El Mirage, AZ – El Mirage Police Department (EMPD) K9 Koki died in the line of duty on Friday night while protecting his fellow officers, according to his department.
The series of events that led to K9 Koki’s death began on Thursday night, after officers received a report that a man had “put a knife” to a woman’s head and “threatened to kill her” during a domestic dispute, El Mirage Police Sergeant Robert Peoples told The Arizona Republic.
When officers arrived in the 14500-block of El Mirage Road, the suspect, 38-year-old Joe Ruelas, was already gone.
The victim told police that Ruelas would probably come back to their shared residence the following evening.
Police returned to the home at about 5:20 p.m. on Friday to arrest Ruelas for aggravated assault, but he took off from the scene with a gun in his hand before they could apprehend him, The Arizona Republic reported.
K9 Koki was deployed to subdue him, KNXV reported.
But as the K9 was closing in on him, Ruelas turned around and opened fire, fatally striking K9 Koki.
The suspect continued running from the scene as two El Mirage officers returned fire.
Officers from multiple agencies later found Ruelas dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a residence, KSAZ reported.
The Glendale Police Department is handling the ongoing investigation into the fatal altercation.
“Tonight we had a very serious situation in our city in which our K9 Koki was killed protecting his fellow officers,” El Mirage Police Chief Paul Marzocca said in a press release.
"The loss of Koki is no different than the loss of a police officer," Chief Marzocca said, according to The Arizona Republic. “We lost a brother last night.”
The beloved Belgian Malinois served the EMPD alongside his human partner, Officer Doug Jones, for over four years.
The EMPD held a candlelight vigil in K9 Koki’s honor outside the department headquarters on Saturday night.
"Some people think he's just a dog, but he's an officer, and he gave up the ultimate sacrifice," resident Rebecca Gelowitz told The Arizona Republic. "And I wanted to be here to say thank you for protecting me and my family."
During the vigil, Chief Marzocca said that that he had “no doubt” that K9 Koki saved two officers’ lives that night.
“He laid down his life to protect those officers,” the chief reiterated.
“Thank you to the community for your support in this trying time,” Chief Marzocca said. “He will be greatly missed.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the El Mirage Police Department and Officer Jones in the loss of K9 Koki.