‘Marble wrapped in velvet.’ Fallen SPD officer Tara O’Sullivan eulogized at funeral

Tara O’Sullivan was a magnet in life, those who knew her said. As the community mourned her death, little changed.

An estimated 3,500 people attended the fallen Sacramento Police Department officer’s memorial service Thursday at Bayside Church Adventure Campus in Roseville, including about 500 who watched from nearby Destiny Christian Church after Bayside reached capacity.

Speakers painted a picture of a firecracker who dedicated her life to police work long before the 26-year-old made the ultimate sacrifice June 19.

As a teenage member of the Martinez Police Department explorer program, O’Sullivan participated in a sting operation to see if liquor stores would sell to her even though she was under 21. She got upset when they didn’t fall for her request, as if she’d failed at her job, even as supervisors gently reminded her the clerks were doing the right thing. When O’Sullivan’s “shoulder taps” got adults to buy the minor booze, she wanted to know when she could testify against them in court, Martinez Sgt. Fred Ferrer said.

“She always wanted to be involved, she always wanted to know each step and she wanted to be part of the outcome,” Ferrer said.

O’Sullivan went on to graduate from Sacramento State and enter the Sacramento Police Department academy, where her excitement and desire to be challenged endeared her to her superiors. Academy leader Sgt. Brent Kaneyuki read letters in senior officers called O’Sullivan “the best trainee I’ve ever had” and “hands-down my favorite recruit.”

Kaneyuki once asked each recruit to write an autobiographical essay about what they might like to do in law enforcement. Most write one or two jobs – detective, Problem Oriented Policing officer, and so on.

But O’Sullivan, less than a year removed from the academy when she was killed, had her entire SPD career planned out even before Kaneyuki assigned that essay, he said. She wanted to serve on the department’s SWAT, K-9, mounted and gang units, become an academy corporal and eventually be promoted up to captain.

“Tara was a bright and rising star in the Sacramento Police Department, and knowing this, I have no doubt that she would have served in each of those specialty units or assignments that she listed in her autobiography,” Kaneyuki said.

O’Sullivan wasn’t all whip-cracking and orders, speakers said. Armed with a toothy grin, endearingly loud hiccups and a gift for connecting with people from all walks of life, people rarely left a room wondering if O’Sullivan had been there, her godfather Gary Roush said.

At the funeral, pop songs with titles such as “Happy” and “Happier” played over a photo compilation of her young life, plus the “Spongebob Squarepants” theme and “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

The East Bay native was a San Francisco Giants and 49ers fan and a dog lover especially fond of Mojo, her pit bull, Roush said.

“At times I had to wonder which species she loved more, people or pooches,” Roush said.

O’Sullivan left behind her parents, Denis and Kelley, and siblings Justin and Krista as well as Mojo and her boyfriend Adam, a fellow police officer. Plans to serve as maid of honor in her sister’s wedding next year and travel to Ireland were part of an untold number of experiences scrapped, Roush said.

But Denis had told Roush to focus on the life his daughter lived, not what was cut short. Roush recalled meeting her as a precocious four-year-old girl, already in possession of an intellect and curiosity beyond her years.

“She was one of those rare people who devoured life, doing so while somehow maintaining strength and kindness in equal measure,” Roush said. “She had both an aggressive vigor and gentle touch. She was marble wrapped in velvet.”

Police brass also marveled at O’Sullivan’s physical fitness. She was a high school soccer player who set the Sacramento Police Department record with a 26-minute plank, playfully taunting a male recruit who thought he could keep up with her but tapped out after 22 minutes. Later she broke a female 20- to 29-year-old record by running a mile-and-a-half in 10 minutes, 29 seconds.

Police officers offering condolences came from all over California, and three of O’Sullivan’s high school classmates drove an hour-and-a-half from Livermore to watch the memorial service at the Joe Mims Jr. Hagginwood Community Center. Alex and Ben Yoell and Tom Huynh sat in the front row where a projector had been set up, crying and patting each others’ backs throughout the service.

The three of them hung out with O’Sullivan nearly every day in high school, Huynh said, but fell out of touch with her after graduation. When she visited them in the East Bay in September, though, they picked up right where they left off.

“We hadn’t seen each other in almost seven years, but it was like not a day had gone by,” he said. “Everything they said in the memorial was spot on.”

Well-wishers dressed in blue lined the streets of O’Sullivan’s procession route from Elk Grove to Roseville and back again, many wearing rubber bracelets bearing the fallen officer’s name.

O’Sullivan was fatally shot while trying to help an alleged domestic violence victim retrieve belongings from a house in north Sacramento’s Noralto neighborhood on the evening of June 19.

Adel Sambrano Ramos, 45, allegedly exchanged fire with police for about eight hours after shooting O’Sullivan. He eventually surrendered and remains in Sacramento County Jail, where he was transferred to the psychiatric floor after reportedly smashing his head into a bunk.

Officers responded to the scene within minutes, but were not authorized to attempt a rescue for more than 40 minutes with an armored vehicle called a BearCat. O’Sullivan lay bleeding during that time before being transported to the UC Davis Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

O’Sullivan was shot multiple times and at least one of her wounds was “non-survivable,” police said.

Donations can be mailed to Officer Tara O’Sullivan Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 276507, Sacramento, CA 95827 or sent online through a California Association Highway Patrol Credit Union memorial fund.

The Bee’s Michael McGough, Meghan Bobrowsky and Jaimie Ding contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Tara O’Sullivan’s godfather. It is Gary Roush.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
Molly Sullivan covers crime, breaking news and police accountability for The Bee. She grew up in Northern California and is an alumna of Chico State.