Veterinarian sues after Sheriff’s Department dog dies in hot patrol cruiser

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department's accelerant-detecting dog, Spike, searches at the scene of a suspected arson fire
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s accelerant-detecting dog, Spike, searches for ignitable liquids at the scene of a suspected arson fire in Lake Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcement Bureau)
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A veterinarian is suing several current and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials, saying they fabricated and backdated a memo to cover up the 2020 death of a bomb-sniffing black Labrador named Spike who overheated in an unattended patrol car.

Dated from late 2020, the memo claimed that Dr. Yolanda Cassidy told officials she had examined the dog and couldn’t tell what killed him. But in her lawsuit filed Thursday, Cassidy said none of that was true, and she called the Sheriff’s Department memo “fraudulent.”

She said she never examined the dog, never spoke to officials about what killed him and wasn’t even at work that day.


The memo is also at odds with a veterinary report reviewed by The Times last year, which showed that the dog “most likely passed of heat stroke.”

In the lawsuit filed Thursday, Cassidy accused the department of fabricating the memo two years after the fact in an alleged effort to cover up the real reason for the dog’s death once the incident finally came under public scrutiny in the fall of 2022.

The motive, the suit alleges, was to help former Sheriff Alex Villanueva avoid bad press during a heated reelection campaign.

“It’s disappointing that LASD hasn’t fixed this mess and taken any steps to clear Dr. Cassidy’s name,” her attorney, Vince Miller, told The Times on Thursday. “We’re hoping to see a change in the culture of the department, and we haven’t seen that yet.”

The county, which typically does not speak publicly about pending litigation, did not immediately offer comment. Neither Villanueva nor any of the other current and former officials named as defendants responded to similar requests late Thursday.

In an emailed statement Thursday evening, the Sheriff’s Department did not weigh in on Cassidy’s allegations, or whether the memo was fabricated.


“The tragic death of our beloved Department K-9 named ‘Spike’ is unfortunate,” the statement said. “Due to pending litigation, we are unable to provide further details at this point. However, we can say a supervisory inquiry was conducted in 2020 and precautionary steps have been taken to ensure these incidents do not occur in the future.”


The problems began on the morning of Sept. 29, 2020, when Sgt. Dan Tobin left the 6-year-old dog — who was trained to sniff out explosives and accelerants — in his patrol car while he went inside a station to work. Afterward, in the now-disputed memo, the Sheriff’s Department said that, although Tobin left the windows rolled up, he had the air-conditioning on. When he came back to check on the animal mid-morning, the dog seemed fine.

But when he returned just before 1 p.m., the memo said, the inside of the car was hot, and Spike was unconscious. The sergeant rushed the animal to the East L.A. Dog and Cat Hospital, where staff tried to revive him. Afterward, instead of leaving the dog’s body at the hospital for a necropsy, Tobin allegedly took it with him — which the suit says was “presumably to cover up evidence of Spike’s death.”

When Lt. Joseph Garrido, one of Tobin’s superiors, found out about Spike’s death, he reported it to the captain above him, allegedly imploring the man to investigate the incident thoroughly and make sure no one tried to cover it up. Then, Garrido sent an email reminding his entire canine unit to be careful not to let their dogs overheat.

For several months afterward, the Sheriff’s Department refused to answer questions from The Times about the dog’s death, confirming only that the animal died and that no employees were disciplined as a result. The cause, a spokesman said at the time, was unable to be determined by “medical personnel.”

But according to the lawsuit, the department never did an investigation, instead killing the probe to avoid “bad media.”


Officials did, however, open an investigation into Garrido, who also had another strike against him: He’d allegedly irked higher-ups by donating $1,500 to the reelection campaign of one of Villanueva’s rivals.

The investigation into him centered on claims that Garrido “stole gasoline” when he allegedly drove his work vehicle to Arizona — claims that could be easily disproved from the vehicle’s odometer. In response, Garrido filed suit in October 2022, accusing the county of retaliating against him.

Not long after that case was filed, Cassidy alleges that then-Cmdr. Joseph Williams reached out to her, warning her to stay away from Garrido if she wanted to avoid getting pulled into the burgeoning scandal.

“Do you know what f–-ing Garrido is doing?” Williams allegedly said. “He’s talking to the L.A. Times about the dog that died.”

Cassidy reminded him that she didn’t know anything about the dog because she never saw or treated Spike, and she reiterated that she hoped she didn’t get pulled into anything.

But a few days later, Villanueva and his team fired back at Garrido’s lawsuit, calling its claims “blatant and demonstrably false lies” in a statement posted on the department’s Facebook page. The statement also linked to the now-disputed memo, dated Oct. 6, 2020.


According to the memo, Cassidy had examined the animal and decided “heat, aspiration, and underlying medical conditions could have caused the death and that she could not exactly determine” what had killed the dog.

According to Cassidy, she never saw the dog at all.

“I wasn’t there,” she told The Times last year, going on to suggest that the Sheriff’s Department might have written the memo because they “expected me to cover them.”

Instead, she said, someone else at the East L.A. Dog and Cat Hospital examined the dog and wrote up a report.

When The Times reviewed one page of that report last year, it wasn’t clear who signed it. But it was clear that the contents conflicted with the department’s memo.

The authors of the department’s memo “fabricate quotes from a veterinarian, Plaintiff Yolanda Cassidy, whom they falsely state saw and treated Spike,” Cassidy’s lawsuit says. “The memo fabricates Plaintiff Dr. Cassidy stating that the dog might not have died just from heat, but also perhaps from vomiting, and possibly from a preexisting condition.”

The memo goes on to say that sheriff’s officials interviewed Cassidy at the animal hospital and that she detailed what medical procedures she’d done — a conversation she says never happened.


Her lawsuit also disputes other aspects of the Sheriff’s Department memo. According to the department’s telling of events, Tobin thought that when he left the dog in the back of his county-issued Chevy Tahoe he’d left the engine on “secure idle” with the air conditioner running and a heat alarm activated. It was only the next day that he visited a mechanic and learned the air conditioner had run out of Freon.

Cassidy’s lawsuit called that into question. “This story doesn’t hold water,” the suit says. “If the car’s air conditioning system was truly low on freon, the sergeant would have noticed the air conditioner was struggling and not cooling the car well long before Spike died.”

Instead, the suit accuses Tobin of forgetting to leave the air conditioner on and later emptying the vehicle’s Freon to cover it up. But because the suit does not implicate him in creating the disputed memo, he was not named as one of the defendants in the case. When reached by email Thursday, he declined to comment in light of the pending litigation and referred all questions to the department.

When Cassidy finally learned of the memo in October 2022, she went public to deny its contents and explain to the media that the contents were fraudulent. But still, her suit says, the incident has destroyed her reputation as a veterinarian. She is asking for $10 million while urging the county to investigate the matter more thoroughly.

“At a certain point, LASD needs to start holding people accountable for misconduct,” Miller told The Times. “You have high-ranking officials writing a false memo, that’s a crime. And we’ve got no indication that anybody from the county is looking into it at all.”