Crime - Sacto 911

Slain Sacramento sheriff’s deputy was ‘the big uncle’ to his colleagues

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert French, 52, was killed in a shootout at the Ramada Inn on Auburn Boulevard.
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert French, 52, was killed in a shootout at the Ramada Inn on Auburn Boulevard.

Sacramento sheriff’s Capt. Kris Palmer addressed his troops in a north area station on Thursday in one of their darkest hours.

A day earlier, one of their most veteran colleagues – Deputy Robert French – had been killed in a wild shootout at an Auburn Boulevard hotel. Now, it was time to get to work.

“Work as Bob would,” Palmer said he told his officers. “Be on time, be ready to go, give 100 percent from the time you clock in to the time you clock out. Respect Bob’s legacy and go out and work hard and persevere.”

French was described by his supervisor as a cop’s cop. He was one of the longest-tenured patrol deputies in the station and perhaps the entire department, “the big uncle with all the knowledge,” Palmer said.

French was killed during a shootout at the Ramada Inn on Auburn Boulevard, near Fulton Avenue. He was among a team of officers investigating an alleged car-theft operation. Thomas Daniel Littlecloud, a 32-year-old man from Castro Valley with a long criminal history, is suspected of firing the high-powered rifle that struck and killed French.

Two California Highway Patrol officers were injured during the shooting, but are expected to recover. French is survived by a live-in girlfriend, adult children and grandchildren.

Even at age 52 and with 21 years on the force, French still loved the daily routines of being a cop: putting on the uniform, talking to community members and driving his patrol car around the vast suburban landscape north of the American River. He was a patrol deputy since 2000 and a training officer who mentored new deputies.

“He was determined that no matter how many years he’d been on patrol, he was going to outwork the youngest officers out there,” Palmer said. “He was amazing, he was an amazing patrol officer.”

Thursday’s stolen-car investigation was a fairly typical operation for French and other sheriff’s deputies. “It probably wasn’t different from something he did earlier in his shift or the day before,” Palmer said.

French had a strong connection with the communities he served, including Foothill Farms, North Highlands and Arden Arcade. A resident of the Arden area is hoping to honor French by asking his neighbors to replace their front porch lights with blue bulbs.

The deputy’s family has asked for privacy from media questions as they grieve their loss. His uniformed family is grieving, too; French is the 20th member of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department killed in the line of the duty, and the eighth since 2005 – among the largest tolls of any law enforcement agency in the state.

“A lot of officers would rather work than stay home today,” Palmer said. “We certainly never forget, we just try to find the courage to push through.”

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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