Officer avoids charges after K-9 left in hot police car for hours found dead

Officer Viera Gonzalez was removed from the K-9 unit following the death of 2-year-old canine Zena in June 2021

COCOA, Fla. – A Cocoa police officer is not facing charges in connection with the death of a K-9 named Zena almost a year after she was found dead in the back of her handler’s hot car, according to an update provided by the State Attorney’s Office in Brevard County.

WKMG reported that the 2-year-old K-9 was found dead on June 23, 2021 when her handler went to check on her during a training class in Melbourne. Upon finding the dead dog, the handler said, “She’s dead! I told them so!”

Todd Brown, a spokesperson with the State Attorney’s Office in Brevard County, told WKMG on Thursday:

“Our office like many others were deeply saddened at the loss of Cocoa Police K-9 ‘Zena.’ Police K-9′s serve a vital role in protecting the citizens of their community, along with their law enforcement partners. We know that every effort is made by their agencies and handlers to ensure their well being in what is often a dangerous, and difficult assignment.

“After subjecting the criminal investigation conducted by the Melbourne Police Department to a thorough review, our office did not elect to file a criminal charge. Based on the totality of the evidence and unfortunate circumstances that led to the K-9′s death, we did not believe that prosecution of Officer Viera-Gonzalez was warranted. Additionally Officer Viera-Gonzalez was removed from the Cocoa PD K-9 unit and would no longer serve in that capacity.”

The investigation found the car’s emergency alarm and fan never turned on and Officer Viera Gonzalez, who was in charge of the dog, waited more than four hours before finally returning to the parking lot.

Melbourne police said Gonzalez also made comments about how he was aware the vehicle had a history of mechanical problems. Another K-9 officer said the 2014 Chevy Caprice was a spare police car and not the usual K-9 vehicle Gonzalez drove. That officer said the regular vehicle’s emergency cooling system could run even when the car was turned off, but for the spare car, it did not function unless the car was running.

After a doctor said K-9 Zena likely died from a heat stroke, a Melbourne police investigation recommended an animal cruelty charge against the officer responsible for caring for the Belgian Malinois.

‘’Canine Zena was unnecessarily tormented and killed,’’ the report reads.

Officers said they inspected the K-9 officer’s car the next day at the police building before it was impounded.

“The Cocoa Police Department is heartbroken to announce the passing of our newest patrol dog K-9 Zena,” the agency wrote in a news release last year.

While the charge of animal cruelty was recommended, the State Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute. The state attorney’s office also confirmed that Cocoa police removed the officer from its K-9 unit.


About the Authors:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.