sad reality is that there’s no shortage of homicides for police to solve.

Here’s hoping investigators and prosecutors can bring justice for the victims’ families.

US Attorney’s office commends detectives for help prosecuting pimps

Federal prosecutors recently thanked Anaheim Vice Detail Investigators for their work in helping win convictions against two pimps who had enslaved four underage girls and one woman.

In a private meeting earlier this month, the detectives – along with the FBI agents they collaborated with – were recognized at a National Crime Victim’s Week event.

To view a recent KNBC report about the Vice Detail, click on the photo

To view a recent KNBC report about the Vice Detail, click on the photo

The cases were part of a national effort to rescue women from their pimps.

This isn’t the first time APD’s innovative approach to human-trafficking earned federal law enforcement recognition.

Last year, the FBI published a crime bulletin highlighting APD’s approach, which treats prostitutes as victims and focuses investigative efforts on finding and arresting pimps.

The police department said it has rescued 380 women and arrested several dozen pimps since then.

“The quality of work that they do is outstanding,” said an FBI agent who investigated the most recent case alongside APD detectives. “These cases could not have been brought without them.”

Behind the Badge is not publishing names of the detectives or the FBI agent because of the nature of their undercover work.

One of the pimps, Curtis Canady, was recently sentenced to 97 months in federal prison. His co-defendant, Rayshaad Tait, is scheduled to be sentenced today.

Among the crimes, according to the FBI: using the Internet to sell sex services to men from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Bruno’s tale illustrates danger of police work

He did his job.

Bruno and his partner, R.J. Young.

Bruno and his partner, R.J. Young.

Those four words echoed through the halls of the Anaheim Police Department in the days after K-9 Officer Bruno was shot in the face while tracking an armed suspect.

“If Bruno wasn’t there, there’s no doubt in my mind that somebody would’ve gotten hurt,” said Officer R.J. Young, his handler.

Bruno’s job involves sniffing out narcotics and bad guys and putting his life on the line to protect his colleagues.

On March 23, Bruno did his job with remarkable valor.

After being shot, the 7-year-old German shepherd only yelped once – even though the round shattered his jaw, damaged his lung and lodged less than an inch from his heart.

The unfolding drama of Bruno’s heroism and dramatic recovery reverberated across the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of supportive messages from Australia, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and across the U.S.

As we continue to root for Bruno’s full and speedy recovery, let’s not forget what led him to Mayfair Avenue.

A parolee who had been released from prison 10 days earlier had fired at probation officers.

As they always do, police officers raced toward the danger.

Contemplate what it must be like for the husbands, wives, family and friends of police officers, especially on days when an armed ex-con fires at officers.

“Obviously, I’m devastated over what happened to Bruno,” Rachel Young, R.J.’s wife, told the Register. “But I’m so happy and relieved that my husband came home that day because he might not have.”

The suspect was killed when officers returned fire. This wasn’t the suspect’s first brush with law enforcement.

“After he was tackled during an arrest in 2011, he told a deputy in county jail that he struggled with the officer to get away, and had ‘even tried to reach for his gun,’” the Register reported. “When the deputy asked why he tried to grab the gun, (the suspect) said, ‘Because if I did get the gun I would have killed him,’ according to court records.”

Gang violence is down in Anaheim – in part because of innovative police programs aimed at encouraging impressionable young people to make good decisions.

But being a police officer is still a dangerous job that requires significant courage – as Bruno continues to demonstrate.

* This column appeared Tuesday on the Orange County Register’s website and is expected to be published in Thursday’s edition of the Anaheim Bulletin.

Update: Bruno continues to improve, city shares video and ‘hero’ T-shirt unveiled

Bruno, the police dog who was shot in the face by an armed suspect more than two weeks ago, continued to show signs of improvement Friday after emergency surgery for a condition called gastric bloat earlier in the week, officials said.

“The surgery was a set back,” said Officer R.J. Young, his handler, on Thursday evening. “But he’s coming back from it pretty well.”

Animal hospital officials said Bruno can drink and eat “little bites” out of a dish – though he was still receiving oxygen and fluid intravenously.

