By Elizabeth Daley
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania man was sentenced on Tuesday to at least 17 years in prison for fatally stabbing a Pittsburgh police dog while officers were trying to arrest him, officials said.
A jury found John Rush, 22, guilty in December of 11 charges including aggravated assault, torture of a police animal and disarming an officer in the killing of the 8-year-old German shepherd named Rocco.
Rush encountered the dog in January 2014 in the basement of a building where he was hiding from Pittsburgh police who were seeking to arrest him on outstanding warrants, parole violation and failure to register as a sex offender, according to police.
Cornered in the basement, Rush stabbed the dog before he was subdued by officers, police said.
The dog died of spinal and kidney injuries at a veterinary clinic two days later.
During his trial, Rush testified that he stabbed the dog in self defense. His attorney did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.
After the dog’s death, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed “Rocco’s Law” that increased penalties for killing a police animal to 10 years in prison from seven and added a $25,000 fine for the offense.
Hundreds of people attended the dog’s funeral and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto ordered city flags flown at half-staff in his honor.
Funds raised after Rocco’s death have been used to purchase protective vests for 13 Pittsburgh police dogs.
Rush was sentenced to a prison term of 17-and-three-quarters to 44 years in prison plus eight years probation in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
A court official said although Rush was not sentenced under Rocco’s Law, he received a stiff sentence due to having a prior record.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott)