Editor's note: After not responding to The Chronicle's attempts to reach him for this story, Morton Police Chief Roger Morningstar published a four-page response days later. That statement is attached above.
After going two years with no contact from the Morton Police Department about K9 Camo, the beloved Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd mix she donated to the department, Sara Riley says she got an alarming text from Police Chief Roger Morningstar on Feb. 22.
He said Camo had attacked his K9 officer.
Morningstar told Riley that the police department would “try to find a safe place for him,” Riley said.
“And I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. I just didn’t know what that meant, so I said I’ll take him,” she said.
Camo, now 3 years old, first started working with the Morton Police Department in February 2019 after then-corporal Chris Fulton expressed interest in working with the dog as a K9 partner to assist in the police department’s drug investigations.
The two turned out to be a good team and worked well together — until Fulton resigned from the department after he was arrested for driving under the influence in July of that same year.
Camo was then partnered with officer Tyler Randt-Williams, and the two worked together from July 2019 until the attack in February 2021.
Riley arrived at Randt-Williams’ home to pick up Camo the day after receiving the text from Morningstar, she said.
She found Camo locked in a small kennel in Randt-Williams’ yard, and it didn’t take her long to notice that Camo was severely underweight and had multiple new scars on his face, which didn’t line up with the drug-tracking work he was supposed to be doing.
A weight-check in March — after nearly a month of Riley working to bring him back up to a healthy weight — had Camo weigh in at just 50 pounds.
Adult males of his breed are supposed to weigh between 65 and 85 pounds.
After Randt-William released Camo’s medical records, Riley learned that a veterinarian had raised concerns over Camo’s weight and malnutrition back in November, but the only resolution that came out of that appointment was a prescription for trazodone — a mild sedative frequently used to treat anxiety in dogs.
“It was very odd,” Riley said. “I don’t know if there were behavioral issues developing at that point where Tyler was like ‘oh he needs to calm down’ or if he just didn’t want to deal with the energy. It was very concerning that he was underweight at that point and instead of helping with that, he got a prescription to make him calm down instead.”
When she asked Randt-Williams about the attack, he told her he had dropped Camo’s leash and when he bent down to pick it up, Camo “went crazy,” Riley said.
“And I’m like, ‘well that seems really odd,’ but in my mind I was like ‘OK, he’s in this tiny kennel, he goes from the kennel to the patrol car. He’s not getting any exercise or any way to dispel his energy and he’s part Malinois. He has a lot of energy that he needs to have an outlet for.’”
While in Riley’s care, she said Camo was pretty much the same sweet, well-behaved dog that she and her two children remembered him to be.
“He has never tried to bite at me or my kids. We trust this dog 100% and for someone to say he bit him … We’ve just never seen that side of him, so it’s got to be he needs to build that trust,” she said.
But Camo’s protectiveness, which was present when he was a puppy, had gotten significantly worse while he was with the Morton Police Department. He was fine so long as Riley carefully introduced him to new people, but attempts to re-home him led to Camo developing a bite history, and Riley recalled an incident where Camo attempted to attack a young relative.
“Camo was trying to attack her because she was near my truck, but if I got Camo out of the truck and we approached her, he wouldn’t have had any problem. It was just somebody coming into his safe space,” she said. “It was just the oddest thing.”
Another concerning incident occurred when Riley and Camo were waiting outside the Morton Police Department for Riley’s daughter to finish a ballet lesson, which was being held nearby.
Camo saw Randt-Williams through the window, and lost it.
“He was trying to get out of the truck and barking and growling and I was like, ‘you know that person, why would you act like that?’”
Cory Strauss, who works with the Texas rescue and training center that was working to re-train Camo, said that incident — especially when paired with other aspects of Camo’s behavior that he noticed during training — led him to suspect Camo had a significant negative history with Randt-Williams.
“Once I figured it out, he, the police officer, admitted to me that he beat the crap out of (Camo),” Strauss said.
Randt-Williams could not be reached for comment through the Morton Police Department.
Strauss works with Riddick’s Playhouse and Rescue Center, an animal rescue service in Murchison, Texas, that works with dogs that have been abused, abandoned, injured or confiscated around the country to help heal and re-train them so they can have a “second chance.”
Strauss learned about Camo via Facebook and connected with Riley to see if Riddick’s would be a good place for him.
“I really think this is the best thing to give him a second chance because we would take Camo out walking and stuff and all he was doing was searching and trying to work. That’s what he wants to do,” Riley said.
Riddicks paid to fly Camo down to Texas in March to begin training Camo out of his aggressive behavior.
“Camo is our pride and joy,” Strauss said.
Camo spent three months at Riddick’s working with Strauss and other staff daily. In mid-June, he was enrolled in the Sector K9 Foundation’s Rescue2Resource program, a course that trains shelter dogs to work as K9s.
He was paired with a new handler at a local Texas sheriff’s office, who is paying for his and Camo’s K-9 training out-of-pocket. Sector described the two as “a perfect team” in a recent Facebook post.
Camo, who now weighs a healthy 80 pounds, graduated earlier this month and is set to start working with his new partner.
He is certified in narcotics detection and can track over 300 yards.
“He is an asset that Morton has definitely wasted,” Strauss said.
Not long after Camo’s departure from the Morton Police Department, Riley said she ran into a regular volunteer at the department. While they were talking, they made a comment about Camo. Riley said the volunteer was surprised to learn Camo had been given to Riley.
“She’s like ‘Oh, well they told us that he was put down,’” Riley said.
Riley explained that no, Camo was alive and in her truck, and offered to bring him out so the volunteer could see him.
“I just couldn’t believe that they had told people that he had been put down,” Riley said.
The Morton Police Department has yet to make any public statements about Camo’s departure. While tracking down Camo’s records so he could be re-certified in Texas, Strauss said the Morton Police were very “hush hush” about his documentation, and Strauss eventually learned that Camo was still listed as an active K9 with the Morton Police Department.
The department now reportedly has a new K9, but has not published any information about the dog or the officer it’s paired with.
“I haven’t even said anything to Roger (Morningstar) because I don’t know what to say,” said Riley. “It’s difficult for me because he kept saying ‘he’s not a pet, he’s a tool and we treat them as tools,’ and I was like ‘well nobody said that when this was just a thought of Camo going to the police department.’”
Given the rigorous training K9 teams are required to undergo and the thousands of dollars it goes into training each K9, Strauss said he was appalled by Morningstar’s comments to Riley.
“You ask any true K9 handler and they’ll tell you they’re not just a tool,” he said.
The Morton Police Department did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment.