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Marion County K9 dies in the line of duty

The Marion County Sheriff's Office was in mourning Tuesday as a fearless defender took his final rest.

Leo, a 4-year-old Belgian Shepherd and a K9, was shot by an armed suspect on Feb. 17. He died Tuesday morning from his sustained injuries.

“We are all just so overwhelmed from this gut punch, it’s hard to put into words what Leo has meant to all of us,” said Sgt. Jeremie Nix, the K9 unit commander.

Nix, the county's designated K9 trainer, has known Leo for about four years. He said he believes the dogs are the bravest officers on the force, and on Saturday morning, Leo proved his courage and didn't hesitate to protect the deputies on duty.

“Leo did exactly what he was trained to do …” Sheriff Billy Woods said in a video posted on Facebook, “and that is to fearlessly defend and protect those deputies. To charge directly at danger.”

Law enforcement had probable cause to arrest Jeremy Bradsher, 44, after an out-of-town call from Lisa Lundberg who reported a past domestic battery by strangulation incident and threats to her sister, Lori Robertson.

After not receiving a call back from police, Lundberg called again just after 6 a.m. according to dispatch records, telling police Bradsher, of Wilmington, North Carolina, was threatening Robertson and that he would do whatever it took not to go back to prison. Bradsher told Lundberg he was taking her sister's car back to North Carolina.

Lundberg said Bradsher was threatening to kill her and her sister and sending threatening texts that "this is going to cost you." Bradsher texted Lundberg, who was watching the exchange at Robertson's home through video cameras, that he was disabling them, and he would kill Robertson if she contacted police.

By 6:20 a.m., police found Robertson safe at a friends house with Bradsher assumed to be leaving the area going toward North Carolina. The call was downgraded in priority.

Two hours later, at 8:39 a.m., police requested "KILO" or K9 response, and went to a new address to find Bradsher in Silver Springs. Police approached on foot at 9:14 a.m.

Bradsher, of Wilmington, North Carolina, spoke to police in the back of the residence while out of view, according to public information officer Zach Moore. When Bradsher came into view, he was holding a handgun and began to point it at deputies to shoot at 9:17 a.m., according to dispatch, three minutes later.

Both Bradsher and K9 Leo were reported down within seconds of each other at 9:18 a.m.

Officer-involved shootings are turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for investigation, which remains ongoing. State law exempts certain records, like police body and dash camera video and incident reports, from release during ongoing investigations.

Bradsher, who served 14 years in prison in North Carolina, had a history of criminal felony charges and convictions starting from 1996 including assault by strangulation, assault on a public official, DUI, drug charges, weapon possession by a felon and theft in New Hanover and Pender counties. The North Carolina Department of Corrections lists him as a habitual felon.

His handler, Cpl. Justin Tortora has not yet released a statement regarding the loss of his K9 – who proved to be much more than a partner, but a ride-or-die best friend.

“Most of you do not know the unique bond that develops between law enforcement K9 and their handler,” Woods said. “That bond is what binds them to some extraordinary levels of loyalty, love and unwavering determination.”

Leo finished his training for the sheriff's office in February 2021 at the age of 1. He served for his police force alongside Tortora for three years.

Every K9 police vehicle comes equipped with a divider between the front and back of the police vehicle. According to office spokesperson Zach Moore, Tortora would keep this gate open for Leo to move around at his leisure, something that no other deputies would do. One afternoon, Lt. Paul Bloom entered Tortora’s vehicle to be surprised by an unauthorized lick on the face.

This story, along with others, is being passed around the sheriff’s office to feel the presence of the brave officer.

"I would ask that in the coming days, weeks, and months, that you keep our K-9 team in your thoughts and prayers,” Woods said. “They are going to need it.”

Sandra McDonald contributed reporting.

John is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing