Correctional Officer Gilbert Cortez and his K-9 Mattie died this morning when their car rolled off the road. They and four other K-9 teams in separate cars were driving south on State Highway 79 in San Diego County on their way to conduct a search of La Cima Fire Camp.
The cause of the accident is under investigation. No other vehicles were involved; Cortez’s vehicle was ahead of the others.
“All of us at CDCR mourn the tragic death of Officer Gilbert Cortez,” said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Jeff Beard. “He was a valued member of our department and his untimely passing, in the line of duty, is a huge loss to all who worked with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gil’s family, friends and colleagues. We are also deeply saddened by the death of Gil’s K-9 partner, Mattie.”
Cortez, 46, worked at California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) and was part of the Southern Regional K-9 Unit. He started his career at CDCR in 1990 at the California Institution for Men.
The next year, he transferred to Calipatria State Prison where he was assigned to the Investigative Services Unit and promoted to the rank of Sergeant. In 2001, Cortez was transferred to CRC where he subsequently completed K-9 training.
Officer Cortez is survived by his wife, their two children and his parents.
His K-9 partner Mattie was a Belgian Malinois, donated by a private citizen in the San Diego area. She started service with Officer Cortez in August 2011 and was certified to search for contraband and narcotics.
CDCR’s K-9 program uses dogs and skilled handlers to detect cell phones and drugs in prisons.