El Mirage police K-9 dies in officer-involved shooting

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The El Mirage Police Department community lost one of their own when K-9 Koki succumbed to injuries sustained in an officer-involved shooting.

The Glendale Police Department is taking over the investigation.

The incident happened around 5:30 p.m. Friday near El Mirage and Thunderbird roads.

According to reports, authorities were in the area looking for a wanted individual when that individual took off running. At some point, a shooting ensued.

K-9 Koki was struck by gunfire at least once, later dying from his injuries.

"It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of our K9 Koki who was killed in the line of duty tonight protecting other officers from harm," El Mirage police Chief Paul Marzocca stated on Facebook. "He will be greatly missed."

Authorities from Glendale and Phoenix police, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety responded to assist.

Authorities had cordoned off streets as they looked for a suspect and investigated the scene.

In a post just after midnight Saturday, Mr. Marzocca stated the community is safe and the suspect is no longer a threat, adding that Glendale police are taking over the investigation.

El Mirage police on Saturday said the suspect had killed himself the night of the officer-involved shooting.  He was identified as Joe Ruelas, 38.

El Mirage police on Saturday evening said Mr. Ruelas had a number of prior convictions, including manslaughter and aggravated assault. He had served time in the Arizona Department of Corrections and was released in 2018, according to records.

Police had initially responded to a domestic  violence call Thursday night, where a female victim reported Mr. Ruelas with a knife and threatening to kill her. Once officers arrived in the area, Mr. Ruelas took off running, but police stopped pursuing. The victim cooperated with officers and later informed them that Mr. Ruelas had planned to return to see her.

Mr. Ruelas showed up to the victim's residence around 5:20 p.m. Friday, and officers were nearby to make contact with him. However, a foot pursuit ensued, with Mr. Ruelas running into another residence. The occupants of that home exited unharmed, followed by Mr. Ruelas. 

Mr. Ruelas continued running into an alleyway, where police said a exchange of gunfire occurred. During the shooting, K-9 Koki was struck at least once.

Authorities from the various agencies worked together to pinpoint a location for Mr. Ruelas, and ultimately found him dead at a residence.

"I understand that he didn't want to go back to jail either," Mr. Marzocca said. "That may have been why he had a gun and why he chose that outcome. He chose that outcome, we didn't choose that for him."

K-9 Koki is the first officer/K-9 death under Chief Paul Marzocca, and the first for the agency since Officer Paul Lazinsky died after chasing a suspect in December 2017.

Koki was the only K-9 with the department at the time of Friday's incident. He had been with El Mirage police for about four years.

Police had been talking about getting a second K-9 to join Koki, but will now look into getting two new K-9s.

The El Mirage community hosted a candle light vigil for K-9 Koki Saturday night.

"Our agency is hurting tonight," Mr. Marzocca said Saturday. "The outpouring of support of the community has been amazing. My phone has blown up today. Tonight we're going to grieve a little bit. And we'll move on. Life goes on. We're going to remember Koki. He saved our officers last night."

Those looking to donate to the El Mirage Police Department can click here.

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