‘Shot three times’: How a robotic K9 took bullets for human officers, state police say

BOSTON — State police on Wednesday shared new images of Roscoe, a robotic K9 that was shot three times by an armed man barricaded inside a Hyannis home during a seven-hour standoff last month.

Police officers had responded to the home at 24 St. Francis Circle shortly after 7:40 a.m. on March 6 for reports of an adult man, later identified as Justin Moreira, 30, holding his mother at knifepoint. He was later arrested on several counts of attempted murder, as well as additional firearms charges, according to police.

The robotic dog, operated by the State Police Bomb Squad, is among tools now being deployed during public safety responses that quickly become dangerous “while reducing the threat to human life,” state police said.

While being directed by authorities using a remote control from outside, Roscoe was following Moreira inside the home when it was shot, state police said. During the lengthy standoff, Moreira shot at Roscoe and at another robotic K9, Spot. Both robotic dogs were partially disabled.

During public safety responses that can quickly escalate into a crisis, as on Cape Cod, robotic K9s like Roscoe and Spot are often sent into more dangerous territory to assess the situation and to help keep first responders and the public safe, officials said.

“The incident provided a stark example of the benefits of mobile platforms capable of opening doors and ascending stairs in tactical missions involving armed suspects,” state police said Wednesday. “In addition to providing critically important room clearance and situational awareness capabilities, the insertion of Roscoe into the suspect residence prevented the need, at that stage of response, from inserting human operators, and may have prevented a police officer from being involved in an exchange of gunfire.”

The incident was the first time a Spot robot was shot during a police deployment, according to Boston Dynamics, the Waltham-based manufacturer of the robotic K9.

The robots may be used in situations such as hazardous gas detection, unexploded ordnance inspection, suspicious package investigation, search and rescue, subterranean or confined space exploration, and structural assessments following fires, disaster events, and other hazards, officials said.

During the Cape Cod standoff, the robotic K9s were used by SWAT Team members “to safely gather crucial intelligence and provide situational awareness of the suspect and the home’s interior,” state police said.

A trooper first deployed the Spot robot through the two top floors of the home and cleared them. He then deployed Roscoe into the home’s basement.

The robot first cleared a closet in the basement and then was about to open another door when Moreira “suddenly appeared from a bedroom armed with a rifle,” state police said.

Moreira knocked Roscoe down. Still carrying the rifle, he began to ascend stairs. The trooper was able to remotely direct Roscoe to stand back up onto its feet. He then directed Roscoe to walk up the stairs behind Moreira.

When Moreira “realized, with apparent surprise, that Roscoe was behind him on the stairs, he again knocked the robot over and then raised his rifle in the Roscoe’s direction,” state police said. “The robot suddenly lost communications.”

Roscoe was shot three times “and had been rendered inoperable,” state police said.

After shooting Roscoe, Moreira shot at one of the other robots outside a sliding door, missing it and striking an above-ground pool in the backyard, state police said. SWAT operators subsequently introduced tear gas into the house; a short time later Moreira surrendered and was taken into custody by Barnstable Police.

The next day, a trooper brought Roscoe to Boston Dynamics to have the company assist “in removing the projectiles and to conduct a damage assessment.”

The process of replacing Roscoe with a new robotic K9 is underway.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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