House passes ‘Rocco's Law' that would increase penalty for hurting, killing police dogs


HARRISBURG - On Tuesday, the State House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that would increase the penalty for anyone who hurts or kills a police dog.

The bill “Rocco’s Law” comes after the death of Pittsburgh K-9 officer Rocco.  The 8-year-old German shepherd was stabbed during an arrest in Lawrenceville.

Under the bill, hurting or killing a dog would be a second-degree felony and carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The bill's sponsor said current law allows for the same penalties for killing a police dog as for merely taunting one.

A Senate Republican spokesman said the bill is likely to pass that chamber as well.

In January, Rocco and his handler, Officer Philip Lerza, were among several officers who responded to a report of a suspicious man lurking near a building, only to encounter John Lewis Rush, 21, who, unbeknownst to police, was armed with a 6-inch folding knife when he dashed into the basement of a home.

According to a criminal complaint filed, Lerza warned Rush to shout an answer to police or face the dog. Instead, Rush lunged out from near a pillar and attacked Rocco, police said.

The dog was stabbed in the back, damaging muscles and a spinal bone and lacerating a kidney.

The dog survived surgery and appeared to be recovering from blood loss and other injuries when he developed pneumonia. As Rocco fought, Lerza stayed by the dog's side.

Rocco's funeral was attended by about 1,200 people.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.