On September 22nd, 2021, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office in Cleveland, Tennessee, experienced inexplicable pain and grief when a beloved force member was seriously injured. K9 Joker, a strong, beautiful German Shepherd, was shot by a suspect when in pursuit and nearly lost his life.
On this day, Joker and his handler, Deputy Eduardo Choate, responded to a call about a stolen vehicle and a dramatic pursuit ensued. During the chase, one of the suspects turned with a weapon in hand and aimed it directly at Joker. He fired several shots, many of which penetrated the dedicated canine’s body.
Joker was immediately transported to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital. He was diagnosed with several critical injuries and admitted with a guarded to grim prognosis. The officers were devastated to learn that Joker may never recover and were sure he would never work again.
However, with the assistance of intensive veterinary care, a feeding tube, and lots of well-wishes from the Cleveland community, Joker bounced back. None of his injuries were permanent, and he was able to return to work after just a few short months.
Perhaps the most infuriating part of this story was that the person(s) responsible for Joker’s injuries received little more than a slap on the wrist for the assault. A beloved member of the force was knocking on death’s door, and the person responsible would not be adequately punished because the officer was not human.
Cleveland residents were rightly outraged at the unbelievable lack of justice and decided to do something about it. Joker’s assault and attempted murder prompted a huge movement, and thousands of people across the city began signing petitions to change the laws. They wanted to see stronger penalties for anyone who harms law enforcement or service animals in the state.
Fortunately, their outrage was heard and swift action was taken to change the laws. Now, in the state of Tennessee, those who harm a police or service animal with knowledge and intent will face a Class B felony with no exceptions.
This law extends to protect police dogs, fire dogs, search and rescue dogs, service animals, and police horses. This law was affectionately nicknamed “Joker’s Law” in honor of the brave K9 who brought about such positive change.
Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson praised Joker’s dedication to his fellow officers and the entire city:
“He contributes to this department and he contributes daily, and he is really our lead dog. He is one of the best.”