Posted on 07 February 2015.
When it came time for the fight with an armed suspect hiding in the woods, Pepper did exactly what his partner/handler had trained him to do.
Because of that, Sgt. JT Manoushagian said, he and four of his law enforcement brothers are still alive.
SAYING GOODBYE – Wise County Sgt. JT Manoushagian and his wife, Sandy, comfort each other during the memorial service for his K-9 partner, Pepper. He is one of five officers possibly saved by Pepper’s actions. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
“He ran in front of us as we held our position and looked danger, and ultimately death, directly in the eyes,” Manoushagian told the hundreds of law enforcement officers, including dozens of K-9s and their handlers, gathered at Wednesday’s memorial for Wise County Sheriff’s K-9 Deputy Pepper.
“Just as he was engaging, he shielded each of us with his body, making it impossible for the suspect’s rounds to reach any of us. He did exactly what I asked him to do, exactly what he was trained to do, and he did exactly what we needed him to do. It is because of him and only him that I stand before you today.”
PARTNERS – Flip, a K-9 officer at the sheriff’s office, gives his partner/handler Deputy Brett Yaro a lick prior to Wednesday’s memorial. Flip and Pepper both began work last month. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
The events he described happened a week earlier, almost to the minute, at the end of a search for Alan “Lance” Alverson, 45, of Granbury in a wooded area near Sunset, just north of the Wise/Montague county line. Pepper had used his tracking skills to locate Alverson, who had concealed himself under leaves.
When Alverson was discovered, he began shooting and officers returned fire, killing him. His funeral was held earlier in the day Wednesday in Fort Worth.
Wednesday’s service at Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise was as much a celebration of the five human officers as it was about their K-9 brother’s sacrifice.
If there was any doubt about how much Pepper’s act meant on that unseasonably warm late January day, it became perfectly clear during a video featuring photos of the five officers – three Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers and two Wise County Sheriff’s Office K-9 officers – who were at the scene.
It gave those in attendance a chance to see more than just the officers in their uniforms. The video showed wedding photos, pictures of young kids with their dads at ballgames, and other images of families sharing happy moments. Several of those gathered dabbed tears from their eyes as the video came to a close.
“Pepper’s sacrifice ensured that there’s not a newlywed widow sitting on the front row of this church,” Manoushagian said. “His sacrifice ensured none of these officers’ children were left without fathers, no mothers without sons, and no colleagues left without a brother. His sacrifice ensured that none of us would have to mourn the loss of another Wise County police officer.”
Manoushagian also made an emotional request on behalf of his family.
“I would ask that for those who know my children, that you not mention this to them,” he said. “Their minds are far too young to comprehend the gravity of this situation, and it is my God-given duty to protect their precious hearts and minds.”
He added that someday, when the time was right, he would explain what happened that day – a day that began just like any other.
FULL HOUSE – Law enforcement agencies throughout the state sent officers to Pepper’s memorial service, including several K-9 officers and their partners, who are seated on the far left side of the photo. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
‘HE WAS LOOKING FOR SOMEONE’
Manoushagian said he could tell early in the day on Jan. 28 that Pepper was trying to tell him something, “something I didn’t particularly like, but I listened nonetheless.”
He and Pepper spent hours that morning in training, but Pepper seemed to be interested in just one part of the training.
“The moment I took him out of my car, I knew he was looking for someone,” Manoushagian said. “He didn’t care about sniffing cars, he didn’t care about sniffing buildings. He was looking for someone.”
As Manoushagian put it, Pepper was “looking for the bite.” So it was not surprising, he said, that during the apprehension part of training, Pepper was in his element that day.
As the two were leaving the training area south of Decatur, Manoushagian heard about a suspect pursuit in Montague County that could be headed toward Wise County. When the pursuing officers requested K-9 assistance, he headed north along with his fellow K-9 handler, Deputy Brett Yaro.
As they pulled up near the spot where Alverson had run into the woods, leaving his abandoned car on the side of the dusty road near the intersection of Pickett Run Road and Aujla Road, the two began preparations for the search. They were soon joined by the three state troopers – Aaron Wallace, Greg Reyero and Adam Lawson.
Manoushagian said he knew all three well, perhaps none better than Lawson, his former partner at the Bridgeport Police Department.
“We were also former dispatchers, former rock musicians, and we even swore in together when we hired on at Bridgeport,” he said.
The group included a man with SWAT training (Yaro), one with Army service (Wallace) and one who reassured them he would watch their backs (Reyero).
The four men who accompanied Manoushagian and Pepper into the thick brush “courageously accepted the challenge of pursuing a dangerous suspect and ultimately did what they had to do to ensure that all of you could rest peacefully,” Manoushagian said as he introduced the four other officers sitting on the front row facing the wooden urn that held Pepper’s cremated remains. His words drew a standing ovation from the crowd of around 700.
FINAL TRIBUTE – A box containing Pepper’s ashes was placed at the end of two rows of K-9 officers and their partners at the conclusion of the service. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
‘PEPPER WAS MY DOG’
Last year, Manoushagian traveled to Vohn Liche Kennels in Indiana, a training school for K-9 officers and their handlers, where he evaluated several dogs in his search for a new partner.
“Pepper was relentless and easily rose above the rest,” he said.
In a video of Pepper’s training shown at the service, the dog can be seen trying to squeeze under a car with flat tires in order to retrieve an object tossed under the vehicle. Pepper stretches his front paws as far as he can reach and even turns onto his side a couple of times as he attempts to squeeze himself deeper under the car.
“After seeing this, there was no doubt in my mind that Pepper was my dog,” Manoushagian said.
The two spent two-and-a-half months training together. On Jan. 7, three weeks to the day before his death, Pepper was deputized and began his job as a member of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.
That sheriff’s office family filled the middle portion of the sanctuary Wednesday, black bands covering their badges as a tribute to one of their fellow officers killed in the line of duty.
Bridgeport Police Chief Randy Singleton read the poem, “The Life of a Police Dog,” interrupted a couple of times by barks from some of the K-9 officers seated together on the left side of the sanctuary.
Wise County Sheriff David Walker read a letter he had received from Gov. Greg Abbott, which read in part, “Please accept our condolences on the passing of Pepper. As a K-9 officer, Pepper faithfully served the people of Wise County and gave his life to protect others. Texas would not be the land of the free that it is without the service of K-9s and their handlers who work tirelessly fulfilling their tireless duty protecting the safety of others before their own.”
K-9s wagged their tails and played with chew toys as Pastor Rick Cooper provided a message of comfort and encouragement to the officers involved in the incident. Some handlers stroked their partner’s fur as they listened to Lt. Chuck Gomez, who oversees the K-9 unit at the sheriff’s office, describe what it was like to learn about the death of one of his four-legged officers.
As is customary with any fallen officer, a final radio call was given to the officer. In this case, the dispatcher who provided the 10-42 call, indicating the end of duty, was Kelsey Lawson, a county dispatcher who was on duty the afternoon of Jan. 28. She’s the wife of Trooper Adam Lawson.
“Wise County to all units, K-9 Pepper has answered the highest call,” she said. “Wise County to all units, K-9 Pepper has answered his final call. End of watch Jan. 28, 2015. You did your job well, Pepper. We’ll take it from here. Godspeed.”
Retired Forth Worth Fire Department Lt. Steve Creed performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, leading the K-9 officers and their handlers into the foyer of the church where the dogs formed two lines.
As people filed between them on their way out the door, the K-9 officers obediently followed the commands of their handlers, sitting at attention alongside their partners.
It seemed a fitting tribute to a fellow K-9 officer whose final act of obedience will not be quickly forgotten.