K-9 helps nab fleeing felon

OKEECHOBEE — Willie Joe Harris tried to evade deputies Wednesday night by swimming away but when he ran into a waiting and snarling K-9 Magnum, he changed his mind.

Harris, 37, S.E. 24th Ave., was arrested May 11 on felony charges of possession of methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance (alprazolam) without a prescription and failing to obey a law enforcement officer’s order to stop.

He was also charged with the misdemeanors of resisting a law enforcement officer without violence, possession of drug paraphernalia and failing to obey a lawful order.

Harris is being held in the Okeechobee County Jail on a bond of $14,500.

An arrest report by Deputy Matt Grumbling, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), indicated he tried to stop a tan Chevrolet sports utility vehicle around 5:50 p.m. in the 800 block of S.E. 32nd St. He went on to point out that the vehicle was traveling at a speed of 50 mph in a 40 mph zone.

However, when the deputy activated his emergency lights the vehicle allegedly began to speed up. The driver of the SUV, later identified as Harris, then ran the stop sign at S.E. 18th Terrace and S.E. 32nd Street and drove through a yard at 2717 S.E. 32nd St. He then drove toward a canal behind the home at that address, added the deputy.

Harris, continued the report, and his male passenger both jumped out of the vehicle. The 33-year-old male passenger laid down on the grass while the driver kept running toward the canal, the deputy stated.

Deputy Grumbling then stated that Harris looked back at him and jumped into the canal and started swimming in a northerly direction. At this point the deputy indicated he saw a clear plastic bag floating where Harris had jumped into the canal.

When the deputy retrieved the plastic bag he found it contained 17 yellow alprazolam 2mg pills, two white alprazolam tablets and a suspected methamphetamine crystal rock that weighed approximately .9 grams.

That crystal rock was later tested and that test indicated a positive result for the presence of meth, stated the report.

As he was relaying all of the information to his dispatcher and other deputies, Deputy Grumbling saw Harris get out of the water and start running north behind a home on S.E. 31st Street.

Deputy Cross & Magnum

Deputy Cross & Magnum

By this time, OCSO K-9 Magnum and his handler Deputy Brian Cross were in the area and began to track Harris, who was now in a canal and swimming east toward Taylor Creek.

Deputy Cross and Magnum ran to where Harris was reportedly swimming.

Deputy Cross apparently told the man if he didn’t give up, he had better be prepared to be bitten by Magnum.

“(But) the water was too deep to deploy K-9 Magnum in that area of the canal.

We responded further north and got ahead of Willie, while he was still swimming towards us,” stated Deputy Cross. “We entered the water and met Willie. We were standing in approximately 3 feet of water and I again commanded Willie to come to the bank or I was sending the dog and he would be bitten.”

When Harris ignored the warning, Deputy Cross then commanded Magnum to watch the man.

“He began barking and trying to get to Willie as I held him back,” continued Deputy Cross. “Willie said he gave up and was too tired to run any more and (he) didn’t want to be bitten.”

Magnum, K-9 police

OCSO K-9 Magnum in a training photo

OCSO K-9 Magnum

At that point Harris gave up and was taken into custody behind a home at 2714 S.E. 30th St. without further incident.

Deputy Grumbling’s report noted that he searched the SUV and nothing else was found. The passenger in the vehicle was released at this time.

According to Deputy Grumbling’s report, he issued Harris traffic citations for: speeding; failure to obey a traffic control device (stop sign); fleeing and attempting to elude law enforcement; failure to obey a lawful command; and, driving while license suspended/revoked.

The pills and suspected meth will be sent to the Indian River Crime Lab in Fort Pierce for further analysis, Deputy Grumbling added.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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