Gismo wasn't with the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office very long before he made his first arrest.
The 18-month-old Belgian Malinois (mal-in-wah) took down a man fleeing from deputies on Henry Mikell Road recently - a man who was suspected in a burglary as well as a car theft from Wrens.
Sgt. Kenneth Thompson spotted Joseph Wayne Standridge of Lakeside Drive in Appling County acting suspiciously near Mill Creek Park on Feb. 2. When Thompson tried to question him, Standridge fled into the woods. That's when Gismo and his handler, Senior Deputy Randall Norman, came to assist.
When Standridge, 27, still refused to comply, Norman barked an order in German and Gismo took off, grabbing Standridge and holding him until Norman gave the command to let go, then took the suspect into custody, according to Bulloch County sheriff's reports.
Standridge was linked to two other suspects who were arrested a few days earlier after a car chase during which they drove a car stolen in Statesboro. The three had previously arrived in Statesboro in a car stolen from Wrens and abandoned on J.A. Hart Road, said Bulloch County sheriff's Chief Deputy Jared Akins.
Also, Standridge was suspected in a burglary that took place Monday at a B. Stubbs Road home, also in the area of Mill Creek Park, Akins said.
Captures such as this are why Gismo is part of the sheriff's department. He joins the department's other K-9 officer, Max, a drug-sniffing dog handled by Cpl. Kirk McGlamery with the Statesboro-Bulloch County Crime Suppression Team.
"Gismo, our newest canine ... was paid for entirely by private donations from business owners and concerned citizens throughout Bulloch County, saving the taxpayers $11,500," Akins said. "(Handler) Norman is a graduate of Georgia Southern University and worked with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office before joining the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office."
Gismo and Max are currently the only two K-9 officers with the sheriff's office, Akins said.
"In 2013, the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office revived its canine program, which had been dormant for several years," he said. "In that year, the sheriff's office partnered with the Statesboro Police Department and Georgia Southern University police to form the Statesboro-Bulloch Crime Suppression Team."
Max came to be a sheriff's K-9 through a donation from the Statesboro Police Department in 2013. He is an 8-year-old German shepherd and is partners with McGlamery, who "served for decades with the Georgia State Patrol and after his retirement came to work for the sheriff's office," Akins said.
"Together, Max and Cpl. McGlamery work as a team to detect illegal drugs. Max is trained to recognize the odor of marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, black tar heroin and methamphetamine."
Since 2013, Max and McGlamery have conducted nearly 800 searches with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, numerous school searches and searches of the Bulloch County Jail for contraband.
They "are also frequent visitors to our schools, where they interact with children on a positive level," Akins said.
But Max isn't a tracking dog, instead specializing in his field of detecting drugs. Tracking is where Gismo comes in.
"Gismo and Senior Deputy Norman fill a need which has existed in Bulloch County for several years," Akins said. "Gismo is a dual-purpose canine, meaning that he can detect illegal drugs but also track individuals who have fled or who are missing."
In the past, when deputies were called to find missing persons such as children or elderly individuals with dementia, it could take hours to find an available tracking canine from another agency, and then there was the time spent getting to the scene.
"Time is critical in missing persons cases, and Gismo will enable the sheriff's office to respond in minutes rather than hours," he said.
The new dog comes in pretty handy when suspects don't listen to deputies' commands to stop.
"Gismo can track suspects who flee from law enforcement who might have otherwise escaped on foot," Akins said. "Gismo has trained for several months with one of Savannah-Chatham Metro's canine specialists, Advanced Patrol Officer Will Fernandez, who also owns UPC Canine. Gismo is state certified through the state of Georgia's Regional K-9 Team."
Gismo proved he is worth his kibble when he and Norman helped Thompson and Senior Deputy William Sims capture Standridge, who was hiding in a wooded area.
Standridge was at first charged with obstruction for fleeing, but "it was later learned (he) was wanted for fleeing from police in Ware County and was connected to the other incidents in Bulloch County," Akins said. "This is the first of many examples of the partnership between the sheriff's office's newest canine and his handler with other deputies and agencies."
Gismo off duty
But Gismo has another side to his personality. He may be all business when it comes to work, but Norman, with whom Gismo lives, said he is like any typical young dog when the K-9 badge comes off.
"He is like a baby, like a 2-year-old," Norman said. "He loves affection and for you to scratch his ears. He loves playing with his Kong," a rubber toy.
From Stuttgart, Germany, Gismo was trained to obey German commands, and it was easier for Norman to learn those commands than to retrain the dog.
"But he knows English, too," Norman said.
Gismo isn't vicious, but he means business.
"He is not aggressive unless the offender is fighting him," he said. "I have the ability to call him off."
During a training exhibition recently at Ogeechee Technical College to introduce Gismo to other local law enforcement agencies and show them how he works, Norman demonstrated that control when he sent Gismo toward a fleeing "suspect," then called him off just as the dog got close enough to grab hold. In another exercise, however, Norman allowed Gismo to show how he could grab and hold with enough strength and momentum to halt a suspect until deputies could take him into custody.
But at home?
"He is a bull in a china shop," Norman said with a laugh. "His wagging tail knocks everything over."
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.