HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A K-9 officer named Jake with the Alabama Department of Corrections has died. He collapsed when coming into contact with a dangerous substance during a prison search in Elmore County.
Jake showed symptoms almost immediately after finding the substance at Staton Correctional Facility during the contraband operation last week.
He was taken to Auburn University's Veterinary Clinic for treatment. He developed pneumonia and passed away over the weekend.
Initial tests identified the substance as synthetic marijuana, but further analysis is pending.
News of Jake’s death hit the Alabama law enforcement community hard because it highlights the dangers K-9 officers and their handlers face every day on the job.
The Huntsville Police Department's K-9 Unit is constantly training and preparing for possible encounters with deadly drugs.
The department has 10 dogs- two for explosives and eight for patrol and narcotics. They're used for traffic stops, bomb sweeps and much more.
At the K-9 Range on Monday, Sgt. Kevin Matthews, the unit's supervisor, talked protocol, procedures and safe practices.
"The officer will get the opportunity to check around the area and look around if it's a vehicle search and make sure there's nothing obvious. The biggest thing is keeping an eye on the dog, watching the dog while they're searching. The dogs are a passive response so if they find something, they'll sit. They're not taught to continually dig at something. They'll get a hit on the area and then the handler can do the final search," Sgt. Matthews explained.
Right now, HPD is seeing a lot of fentanyl-related overdoses so K-9 handlers are more alert than ever. They're constantly training to know what to look for and how to protect themselves and their K-9 partner.
"Anything like that is extremely dangerous to handle. There are precautions and steps to keep you safe," Sgt. Matthews said. "Know what you're doing, know what you're dog is doing and pay attention to it. The handler gets the dog in the right areas to search. The dog does the searching. The handler should know his dog and know if the dog is working something and key in on that."
He was sad to hear about the passing of ADOC's K-9 Jake.
"It's unfortunate for the dog and the handler who works the dogs," Matthews added.
On Monday, ADOC revealed that Jake succumbed to an allergic reaction to a narcotic during prison search last Thursday, July 18.
He was taken from Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County to an area veterinary hospital, and then transported to the Auburn University Veterinary Clinic where he was treated.
Jake’s handler, Sgt. Quinton Jones, said his partner was performing his search when he suddenly became ill after finding a substance.
At approximately 9:10 p.m. on Thursday, the Alabama Department of Corrections dispatched three emergency response teams to the prison to search a housing dorm for contraband. When the K9 became ill, prison officials immediately evacuated the dorm and requested assistance from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Unit.
"After alerting on the substance, Jake lost his balance and became unresponsive," said Jones.
Registered nurses on staff with ADOC's healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources, Leanne Smith and Juanita Peavy, stabilized the K9's condition by performing CPR and applying an IV in the prison courtyard. Smith remained with the K9 and continued CPR until he arrived to the Auburn clinic Thursday night.
On Friday, Jake's condition had improved but on Saturday he began to develop complications. Clinical staff said Jake had developed pneumonia and his vital signs were abnormal. At approximately 3 p.m. on Saturday, the clinic reported that Jake had passed away.
"I was saddened to hear that one of the Corrections K9s, Jake, lost his life over the weekend. This K9 died in service to public safety and in service to the state," Governor Ivey said. "Jake is an example of the goodness, the loyalty and service that our four-legged friends provide. We certainly lost a loyal companion."
On Monday, Gov. Ivey issued a commendation honoring Jake's service.
Jake had been a partner of Sgt. Jones since joining the ADOC in June 2014. Jones said Jake was a loyal member of the Alabama Department of Corrections K9 Bureau and had an impeccable record in counter-drug operations.
"This is a difficult time for our ADOC family and especially for Sgt. Jones and those assigned to our K9 Bureau who worked with Jake on a daily basis," said Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn. "I extend our deepest condolences for the loss of this noble K9 who honorably served the State of Alabama and for ultimately giving his life while protecting the public."
Dunn added that Jake probably saved the lives of others by detecting the contraband during the search.
"With Jake's training and ability to find the narcotic, he saved other lives by giving his own in the line-of-duty. Jake's heroism and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten," said Dunn.
Under a reorganization initiative in early 2019, the ADOC realigned the K9 bureau under the Department's Investigations and Intelligence (I&I) Division for counter-drug operations.
"Jake was one of our best narcotics detection K9s," said I&I Director Arnaldo Mercado. I ask that we keep Sgt. Jones and the ADOC family in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time."
Mercado said his division is conducting a criminal investigation and anyone found to be responsible in the K9's death will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
A burial service for Jake will be held later this week with full honors.
The ADOC has 11 K9 tracking and drug detection teams located throughout the Department. The ADOC K9 teams are used internally for tracking and drug detection operations as well as supporting local, county, state and federal law enforcement.