“You would have never believed Bruno had bloat surgery less than two days ago,” Yorba Regional Animal Hospital’s Steve Dunbar posted on its Facebook page Thursday night. “He is healing at an amazing rate.”

Bloat occurs when too much air fills the stomach, making it difficult to breath.

“He’s got to learn to eat and drink again,” Young said.

The city on Thursday shared video footage of Young’s visit with Bruno on Monday, before the emergency surgery. Click on the clips to view.Hero T-shirt

On Friday, a Facebook group called Anaheim Hills Buzz unveiled artwork on a “hero” T-shirt it will be selling to raise money for Bruno’s future medical expenses.

The group is also hosting a “Benefit for Bruno” on April 12 from noon-4 p.m. at the Reunion Kitchen + Drink. The event will include a hand-crafted “hair of the day” hand-crafted cocktail, appetizers, a raffle and auction items. An APD K-9 and handler will be there. For more information, please contact benefit4bruno@gmail.com.

On April 19, “Dog Park for Chino Hills” is hosting a “Breakfast for Bruno” from 8-10 a.m. at the Applebees at 3956 Grand Avenue in Chino Hills. Tickets are $10. For more information, contact www.dogparkforchinohills.org.

Scentsy, a ceramic warmer that uses a light bulb or heating plate to melt scented wax instead of a wick, is donating at least 30% of its pretax sales in April to Bruno’s recovery fund. For more, visit www.tosmell.scentsy.us.

On March 28, Tony’s Deli donated 10% of its sales during a fund-raiser that included the unveiling of a “Bruno Hero Special” sandwich.

And on Tuesday students at Fairmont Private School collected pennies for Bruno and presented K-9 Officer Brett Klevos and his partner, Guenther, a check for $2,200.

And the Friends of the Anaheim Police K-9 Association continues to raise money. You can mail donations to PO Box 17882, Anaheim, CA 92817; make a donation at any US Bank branch, attention “Friends of the Anaheim Police K9 – Bruno Donation Account or visit them on Facebook.

The group will host its largest annual fund-raiser April 25-27 at the Pet Expo at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Young plans to be at the booth each day.

Cheryl Timmons said the group will be selling T-shirts.

She said they have received mail and donations from people all over the world, including a police unit in Switzerland.

“None of us can begin to express how totally overwhelmed we are with the goodness of kind hearted people,” she said. “A total ‘mind-blower’ for sure.”

Update: Bruno still ‘weeks away’ from coming home, handler says

While K-9 Bruno’s miraculous recovery from a gunshot wound took another step forward Friday, his handler said he is still likely “weeks away” from coming home.Bruno and RJ Young

Officer R.J. Young said he and his wife were relieved after learning doctors were successful in making progress toward repairing his shattered jaw and reconstructing his tongue.

But he said his partner would remain at the Yorba Regional Medical Hospital “for as long as he needs to rest.”

“I want him home as soon as possible,” Young said. “But he’ll be here until he can eat and drink on his own.”

There are also too many distractions at home, Young said.

“His lifestyle at home is very chaotic,” he said. “He goes 100 miles an hour, then crashes.”

Bruno was injured on March 20, when he located a suspect believed to have fired at probation officers. A gang member who had been released from prison 10 days earlier, the suspect opened fire, hitting Bruno in the face. Returning fire, officers killed the suspect.

R.J. Young said without Bruno “there’s no doubt in my mind that either me or somebody else would’ve gotten hurt.”

The round shattered Bruno’s jaw, and damaged part of his lung. X-Rays show just how much devastation the round caused. They also show how the round lodged within an inch of his heart. It was so close to his heart, officials said, that surgeons decided not to remove it.

His story has drawn international attention, and millions of views on Facebook and Twitter. This morning, Bruno and the Youngs were featured on ABC News’ program, Good Morning America. They were also featured on People Magazine’s website.

Young said he and his wife, Rachel, have been overwhelmed by the support. He said hopes more people will understand the role K-9 officers play in keeping their partners, police departments and communities safe.

“I’m grateful that something good is coming out of this,” he said.

Donations to help the Youngs fund Bruno’s long-term health can be made at any US Bank or on its website to the “Friends of the Anaheim Police Canine Association – Bruno Donation Account.” Money is also accepted via PayPal to foak9@hotmail.com.