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Oak Park Heights prison officer dies on duty from 'medical emergency'

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The Minnesota Correctional Facility at Oak Park Heights.
A corrections officer died at the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Oak Park Heights Monday, Sept. 24.
Peter Cox | MPR News

 Updated: 8:40 p.m. | Posted: 5:25 p.m.

An Oak Park Heights prison officer died Monday after suffering a "medical emergency while on duty," state corrections officials said late Monday afternoon.

Joseph Parise, 37, died after rushing to help another officer who was being assaulted around noon. After returning to his post Parise "experienced a medical emergency" and was taken to Regions Hospital, where he died, the Minnesota Department of Corrections said in a statement.

Corrections officer Joseph Parise
Corrections officer Joseph Parise
Courtesy photo

The department did not say if Parise's death was connected to his response to the earlier inmate assault. His cause of death has not yet been determined. Two responding staff were injured during the incident and evaluated and released, the agency added. 

Parise had worked for the Corrections Department for four years.

The Oak Park Heights state prison in Washington County is in lockdown as investigators piece together what happened. A Corrections spokesperson called it a "difficult day for our Oak Park Heights officers and employees, and our entire department. We are deeply saddened by today's events." 

Gov. Mark Dayton added his condolences and said in a statement that "Parise was a dedicated state employee, who worked hard every day to protect the safety of his colleagues and our communities."

In July, corrections officer Joseph Gomm, 42, died after being assaulted at the Stillwater state prison, near the Oak Park Heights prison, by Edward M. Johnson, an inmate serving time for homicide. 

Johnson has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with Gomm's death. 

Gomm's death led some current and former corrections officers to speak publicly about the growing concerns for safety and staff within the prison system.

A corrections officer and vice president for AFSCME Local 915, which represents employees at Oak Park Heights prison, said Joseph Parise was a member of the prison's honor guard and a U.S. Navy veteran. Derek Magle described Parise as someone who cared about his family and colleagues.  

"He's always fun, charismatic, positive," Magle said in a statement released by AFSCME Council 5. "He always worried about other staff before he worried about himself. When you were having issues, he would reach out to try to help."  

After Joe Gomm's death, Parise thought about working at the Stillwater prison to help staff there, the union said.

Correctional officers at Oak Park Heights have set up a GoFundMe page to help Parise's family.