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SWAT Team Kills Man After He Fatally Shoots Police Dog

Times Staff Writer

For K-9 unit officers like Long Beach Police Officer Mike Parcells, words are often unnecessary when communicating with their crime-fighting dogs.

But in the pre-dawn darkness Monday, Parcells ordered Ranger, his 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, to subdue a suspected gang member who had fired on officers hours earlier. The man was hiding underneath a porch.

Moments later, Parcells was sobbing and cradling Ranger, who was dying from a gunshot wound to the chest.

The gunman, Agustin Murguia Jr., had fired a single shot, and SWAT officers responded with a volley. The 22-year-old parolee was dead when officers reached him.

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“The last thing you tell your dog is to go do its job, and he gets killed for doing it,” said Sgt. David Cannan, a former K-9 officer. “We spend almost 24 hours a day with these dogs. They live with us.... We see them more than we see our family.”

After the shootout, Parcells got into a helicopter with Ranger headed for a veterinary hospital in Tustin.

The dog, whom Parcells had purchased with his own money from a breeder in Holland two years ago, died two hours later, just minutes after having a lung removed.

“This dog was one of the best,” said Long Beach K-9 Officer Andy Van Holt. “He showed no hesitation to do his job.”

The fatal shooting occurred three hours after gang enforcement officers approached a home about 11:15 p.m. Sunday in the 1200 block of Lomitas Avenue for a routine parole check. Fearing the parolee might bolt, officers approached the front while others went to the back, Cannan said. But Murguia was able to escape through the back door.

Three officers chased Murguia as he ran into a dark alley near Chestnut and Cedar avenues, and he turned and fired at the officers, initiating a brief shootout, Cannan said.

Murguia fled east along one of the outlets of the T-shaped alley, and the officers called for backup to set up a perimeter, Cannan said.

Just before 2:50 a.m., officers spotted Murguia hiding under the porch of a home in the 1300 block of Cedar Avenue. “It all happened pretty quickly,” Cannan said. “As they’re getting out of their armored vehicle, the officers see him and order him to come out repeatedly.” In the dark and otherwise empty street, Parcells gave Ranger a final command -- to subdue the suspect.

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Cannan said the Long Beach police force does not equip dogs with bulletproof vests because the dogs can become overheated, lose stamina and get tangled in crawl spaces and other tight spots.

Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Chuck Buttitta of the metro K-9 unit said the LAPD sometimes opts not to use donated vests for those same reasons. Unlike many other departments, the LAPD rarely uses dogs to apprehend suspects, but rather to simply locate them, Buttitta said. An exception might be when there is a chance an armed suspect could take hostages, he said.

“Then we can order the dog to go in and take the suspect down,” Buttitta said.

Cannan said there was a sense of urgency when police located Murguia because he had previously shot at officers, and officers were unsure whether he still had his weapon.

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Murguia had been convicted of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon and was facing a third strike, Cannan said.

Moments after the shooting, SWAT officers carefully approached the porch where Ranger had collapsed and, with weapons drawn, quickly retrieved the dog before handing him to Parcells. “They treated him like a person,” Van Holt said. “I was impressed with how they dealt with the dog.”

Van Holt joined Parcells at the Police Department’s heliport, and they flew the wounded dog to a veterinary hospital in Tustin.

“We thought he might make it. The whole flight over, the dog was calm, he wasn’t freaking out, he wasn’t bleeding a lot, his panting was normal,” Van Holt said. “But once we got to the hospital ... he started going into shock.”

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After surgery, Van Holt said, he thought Ranger would survive.

“I knew he wouldn’t be a police dog anymore,” he said. “With a removed lung, I thought he would be a house pet. At least he would be a dog running around the backyard playing with [Parcells’] kids.”

Ranger was the second Long Beach police dog to die recently.

Two weeks ago, another Belgian Malinois, Drago, died after he was left in a patrol car with the air conditioning on at the Long Beach Police Academy.

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Cannan said the air conditioning in the car failed and a sensor that is supposed to automatically roll the cruiser’s windows down when it gets too hot also failed.

Ranger will be buried in a cemetery tucked into a corner of the Long Beach Police Academy reserved for police dogs.

Parcells was too distraught Monday to comment on the loss of his dog.

“I’ve been with other officers who had a dog that was shot, or injured or killed, and it’s very very tough on them,” Cannan said. “It’s like a partner being killed.”

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