In his first two months on duty, Niko was twice hit by cars, once when chasing a felon across a Lathrop street and the second time by a carjacker who was fleeing the dog and his handler, county sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Biedermann.
“He literally hit the ground running,” said Sgt. Steve Walker, one of Niko’s trainers.
Those close calls came in late 2004. On July 23, the 61/2-year-old Dutch shepherd was shot and killed by a federal marshal he had bitten during a struggle with a wanted man.
Niko’s badge number, 21, was retired Wednesday at a memorial ceremony in front of the Sheriff’s Office, attended by dozens of people, some of them police dog handlers who had traveled from as far as Salinas and West Covina.
Over the course of his career, Niko collected 57 street apprehensions and helped with more than 400 felony arrests.
Walker said Niko was so well known that the Lathrop restaurant Mikasa named a sushi roll after him – the Spicy Niko Roll. In 2007, Biedermann and Niko were named officers of the year by the Italian-Athletic Club.
When he took the podium Wednesday afternoon, Biedermann said he had never really been a man of many words, then paused for a long time before continuing.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” he said. “He was always there. He saved me several times. He was always fearless and dependable.”
The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the circumstances that led to the confusion in which Niko bit the wrong person, a federal marshal working alongside the Sheriff’s Office to catch fugitive Glen Hughes.
The U.S. Marshals Service is investigating the shooting itself.
The marshal did not know Niko was a Sheriff’s Office dog when he fired, a spokeswoman has said.
Sheriff Steve Moore said Wednesday that the U.S. Marshals Service will help acquire a new dog to replace Niko.
Moore also said the Sheriff’s Office will build a memorial to fallen service dogs.