Georgia Senate passes scaled-down law making it a felony to kill a police dog

K-9 Tanja, a police dog that was killed in the line of duty.
K-9 Tanja, a police dog that was killed in the line of duty.

Tanja's Law lost a lot of its bite, but passed the Georgia Senate without much bark.

The original bill filed by state Sen. Jeff Mullis last month would have increased the punishment for killing a police dog to second-degree murder -- carrying a punishment of 10 to 30 years in prison.

The scaled-back version of the bill, officially known as Senate Bill 72, would heighten the current minimum sentence for killing a police dog by six months -- allowing a person to be locked away on felony charges for 18 months to five years -- and have the offender face a fine of up to $20,000, or both.

The new bill also proposes incremental punishments for the intentional harm and shooting of law enforcement animals, along with requiring offenders to pay restitution for veterinary bills or the cost of replacing the animal. Any police animal who dies as a result of physical harm will be given an autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The modified bill passed the Senate 46 to 3 on Friday. If the bill passes the Georgia House of Representatives it will become law.

Senate bill specifics

* Intentionally causing physical harm to a law enforcement animal is punishable by up to 12 months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.* Using a deadly weapon or other object or body part to physically injure a law enforcement animal is punishable by six to 12 months in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.* Intentionally shooting a law enforcement animal with a firearm or causing debilitating physical injury to the animal is punishable by one to five years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.* Intentionally killing a law enforcement animal is punishable by 18 months to five years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.Source: Georgia Senate Press Office

The legislation crafted by Mullis is named after Tanja, a former Walker County K-9 who was shot on the job last June. Mullis and representatives within the Walker County Sheriff's Office felt that Tanja's killer was not adequately punished.

Law professors called Mullis' original bill "wacky" and "weird," questioning the decision to equate the murder of an animal with that of a human.

Georgia State law professor Russel Covey said the new bill is more reasonable.

"No one would condone violence against a police dog, and those acts should be punished," Covey said. "But those acts shouldn't be equated to the killing of a human being."

Covey said the new punishments described in the bill are more consistent with the gravity of the offense, calling it a "more measured approach."

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said he expected the original bill to be modified during negotiations.

"The initial bill was much more firm and had more punishment to it," Wilson said. "Senator Mullis went back in and watered it down so that it would pass without much controversy."

Wilson says the current bill is a good start, and he expects it should pass in the next couple of weeks.

State Rep. Tom Weldon, who is carrying the bill in the House, could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Mullis also was unavailable for comment, but said in a written statement Tuesday, "When a police animal is killed in the line of duty it is a significant loss for the department, both emotionally and financially."

He hopes this legislation will work to lessen this loss to law enforcement by providing restitution, he said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

Previous news report: