Florida K-9 deputy dies after being shot during Marion County shootout: 'He’s a part of us'

A deputy K-9 fighting for his life after being shot by a suspect in the line of duty has died.

According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), K-9 Leo died as a result of his injuries sustained on Saturday, Feb. 17. Leo was wearing a bulletproof vest when shot once by a suspect during a call in Silver Springs. The bullet struck the K-9 in an area not covered by his vest. 

Deputies returned fire, killing the man identified as Jeremy Bradsher, 44. K-9 Leo was rushed to University of Florida Veterinary Hospital in Gainesville.

After four days of fighting for his life, Leo, a Belgian Malinois and a three-year veteran of the MCSO, died on Tuesday morning.

"Over the last few days, Leo maintained that fighting spirit. However, Leo’s injuries were too severe to overcome this morning, and his passing will be felt by all of us here in my office and in our community," the Marion County Sheriff's Office wrote on social media on Tuesday. 

"He fought from that day, until today, when he couldn’t take it anymore, and he passed away with his handler and the K9 unit around him," said Valerie Strong, MCSO public information officer. "K-9 Corporal Tortora never left his partner’s side."

K-9 Leo’s courageous actions potentially saved his handler, Corporal Justin Tortora’s life, as well as other deputies' lives that day, said MCSO Sheriff Billy Woods.

"He was trained to fight crime, to help those in need, and protect his handler at all cost," Woods said.

Despite doing what he was trained to do, it doesn’t make his loss any easier, said Strong.

"These handlers and their K-9s have such a bond of loyalty, and love and trust," Strong said.


Credit: Marion County Sheriffs Office

RELATED: 1 dead, K-9 hurt following Marion County officer-involved shooting

Jason Johnson knows that bond firsthand.

"You spend more time with your K-9, than you do your family," Johnson said.

Johnson is founder and CEO of Project K-9 Hero, the national non-profit financially supports retired working law enforcement and military K-9s.

RELATED: K-9 Leo still in recovery after an officer-involved shooting

"These K-9s are heroes," Johnson said. "They do not ask to do this. They were born for it; they were bred for it. They serve with distinction, they serve with honor, and they do it without hesitation."

You can read more information about Project K-9 Hero here

Aside from K-9 Leo’s law enforcement duties, he was the K-9 unit’s top dog for community events. He loved people, especially children.

"He will never be forgotten, and he will stay in the hearts of all of us in the sheriff’s office," Strong said.

This February marked Leo's third year with the sheriff's office. 

"He’s a part of us," Bloom said. "A part of the community, and I think an incident like this highlights the danger that these deputies and certainly K9 handlers put themselves into each day."

A private donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, had pledged to pay for K-9 Leo’s medical expenses, Bloom said. 

Details for K-9 Leo’s end of watch service have not yet been released.