La Vergne Police Officer Justin Darby and his K9 partner Sjaak had a bond that “couldn’t be broken,” their chief said at the canine officer’s memorial service.
A memorial service with full honors was held Tuesday for La Vergne K9 14 Sjaak (pronounced Jacques). The somber service, lightened with a few humorous moments, was held at LifePoint Church’s Smyrna campus.
Sjaak’s End of Watch was on Nov. 18. Police said suspect Jovan Brice, 39, opened fire on Darby’s patrol vehicle on Nov. 17 as he and Sjaak, a Belgian Malinois, left the police station.
Darby and other officers pursued Brice into a residential complex, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. Brice left his vehicle and shot at officers, who returned fire. Brice got back into his vehicle and drove further into the parking lot, striking a parked vehicle before coming to a rest. Officers found the driver had sustained a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Sjaak had been shot three times. He died on Nov. 18 following emergency surgery. Darby was not injured in the attack.
Police have not provided a motive for the shooting. The investigation is still ongoing, the TBI said.
At Sjaak’s memorial service, LPD’s interim chief, Burrel “Chip” Davis, described the time in 2014 he met Sjaak after Darby and the K9 finished training. Davis said he was in his office when he heard something and looked around – he was eye-to-eye with Sjaak.
“And I could tell he was looking at me like I was breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Davis said. “And then, out of nowhere, Darby comes laughing, and I screamed out, ‘Whose monster is this?’”
Darby gave Sjaak a command, and the K9 went over to him, Davis said.
“At that moment, I realized that not only did Justin learn what he needed to learn in the K9 training school, but the two had developed a bond that I felt that couldn’t be broken,” Davis said.
La Vergne Mayor Jason Cole said Sjaak was the department’s first K9 fatality.
“God willing, he will be the last,” he said.
LPD has two other K9 officers.
The Rev. Dr. Dan Spross shared a letter that Officer Darby wrote about Sjaak. Darby’s letter recalled one of a number of times when Sjaak likely saved his and other officers’ lives.
During that moment, Darby and a sergeant were tracking an armed suspect through a cemetery, Spross read from the letter. Sjaak grabbed the suspect, whom they had not seen, by the arm and fought the man, who tried to grab something in the grass. Officers later found a loaded handgun on the ground. Darby’s letter said he believes the suspect, who was hiding behind a wall, was waiting to ambush police.
“Thank you, my loyal, faithful partner,” Spross read from the letter.
A memorial service program listed some of Sjaak’s accomplishments: he recovered over $21,000 in cash, nearly 102 pounds of marijuana and 9,400 pills. He is credited with 23 apprehensions.
Darby’s and Sjaak’s supervisor, Lt. David Durham, said that when he told his daughter that Sjaak died, she cried and said she had played a game of tug-of-war with him two months before.
“I proceeded to laugh as Sjaak drug my daughter all over the back parking lot,” Durham said of the game.
A “final call” police broadcast was played in which the dispatcher called three times for “LPD K9 1-4 K9 Sjaak.”
With no one answering, the dispatcher proceeded with, “No response for K9 Sjaak. This is the final call for LPD K9 Sjaak. All units, K9 Sjaak has answered the highest call. All units, K9 Sjaak has answered the final call. K9 Sjaak faithfully served our police department since 2014. K9 Sjaak, thank you for your service and for making sure your handler got home safe every night. Rest in peace K9 Sjaak, we have your watch from here. All units: end of watch for La Vergne Police Department K9 Sjaak, November 18, 2020. All units: channel clear.”
Following the service, police from several agencies stood outside and saluted Sjaak and the Darbys. K9 teams and mounted police lined up outside, while three helicopters did a flyover. A firetruck also displayed a large American flag suspended from the ladder.