Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story originally published April 23.
The 110-pound German shepherd waits patiently every day for his owner to return home.
But when the officer walks through the door, he doesn’t greet her with a wagging tail or a sloppy kiss.
Instead, he growls.
“I’m sorry,” Cypress Officer Becky Mathias tells Sem as she pats him.
Sem knows where Mathias has been for the last 12 hours because up until a few weeks ago, he was always by her side.
“He gets so mad at me,” Mathias said. “He knows I went to work without him and he is not happy.”
For the last nearly three years, Mathias and Sem have patrolled Cypress streets together, but a recent confrontation with a convicted felon has sidelined the 7-year-old purebred.
As Sem continues to slowly recover, it is unknown if he will return to the force.
But Mathias is hopeful.
Just after 12:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday, Mathias heard the call for assistance from La Palma Police — a domestic violence suspect was leading officers on a pursuit.
Several hours earlier, on April 4, a report came in that a man allegedly severely beat his fiancee.
La Palma police found the suspect, 40-year-old Juan Manuel Jara, and attempted to stop him.
The suspect evaded police and rammed his pickup truck into a police cruiser so violently one of the officers suffered a broken foot.
The suspect took off on the 605 southbound and was finally stopped near the 405-605 freeway split.
He exited the vehicle and ran down the freeway, eventually making his way down an embankment covered in thick brush and heavy trees, Mathias said.
Mathias stood ready with Sem.
“He’s reaching for his waistband,” she heard an officer call out.
Mathias looked down the hill to see the man, in fact, reaching in his waistband.
She unleashed Sem on the suspect.
Sem bounded toward the suspect, but then the pair disappeared in the thick foliage.
“I could hear them fighting and I think, ‘we got him,’” Mathias said.
She followed her K-9 partner down the embankment and saw the suspect, his hands around Sem’s neck, pinning the massive dog to the ground.
“You could see his veins bulging,” Mathias said of the suspect, who she described as not particularly tall, but very muscular.
Officers tackled the suspect, but the man continued to fight. They used a Taser several times before the suspect finally complied and was handcuffed.
“Sem did his job; he did what he was supposed to do,” Mathias said. “The guy was so distracted with Sem, he had no time to run and the officers were able to get him into custody safely.”
Mathias walked Sem back up the hill and learned from other officers who had a better view of the fight that her partner took a beating.
“One of the officers tells me the suspect was punching (Sem) like crazy,” Mathias said.
Sem seemed OK, but after loading him in the car Mathias said she noticed he started acting strangely.
“Usually when he’s in the back seat he’s ready to go and whining,” she said. “He doesn’t show a lot of pain, but he was acting funny. He was just kind of quiet.”
The change in Sem’s behavior prompted Mathias to immediately take him to the veterinarian.
The doctor found Sem suffered internal injuries, including a hole in his lung that caused air to fill his chest cavity, putting pressure on his heart and lungs.
The K-9 had to undergo a procedure in which doctors punched two holes in his chest to let the air — an entire liter of it — escape, Mathias said.
“It’s a serious condition,” Mathias said. “I’m watching him, but he seems to be healing.”
Sem has been going in for weekly checkups and will again visit the vet on Thursday. Mathias said they expect to hear whether or not the K-9 will need surgery.
For now, Sem stays home with Mathias’ two other dogs — labradors Charlie and Graham.
The German shepherd can’t be alone for more than a few hours at a time, so while Mathis is at work, friends come over to check on him.
Mathias said Sem is in good spirits, unless she comes home wearing her uniform.
He misses his job, she said.
“He loves to work and he’s so key to the department it’s hard not having him there,” Mathias said. “It’s hard being alone in the car.”
Sem’s absence is felt across the department.
“Our K-9 force is now cut in half and we don’t have that tool available to us,” said Sgt. Matt Timney. “Any time one of our people or animals is down, it affects us.
“These K-9s are a part of our family.”
Jara is facing 11 felony charges including assault on an officer with a deadly weapon, evasion and assault on a police dog.
In 1998, Jara was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
Mathias said Sem will continue to be treated and they expect to know in a few weeks whether he will make a full recovery and return to work.
“It’s still a wait-and-see thing, but I’m optimistic,” she said. “He’s a strong dog. I really think he’ll be back in service.”