AUSTIN, Texas — Austin police officers arrested a 31-year-old man Saturday night after he nearly hit two mounted patrols while trying to flee from police.
Police charged Ghofran Yousef Omran Al Saaidi with interference with police service animals, a felony.
According to an arrest affidavit, officers with the Austin Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit pulled Al Saaidi over for driving the wrong way. The incident happened on Rainey Street.
"Al Saaidi turned his wheels hard left and accelerated at a high rate of speed to evade police action and in doing so nearly impacted Dash ... and Zodiac," the reporting officer wrote in the affidavit.
Dash and Zodiac are two out of about 15 horses who work alongside some of Austin's best.
"It's a partnership. It's not just ... you put your foot on the gas or the brake," Cpl. Max Johnson told KVUE. "As far as being on a horse, you're much more vulnerable, and the vehicle has a mind of its own."
Johnson joined the unit about a year ago after spending nearly half of his career inside a patrol car.
Together, Johnson and his horse, Cowboy, help build a relationship with the community and control crowds -- a necessity during some of Austin's busiest nights.
"To keep the peace, we use the horses in combination with officers on foot or bicycle to sort of keep the peace with the crowd," he said. "They won't argue with a horse. They just sort of move."
But things don't always go as smoothly.
"We've had several incidents where the crowd has turned hostile toward the horses. We've had suspects assault the horses," Johnson said.
It's a good thing the horses weren't hurt in Al Saaidi's case.
"Horses are very emotional creatures. They can remember where they've experienced trauma," Johnson said. "If they experience a trauma like that, like being hit by a car, if that location is somewhere where this horse needs to be on a weekly basis, it almost makes the horse unusable."
And that's what happened to Baru, a former mounted patrol horse, after a driver hit him while working in the downtown area.
"We use him in a training capacity now, so he stays here on the facility grounds where he's comfortable," Johnson said. "But that one incident, because that driver wasn't paying attention, it can end a career of a horse."
Johnson said APD mounted patrol horses carry their own badge and are treated like officers. Assaulting one can result in a very serious offense.
If a horse is seriously injured or unfit to return to work, it can take up to a year to train another horse, which means there's one less horse patrolling the streets during that time, he said.
If you see them while walking down Sixth Street or Rainey Street, Johnson said you can pet them as long as you ask for permission.