Happy trails, Justice

Ofc. Randy Bentson feeds his horse Justice some carrots and

A four-legged, apple-eating machine described as an “amazing PR asset” is hanging up his badge for good.
A four-legged, apple-eating machine described as an “amazing PR asset” is hanging up his badge for good.

Justice, a chestnut-colored quarter horse/thoroughbred who patrolled 11 Gilroy Garlic Festivals, in addition to aiding the Gilroy Police Department enforce safety during myriad public events since his first street deployment in spring 2001, is headed for greener pastures.

An intimate gathering of around 30 law enforcement officers, friends and family of GPD personnel honored the staunch steed’s service during a lighthearted ceremony Friday afternoon in front of GPD headquarters on Rosanna Street, prior to Justice’s permanent retirement on the acreage surrounding the home of Gilroyan Celia McCormack.

“When a horse gets old like that, 90 percent of the time the reason you have to put him down is because they get hurt,” said owner/rider GPD Officer Randy Bentson. “I don’t want him to get hurt. I’d rather just retire him. He put his time in. I want to put him out to pasture and let him be a horse for the rest of his life.”

As the average lifespan of a horse is around 30 years, Justice, estimated to be in his mid-20s, has some quality rest and relaxation to look forward to.

In 2000, Bentson purchased Justice, an Oregon-born cattle horse who used to “bow his head, throw his butt up in the air and roll you off the front of him.”

After mastering his mount’s mischievous idiosyncrasies, Bentson said Justice became “one of those horses I’d put anybody on.”

The pair have road-tripped all over, providing crowd patrol in Salinas for Super Bowl Weekend 2003 (when the Oakland Raiders played Tampa Bay Buccaneers), riding in parades as far away as Sacramento and leading funeral processions for fallen soldiers.

“If we have an Occupy Gilroy, we may have to bring him in for crowd patrol,” joked GPD Chief Denise Turner, referencing a social movement event reportedly staged for Nov. 18 at Miller Park in Gilroy.

Turner said Justice averaged 2,000 affectionate pats from visitors every year during the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

The affable equine is one of six comprising the Gilroy Police Mounted Enforcement Unit , which has been around for about 13 years. The officers rendezvous once a month on the Ranch Side of Christmas Hill Park, running through drills and exposing their steeds to distractions. This helps them acclimate their horses to new environments.

In the same vein as Chief Turner – who called the people-friendly Justice an “amazing PR asset” – Bentson described the Mounted Unit as a wonderful tool that helps bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public.

This sentiment showed during Justice’s final patrol Friday downtown along Monterey Street, when small children and their parents excitedly poked their heads out of store doorways. Officer Bentson and Sgt. Greg Flippo, also on the GPD Mounted Patrol Unit, obliged and clearly enjoyed mingling with locals who wanted to pet the horses.

When a ceremony attendee asked Bentson Friday if he was sad, Bentson admitted, “Well, yeah. But he’s going to a good home.”

Bentson will continue to serve on the Mounted Enforcement Unit, but on a new horse.

Justice never failed him, Bentson said, “even when I could feel it in his back that he was nervous about what I was asking him to do … he never quit … we trusted each other. He took good care of me in exchange.”

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