K-9 unit's Ace misses master shot on duty Officer James E. Beck remains hospitalized

November 22, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Ace, a pumpkin-colored, 3-year-old German shepherd, stared mournfully through the wire door of his cage, looking very much like a lost puppy.

"You can see that the dog has been traumatized," said Lt. Michael P. Howe, head of the Baltimore County K-9 unit. "You can almost see the sadness in the dog's eyes."

Ace's handler, Officer James E. Beck, 40, was critically wounded Oct. 31, shot three times after stopping two robbery suspects on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale.

Three weeks after the shooting, Officer Beck remains in critical condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, recovering from two gunshot wounds to the chest and another to his left shoulder.

Two suspects, Mark Phillip French, 29, of Essex, and Heather Lynn Kendall, a 17-year-old Dundalk High School student, have been charged with the attempted murder of Officer Beck, armed robbery and a handgun violation.

Had the shooting not occurred, Ace would be at Officer Beck's home, or helping him patrol the streets. But since the shooting, he has been kept in a cage at the K-9 headquarters in Catonsville.

Officer Beck, a 19-year veteran of the force and member of the county's prestigious K-9 corps since 1987, met Ace about six months ago and trained him to be his "road dog." Though the bond between an officer and his dog is always strong, veteran K-9 officers say Officer Beck and Ace were especially close. Earlier this year, Officer Beck saved Ace's life.

It happened June 28, around 1 a.m. They were called to the 1600 block of Old Eastern Avenue in Essex, where a suspect had fired at a police officer before fleeing into the dark woods nearby. Officer Beck and Ace went after the man.

"That takes a lot of guts," said former Cpl. Steve Ensor Sr., 47, who retired from the K-9 force 18 months ago and who supervised Officer Beck for 4 1/2 years. "You don't know what you're going up against. They hear you and see you before you see them."

Officer Beck located the suspect and ordered him to come forward and surrender. The man refused. After several more warnings, the man ran off. Now, it was Ace's turn.

The dog ran the man down, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to the ground. The suspect, later identified as Steven Michael Maggio, 32, took out his knife and cut Ace on the right rear leg. Officer Beck ended the battle with a punch to the man's head, and prevented Ace from being stabbed further. Still, Ace needed six stitches to close his wounds, police said. Mr. Maggio was later charged with attempted murder.

"I know that he was proud of that dog," said Corporal Ensor, who saw Officer Beck and Ace a few months ago. "Jimmy always wanted an alligator, a dog that could chew up somebody, if they had to. I told him, 'I guess you got your alligator.' "

Corporal Ensor said that suspects rarely challenge a police dog. "Most of them just put up their hands," he said. "They don't know what the dog will do."

Not everyone makes it into the K-9 corps. Twenty-five to 30 people apply for every opening, Corporal Ensor said. Only veteran officers with good work records make it.

Once there, they go through 16 weeks of training with a dog hand-picked for its intelligence and physical ability. The dogs are donated or bought. Many are rejected because of hip problems, or other shortcomings.

During the training and after, dog and handler become a team, working and living together. "You're with the dogs more so than with your family," Corporal Ensor said. "You become very attached to them and very proud of them. . . [Ace] knows that something's wrong. He does."

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