Two and a half years ago, on Oct 29, 2020, a K-9 dog who worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department died after being left on a hot day inside a department-owned 2013 Chevy Tahoe, under circumstances that still remain unclear.
Yet, the death of the six-year-old black Labrador Retriever, whose name was Spike, is a story that refuses to go away.
Spike was trained in the art of “accelerant detection,” which meant that the dog would often be brought in after a suspicious fire. At the time of his death, he and his handler, Sergeant Daniel Tobin, were assigned to the Arson Explosives Detail (AED), within the department’s Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB), which also includes SWAT, Aero Bureau’s search and rescue, and other specialized units of the LASD.
WitnessLA wrote of the need for a re-investigation of the dog’s death in our prize winning story of last fall.
Now, the newest chapter in the account of K-9 Spike’s death has arrived in the form of a lawsuit brought by veterinarian Dr. Yolanda Cassidy.
The 35-page lawsuit filed last Thursday, July 6, by civil rights attorney Vincent Miller, alleges that when the news of the dog’s death broke belatedly last year, in an attempt to cover up the department’s failure to investigate Spike’s death after it initially took place nearly three years ago, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, along with other department members, present and former, fabricated a back-dated memo, which described an investigation that never existed.
In order to add weight to the newly surfaced description of the purported investigation, (which WLA’s sources inside the LASD continue to maintain never took place) whoever wrote the memo about Spike’s death (which you can find here) presented Dr. Cassidy as the veterinarian who examined the six-year-old dog at the East Los Angeles Dog and Cat Hospital, which is approximately a ten minute drive from the building where K-9 handlers keep their offices.
This was the veterinary facility where Spike’s handler brought him after finding the black Lab in the overheated SUV where he was “unconscious,” and “unresponsive,” with “shallow respirations.”
In the memo in question, which was signed by then Captain Joseph Williams (who has now been promoted to the position of chief under new Sheriff Robert Luna), Cassidy was quoted has having described what she saw of Spike’s condition when he arrived at the clinic. She was further quoted as opining on elements other than overheating that might possibly have contributed to his death, about the treatment she said had been given the dog, and when he’d been pronounced dead.
Yet, according to the lawsuit, all of Yolanda’s quotes were completely manufactured by the authors of the suddenly public memo because, although Dr. Cassidy worked at the clinic, she wasn’t working the day of Spike’s death.
She had taken a rare day off to go to the doctor, she told WitnessLA when we first reported on the issue in the fall of 2022.
According to Thursday’s legal filing, Dr. Cassidy, who had been planning to open a veterinary clinic of her own, “has been irreparably harmed” by the “false portrayal of her as an incompetent veterinarian who participated in a criminal cover up.”
A deceptive memo
Cassidy told us about her hope to open her own clinic last year, when we were initially probing the events surrounding the death of K-9 Spike.
At that time, when we spoke to department sources about Cassidy, we learned that she was a favorite of the LASD’s K-9 deputies, and other LASD members.
“We even bring our family dog to her,” said one veteran LASD source.
Among Cassidy’s other medical skills, she also has expertise in the arena known as “tactical K9 casualty” care, which is the vet equivalent of battlefield medicine, treating the dogs when they’re out on the job and medical help is needed.
The vet had not, however, ever treated arson dog Spike, nor had she ever met Spike’s handler, Sergeant Daniel Tobin.
Furthermore, the description of Spike’s condition when he came to the clinic, which was falsely attributed to Dr. Cassidy, is considerably at odds with the clinic’s actual medical written assessment, which WLA has reviewed.
According to the veterinary hospital’s documents, when Spike arrived at the clinic, the staff found his body temperature to be 107 degrees, still very high considering, according to the report given by his handler, he’d been doused with water in order to lower his body temperature, and theoretically rushed directly to the veterinary hospital.
According to the veternary clinic’s documentation, when Spike arrived he was “cyanotic,” meaning his skin and gums were bluish due to lack of oxygen. The clinic vet found no heartbeat at all in the black Lab. The vet gave Spike a dose of epinephrine, a drug used for, among other reasons, to restart a stopped heart. Spike did not respond.
The actual vet on duty also noted in the clinic’s written report, that “rigor mortis” was already present, an observation that appears to be at odds Sgt. Tobin’s statement that Spike was still alive when he came to the parking lot and found his K-9 in an overheated car.
In any case, after 15 minutes of treatment, the clinic’s personnel pronounced Spike dead at 1:35 p.m on Oct 29, 2020, which was approximately 50 minutes after Sgt. Tobin reported having found Spike unconscious in the hot Tahoe.
It was a time frame that department sources found perplexing, given the fact that the veterinary clinic was around 10 minutes away from the SEB building.
“And presumably, he would have been driving Code 3, lights and sirens,” said a retired department member.
So what caused the delay?
There were also a number of other odd elements in the Spike narrative according to department sources.
For example, according to experienced department sources, when a department K-9 dies, and the cause of death is not 100 percent clear, a necropsy is called for.
(A necropsy is an autopsy for animals.)
For example, in the case of a Long Beach PD K-9 named Ozzy, who had also died in an overheated car, such an examination was performed by a vet to determine the dog’s cause of death.
In the case of military K-9s, Dr. Cassidy told us, a necropsy is mandatory, even in the case of retired dogs who die of old age.
Yet, in the case of K-9 Spike, there was no way the vet could do a necropsy because, when Sgt. Tobin left the clinic, he took Spike’s body with him.
“He should never have taken that dog,” a department source told us.
“Everyone who watches crime shows knows that in the case of a human death when there are questions, the family has a wait for an autopsy, no matter how painful that might be.”
And Spike was a department member. “So it was important to determine exactly how and why he died.”
When we reported on K-9 Spike last year, we initially learned of the dog’s death—and about the lack of an in-depth investigation into the circumstances of his death—through a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by Lieutenant Joseph Garrido, who had worked for more than a dozen years in the LASD’s K-9 program, where he oversaw several K-9 handlers, including Sergeant Daniel Tobin.
In response to Garrido’s whistleblowing (and also due the fact that he made a donation to the campaign of someone who was running for sheriff against then-sheriff Alex Villanueva), Villanueva and company reportedly brought criminal charges against Lt. Garrido. They were charges that—according to our sources, and our own brief investigation—were provably untrue.
Garrido has since been exonerated.
Meanwhile, when asked for a comment on the new lawsuit brought by Dr. Yolanda Cassidy, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department sent out the following email to reporters:
The tragic death of our beloved Department K-9 named “Spike” is unfortunate. Due to pending litigation, we are unable to provide further details at this point. However, we can say a supervisory inquiry was conducted in 2020 and precautionary steps have been taken to ensure these incidents do not occur in the future.
We understand about “pending litigation.”
But WitnessLA found the following phrases perplexing, especially if Sheriff Luna signed off on them:
“…we can say a supervisory inquiry was conducted in 2020 and precautionary steps have been taken to ensure these incidents do not occur in the future.”
Our reporting suggests otherwise.