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Contributed photo by Bradley County Sheriff's Office / Bradley County Sheriff's Office deputy Eduardo Choate and his K-9 partner Joker are shown in a 2020 photo posted on the department's social media page.

Authorities in Cleveland, Tennessee, said a Bradley County Sheriff's Office police K-9 was shot multiple times during a foot chase Wednesday morning in the woods near the Toyota of Cleveland dealership at Interstate 75's exit 20.

Police are seeking at least four men in connection with the shooting.

The department's K-9, Joker, had surgery Wednesday and was reported in "semi-stable" condition afterwards.

The dog has been in service with the department for the last five years and "is a cherished, loyal and devoted BCSO family member," sheriff's spokesperson Alana Shell said in a social media post. "Joker is truly our hero."

Joker's handler, deputy Eduardo Choate, was uninjured during the incident, she said.

Police received a burglary call about 2 a.m. Wednesday for Harrison Pike apartment complex, Shell said in a statement.

Officers entered the apartment complex and spotted a white Jeep Gladiator speeding onto Georgetown Road, heading toward Interstate 75, Shell said. Officers caught up to the Jeep at mile marker 25 on I-75, confirmed it was reported stolen in Hamilton County and tried to stop the vehicle.

"The suspects fled on foot into the woods around Toyota of Cleveland at Exit 20," she said. "K-9 Joker was deployed by his handler.

"Upon making contact with the suspects, K-9 Joker was shot multiple times," she said. "The K-9 was immediately taken to an emergency animal hospital in Chattanooga."

While Sheriff Steve Lawson activated the department's SWAT members and other off-duty officers to set up a perimeter in an attempt to corral the suspects, authorities were told a blue/silver 2009 4-door Lexus IS 250 with no license plate and a loud muffler had been stolen from the Withrow Road area and the suspects were headed toward Chattanooga, police said.

A witness told police the vehicle was last seen occupied by at least four men who are now considered armed and dangerous, Shell said.

"We appreciate the immediate response and wonderful collaboration between the Cleveland Police Department, Bradley County Sheriff's Office, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and BCSO's SWAT Team," Lawson said in the statement.

Chattanooga police also assisted, he said.

The investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released as it becomes available, Shell said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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