This is the final installment in a three-part series surrounding Peace Officer Memorial Month, recognized in a Lodi City Council resolution this past Wednesday.
You may recall reading in this column two weeks ago, the story of Constable James Irey, killed in the line of duty in 1937.
Constable Irey's story is one of 29 such case histories that can be found in the book, "Beyond the Call," a compilation of peace officer deaths that have occurred in San Joaquin County since 1854. Published in 1997, "Beyond the Call" was authored by John Basalto, a 23-year veteran deputy with the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office, a member of that agency's historical committee and a charter member of the sheriff's honor guard. It is the culmination of years of research and writing about the violent deaths of his fellow law enforcement officers from throughout our county. John felt a calling to memorialize these tragedies; we are all in his debt for it.
Not surprisingly, the largest number of officers who have died in the performance of their duty comes from the ranks of the Stockton Police Department, the oldest and largest police department in the county. The first known case in our county was of Officer George Turner, who in 1854 responded to a disturbance call on Stockton's waterfront, where he was confronted by a drunken man armed with a handgun. During a struggle for the gun, Officer Turner was shot in the leg. He subsequently died of an infection. His assailant's punishment was a fine of one hundred-fifty dollars.
The book continues in fascinating detail to document the loss of nine other Stockton police department officers and five San Joaquin deputy sheriffs, along with California Highway Patrolmen, state game wardens, railroad policemen, and constables and city marshals from long ago, some which held posts that no longer exist. Among them:
• Tracy City Marshals Ben Ingram and Frank Blondin, killed in an ambush while checking a Tracy bar for a wanted felon in 1915.
• Stockton Police Officer John Briscoe, who in 1917 was murdered just a few blocks from the police station by a drunk he was walking to jail.
• Castoria Constable James Raleigh, run over by a vehicle in 1935 while investigating an accident at the Mossdale-Y intersection near what is now Highway 120 and I-5.
• Western Pacific RR Police Officer Roderick Gordon, found dead of multiple stab wounds in the Stockton rail yard in 1938.
• Stockton Police Department Officer George Woerhle, kidnapped and murdered in 1960 by a subject that he was trying to arrest on a statutory rape warrant.
• Escalon Police Chief Donald Stewart, who died of a heart attack in 1963 after a violent struggle with an arrestee.
• California Highway Patrol Officer Dale Newby, who during a routine traffic stop in 1982 encountered a dangerous fugitive armed with a gun and was fatally shot.
• San Joaquin County sheriff's deputy Dighton Little, killed by gunfire during a SWAT service of a narcotics warrant in 1989.
• Stockton Police Department officer Art Parga, also killed during a gunfight with an occupant of a house that was the target of a 1992 SWAT raid.
Not mentioned in the book is our own Officer Rick Cromwell, who lost his life in 1998, after it was published. It is a sad fact that, odds are, a revised edition to cover additional losses will eventually be needed.
While reading the book, I was struck by two things. The first was how the calls and incidents in which these officers lost their lives were so similar to what police still handle every day - "man with a gun; drunk and disorderly; traffic collision with a DUI driver." The other common thread was how often the suspects in these crimes were peacefully arrested and brought to justice. While Hollywood loves to portray the cop killer as someone doomed to be executed by the police, "Beyond the Call" confirms my own belief: That cops have always had a deep allegiance to following the laws, even when the crime is painful and personal. For all their faults and weaknesses, I have found that the vast majority of my fellow police officers live by the rules.
And, sometimes, they die by them.
Copies of "Beyond the Call" can be obtained by contacting John Basalto at (209) 468-4403 or via e-mail at email@example.com.