‘Your son died an American hero.’ Memorial honors 8 California police officers killed last year

As uniformed officers and law enforcement family members held back tears, Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson got choked up himself while recounting the last time he saw Cpl. Ronil Singh.

It was Christmas morning last year. And in the small Stanislaus County city, Richardson relieved Singh of his graveyard shift, one-on-one, at 6 a.m.

Singh worked again on Christmas night. And it was at the end of a long overtime shift, about 1 a.m. Dec. 26, that he was shot and killed during a traffic stop.

“Literally 300 yards from my driveway, Cpl. Ronil Singh was killed,” Richardson told a crowd of officers. “And I slept through it. And I slept so soundly because I knew he would protect us.”

Richardson addressed hundreds of law enforcement officers and their family members from across the state Monday to pay respects to peace officers killed in the line of duty.

Singh was one of 10 fallen officers enrolled Monday to the California Peace Officers’ Memorial, their names inscribed on a brass plaque and added to a monument across from the Capitol, where 1,628 names are already listed.

A procession and enrollment ceremony honored eight peace officers who died in 2018. Seven of them died in the line of duty last year, and the eighth died of an injury sustained in the line of duty in 1994.

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Stasyuk, 27, died in what Sheriff Scott Jones called an “extensive” firefight at a Rancho Cordova auto parts store.

Stasyuk was killed Sept. 17 at the Pep Boys store on Folsom Boulevard. He was shot twice, including once in the back of the head.

The gun battle with a suspect, who reportedly fired upon officers within seconds of them entering the auto parts store, also injured Stasyuk’s partner, Deputy Julie Robertson, as well as a Pep Boys employee.

Jones walked Monday morning with the Stasyuk family, which appeared to be the largest family present at the procession.

As the procession marched from the west steps of the Capitol, across 10th Street and finally centered at the memorial, hundreds of peace officers gathered to honor their fallen colleagues.

The memorial, dedicated in 1988, includes a statue depicting three major groups of peace officers: a city patrolman, a traffic officer and a sheriff. Among the eight fallen in 2018 were peace officers with police departments, sheriff’s offices and the California Highway Patrol.

As Monday’s ceremony came to its conclusion, family members of each fallen officer left flowers at the feet of the statue figures, where a folded American flag had been placed by the color guard.

The sun peeked in and out of clouds on a cool, overcast morning. A light breeze ruffled the flags at the Capitol. Flags at Capitol Mall were at half-staff.

Family members sat somber with representatives from the departments of their lost loved ones. Some held back sobs as bagpipes played, drums were struck and the occasional K9 let out a yelping bark.

Singh’s K9, though, sat quietly between the legs of Ronil’s brother, Reggie, who pet the dog as he wiped away tears. The dog, Sam, retired and now lives with Ronil Singh’s wife and newborn son, as Richardson told media earlier this year.

In addition to Singh and Stasyuk, five others who died in the line of duty in 2018 were memorialized Monday:

  • Deputy Tony Hinostroza III, 45, of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, who was killed when his vehicle collided with a power pole during a vehicle pursuit on Nov. 25.

  • Sgt. Ron Helus, 54, with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, killed during the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks on Nov. 7.
  • Officer Kirk Griess, 46, of the CHP, who was struck by a pickup truck on Interstate 80 near Fairfield when the vehicle collided with him, his motorcycle and the vehicle he had pulled over on Aug. 10. Both Griess and the driver of the vehicle involved in the traffic stop died at the hospital.
  • Deputy Ryan Zirkle, 24, of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, killed in a single-vehicle collision on Highway 1 in west Marin County when his vehicle traveled down an embankment and struck a tree on March 15, 2018.
  • Officer Greggory Casillas, 30, an officer with the Pomona Police Department who was struck by gunfire from a barricaded suspect and fatally wounded March 9, 2018.

Another inducted officer, Deputy Steven Belanger of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, was ambushed and shot during a traffic stop on Dec. 10, 1994. The bullet remained in Belanger’s brain, and he was wheelchair bound and required constant medical attention until his death on Feb. 6, 2018 at age 52.

Two additional officers who died more than 80 years ago were also recognized and added to the monument Monday: Deputy Marshal Halloran of the Vernon Police Department, who died in 1913, and Deputy Henry Snowbelt of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, who died in 1937.

The ‘thin blue line’

Speakers at Monday’s ceremony included Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Attorney General Xavier Becerra served as master of ceremonies.

Cantil-Sakauye began her speech by defending a symbol that has become somewhat controversial among the general public: the thin blue line.

“The thin blue line is as symbolic as it is substantive,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “This thin blue line is the symbol, the manifestation of a line that separates peace from chaos.”

Newsom said the fallen officers suffered “unspeakable tragedies” that left family members with empty seats at the dinner table. Newsom said the memorial is a necessary and permanent reminder of the fallen officers’ honor and sacrifice.

“It is sometimes even harder when the phone calls and greeting cards stop” than the initial grieving, Newsom said. “When neighbors don’t come by with casseroles or condolences anymore. When it feels like the entire world has moved on while you’re still in mourning.”

While most of his speech remained apolitical, Richardson briefly criticized police use-of-force reform efforts that have been discussed at the state Legislature.

“Evil can only triumph when good men and women do nothing,” he said. “And the policies that are coming from across the street are making it more difficult to do things.”

Assembly Bill 392, a use-of-force bill that would update the current “reasonable” deadly force standard to “necessary,” would make it easier to file criminal charges against officers who use lethal force if other enforcement options are available. Criticized heavily by police as setting an “impossible standard,” AB 392 pushed forward last month with a 5-2 vote in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

The suspects in the slayings of Stasyuk, Singh and Casillas were arrested. The perpetrator in the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office in April announced the death penalty will be sought for the suspect in Stasyuk’s death, Anton Lemon Paris.

The suspect in Singh’s death, Gustavo Perez Arriaga, was located and arrested following a more than two-day manhunt. A Fiji native, Singh was previously employed at the Turlock Police Department and as a reserve at the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

His police chief, Richardson, recalled that Singh was a non-native English speaker who came to this country to pursue his dream of becoming a police officer.

Near the end of his speech, Richardson addressed Singh’s parents.

“I promised you when I swore him in that he would be safe, and he wasn’t,” he said. “But I can tell you your son died an American hero.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.