K-9 dies protecting officer during attack by MS-13 gang members in prison

SUSSEX COUNTY, Va. — A K-9 officer died in the line of duty Tuesday while protecting a corrections officer from an attack by MS-13 gang members in a Virginia prison, officials said.

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The incident happened at Sussex I State Prison, a maximum-security prison in Sussex County. Three inmates affiliated with MS-13 — one of the largest street gangs in the U.S. — “viciously attacked another inmate” in a housing unit at the prison, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. Officials noted that a fourth inmate “appeared to be supervising the brutal assault.”

Corrections Officer Kharmishia Phillips Fields and her assigned K-9, Rivian, were working in the area and responded to the attack. Officials said inmates “violently and repeatedly stabbed and kicked” Rivian, who later died at the facility as authorities attempted lifesaving measures.

The K-9 would have turned 6 on April 30.

“Officer Phillip Fields, a trained K-9 handler and 4-year veteran of the Department, sustained no serious injuries due to her training and Rivan’s courageous actions,” VADOC officials said. Phillips Fields and other corrections officers were able to get control of the situation in part due to Rivian’s efforts, they added.

“The loss of Rivan is truly tragic, but it is important to remember he did not die in vain,” VADOC Director Chad Dotson said in a statement. “He lost his life while potentially saving the lives of two people, his assigned Officer and an inmate. The VADOC will never forget Rivan’s sacrifice.”

Rivian, a Belgian Malinois, joined the VADOC in 2019. His father worked for a police department in the state while his mother worked for the U.S. Secret Service, officials said.

Authorities added that they are working to arrange a memorial service for Rivian.

“K-9s play a vital role at our facilities,” Dotson said. “They protect our correctional staff. They protect our inmates and also deter aggressive inmate behavior. The Virginia Department of Corrections never wants to lose one of its K-9s in the line of duty, but their important role in ensuring long-term public safety for the Commonwealth is undeniable.”

The inmate who was attacked Tuesday was taken to a hospital for treatment and released back to the prison, authorities said. Officials said they plan to pursue charges against the inmates involved in the attack, who are incarcerated on charges including first-degree homicide, attempted rape, kidnapping/abduction and more.

Authorities said that at least three of the members involved in the attack are verified members of MS-13 who hail from El Salvador and Guatemala. Officials did not say what sparked the assault. However, one of MS-13′s principal rules is that its members must attack and kill rivals whenever possible, according to the Justice Department.