It was just about five years ago that Conner Amburn graduated from the Christian Academy of Knoxville (CAK). Today, at the young age of 23, he and his K-9 partner, Thor, are an important and effective team for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), so much so that they were recently honored as the K-9 Team of the Year for 2018 by Sheriff Tom Spangler.
It is the first time in the history of the KCSO K-9 unit that a first-year K-9 officer has been so honored. In 2018, he and Thor responded to 169 incidents and seized $60,000 in narcotics.
“Our K-9 officers are a valuable asset to not only the Knox County Sheriff’s Office but to the citizens of Knox County,” says Spangler. “Officer Amburn and his K-9 partner, Thor, are dedicated to keeping us safe. They have proven this with the number of deployments they have had, the dangerous suspects they have apprehended and the ongoing training they are committed to.”
Amburn and Thor are required to have 16 hours a month of maintenance training and 40 hours of in-service training annually.
This young man knew at a very young age – he says he was 3 – that he wanted to be in law enforcement with the KCSO. The Amburn name is well known around the hallways of the headquarters at the City County Building. Conner’s father is Capt. David Amburn, a 28-year KCSO veteran who leads its Narcotics Division.
“This is all I have ever wanted to do,” Amburn says. “I really think I was 3 when I knew, and that has never changed.” He lived with his role model and no doubt he met many of the men and women of the KCSO. There was and is no college in his plans. He’s all in for what he does at the KCSO.
What made him so sure of this? “It was a number of things. … To be there in someone’s time of crisis and being the person there to help them understand that things are going to get better and that I’m a helping hand for them. There are low points that you see, but there’s also the adrenaline pumps you get depending on the situation at hand,” he says.
Thor is a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix who is with Amburn 24/7. When he’s working, Thor is trained in drug recognition, tracking and apprehending, article searches and building clearing. Off duty, he’s the family pooch at Amburn’s home with his wife and their son, who is 4. They are expecting a daughter to join the family in May.
Amburn and Thor went through eight weeks of training together in the KCSO K-9 Handler’s course, taught by the K-9 faculty of Capt. Mike Ledbetter, Sgt. Chris Wallace, Sgt. James Trout and trainer Paul Curtis. That was 18 months ago.
The bond between a K-9 officer and his dog is something to behold.
Amburn talked about one incident they worked together when searching for a murder suspect in a subdivision. “We tracked this man all through and around this subdivision, and Thor was on him and found him under a detached shed,” Amburn recalls. “All I could see were the guy’s eyes, and Thor completely disappeared and then he dragged the guy out.”
Today, Amburn and Thor are assigned to patrol in West Knox County.
What does Capt. Amburn think about his son, the K-9 officer?
“Well, to tell you the truth, his wanting to be a K-9 officer caught me totally by surprise. I had no idea he was interested in that,” he says. “But he’s doing fine. Yes, I’m proud of him, but I never pushed either of our kids about their careers. We wanted them to be happy in whatever they did.” Conner’s older sister, Ashton, is an occupational therapist.
One call he answered really bothered Conner Amburn. “It was the children,” he says. “Things were so bad in this home that a little 8-year-old girl called 911 for help and I responded. I got into the house and the mother was so intoxicated that she could not walk from the kitchen to the bathroom. There was no food in the refrigerator and no food anywhere in the house. What the two kids ate they got at school. They were sleeping on an old mattress. We found loaded firearms, and three dogs were kept in a room and there was dog feces and urine all over the floor. They threw the dog food in through the door. The dad was working out of town.”
After other officers arrived, Conner drove to a nearby Taco Bell and got the kids food and water. The mother was taken to a hospital, and a family member came and took the two little girls.
Like many first responders in the emergency-services business, he works extra jobs to make ends meet. “I do it whenever I can, and I work security jobs for churches, businesses and construction jobs as well as for traffic control and such,” he says.
And, like a lot of KCSO buddies, he rides his “Bagger Style” Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special for relaxation, many times going on rides with fellow KCSO officers.
“I absolutely love what I do, and this is my career,” Amburn says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we should feature, email Tom King.