Flags at half-staff, suspect held in K-9’s death

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – A fugitive was ordered held Friday on $1 million bail on charges he fatally stabbed a city police dog while officers tried to arrest him. Meanwhile, flags in the city flew at half-staff to honor the animal under the orders of the mayor.


John Lewis Rush, 21, was arraigned Friday. He was already being held without bond on a warrant he faced for the past charges. Court records don’t list an attorney for Rush, who faces a preliminary hearing Feb. 12. He had most recently lived in McKees Rocks, but police said he was homeless at the time of his arrest.


Rush was wanted on warrants for probation violations and failing to register as a sex offender when he fought off an Allegheny County sheriff’s deputy who tried to arrest him Tuesday night. About 40 minutes later, Rocco and his handler, Officer Philip Lerza, were among several officers who responded to a report of a suspicious man lurking near a building only to encounter Rush who, unbeknownst to police, was armed with a 6-inch folding knife when he dashed into the basement of a home.


According to a criminal complaint filed Friday, Lerza warned Rush to shout an answer to police or face the dog, an 8-year-old German shepherd named Rocco. Instead, Rush “lunged out from near a pillar and attacked K-9 Rocco.”


The dog was stabbed in the back, damaging muscles and a spinal bone and lacerating a kidney. The dog survived surgery and appeared to be recovering from blood loss and other injuries when it developed pneumonia and died at a veterinary hospital Thursday evening. The animal succumbed to his wounds and was not euthanized, police said.


Rocco “died saving his fellow members and lived serving all of us,” Mayor William Peduto said.


Rush faces as many as seven years in prison if convicted of a third-degree felony for attacking the dog and up to 20 years each for attacking four officers, including Lerza, who was stabbed in the back of his shoulder. Three other officers suffered lesser injuries from being punched or struggling to subdue Rush, police said.


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