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Maricopa PD officer suspended 20 hours after K-9 partner left in car died of heatstroke

The officer went inside for a meeting at police headquarters, leaving K-9 Ike in the vehicle with the engine on. After the meeting, he found the vehicle not running.

Editor's note: The above video is from a June 2020 newscast

MARICOPA, Ariz.— The Maricopa Police Department said it concluded an internal investigation into the hot car death of police K-9 Ike in June of last year and the department has issued a 20-hour unpaid suspension to Ike's handler.

“We are deeply saddened by the line of duty death of K-9 Officer Ike,” Maricopa Police Chief Jim Hughes said in a statement. “This was a preventable death and we are taking corrective action to ensure this never happens again.”

Ike died in June of last year when, according to an Arizona Department of Public Safety report obtained by the Associated Press, he suffered heatstroke after being left in his Maricopa PD K-9 vehicle, while his handler went into the department for a meeting.

Maricopa police Officer Craig Curry left Ike inside his patrol vehicle with the engine running while he went into police headquarters for a meeting, but when he returned over an hour and a half later, he found that his vehicle had turned off.

Ike was in a kennel in the back of the car panting heavily. The high temperature that day was about 108 degrees.

Ike was euthanized the following day.

The Pinal County Attorney’s Office reviewed the DPS investigative report and found that Officer Curry "did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”

According to the Maricopa PD internal investigation report, Officer Curry was interviewed by the department in September. Officer Curry possessed a K-9 heat alarm that would detect and alert him if the car became unreasonably hot for a police dog, but he had left the device in the car when he left for his meeting.

Curry said he didn’t have the pager on him because he was trying out a new body camera that took up space on his vest.

Curry said in his interview that the K-9 heat alarm system had deficiencies. A 2016 memo from another K-9 handler said the pager was useless and not typically carried by handlers.

“While the system comes with a 'pager' the pager itself is useless and rarely works correctly or at all," the 2016 memo read, according to the Maricopa PD report. "My pager does not even tell me when the alarm is going off. Therefore the pagers are not used or carried by the handlers."

A previous request for funding to upgrade the heat detection system had previously been approved by the department but was never followed through on.

However, Officer Curry did not blame a lack of supervision as a potential factor for this incident, according to the report.

The report from Maricopa PD said it appeared that the one possible explanation for this incident was for multiple failures of separate systems, the vehicle engine stalling and the K-9 heat alarm system simultaneously failing.

Regardless of the technical failures with the vehicle, the operations manual for Maricopa PD handlers says handlers should check their K-9's every 30 minutes or less when the temperature outside the vehicle is 75 degrees or more. 

If the outside temperature is above 85 degrees, all attempts are to be made to prevent the canine from being left unattended in the vehicle. 

The report from Maricopa PD says Officer Curry is the senior K-9 handler at Maricopa PD, with over eight years of K-9 handling experience.

The Maricopa PD said there is no evidence to dispute Officer Curry showed a great deal of love and devotion for K-9 Ike. Another officer interviewed in the Maricopa PD report said Ike was family to Officer Curry.

The report also says there's no direct evidence as to why the vehicle was not running when Officer Curry walked out of police headquarters or why the heat alarm system did not function properly.

The Maricopa Police Department noted the following changes are underway regarding K-9's and their handlers:

  • Yearly formal written review of K-9 programs mission, needs and policies as they relate to providing the best community service while utilizing the MPD K-9 program.
  • Quarterly K-9 written report to the Operations Commander on activities, needs or concerns within the program. 
  • Accountability measures will be reviewed and updated regularly.
  • Monthly vehicle inspections by K-9 Handler’s Supervisor and report to Lieutenant within five days of vehicle inspection. Handlers (like all officers) are still required to inspect their vehicles daily to ensure functionality and supply of proper equipment. 
  • The police department has also reviewed the current utilization of the K-9 Officers and has determined one K-9 Officer (Officer Gomez and K-9 partner Murphy) should be sufficient for the department. Previously, the department had two K-9 Officers. This will be reviewed annually by the department. 

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