More than 3,000 law enforcement officers, family and community members gathered on Thursday to remember the life of Robert French, the veteran Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed last week.
The memorial was held at the Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, which was packed full during the ceremony. The sanctuary seats just under 3,000 people. Several officers watched the service on television screens set up in the lobby, as co-workers and friends recalled the jokester with the southern drawl who was passionate about protecting his community.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who spoke during the ceremony, said while he felt both anger and hurt following the shooting, he also felt honored to be part of the law enforcement community in Sacramento.
“I’m honored to know a man like Bobby French, who in his life, touched and impacted the lives of countless people and even in death, stood tall as a warrior, continued to fight until everybody else was safe,” he said.
French, 52, was a patrol officer in the North Division, serving 21 years in the department. He also had experience as a training officer. Sacramento County Chief Deputy Kristofor Palmer estimated French helped train more than 300 deputies for the department in the span of 13 years.
French was killed Aug. 30 while responding to reports of shots fired at the Ramada Inn hotel on Auburn Boulevard. The Sheriff’s Department said French exchanged gunfire with a fleeing suspect after he fired rounds through a hotel room wall at two California Highway Patrol investigators assigned to an inter-agency auto theft task force.
The suspect, identified as Thomas Daniel Littlecloud, 32, allegedly shot the officers as they attempted to enter the hotel room to conduct a probation search. The CHP officers faced minor injuries from the gunfire.
Littlecloud then made his way down the room’s second-floor balcony, armed with an high-powered assault rifle and a 9mm handgun, the department said. He exchanged gunfire with French in the parking lot and pierced French’s shoulder as the deputy fired from behind a car. The bullet hit his heart, the department said on Tuesday. Still, French kept firing, Jones said.
Littlecloud was taken into custody after he crashed his car in a pursuit with police following the shootout, and was taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds. He died on Saturday.
French died en route to the hospital. He leaves behind live-in girlfriend, Kara Merino, her two children, three adult children, a sister and three grandchildren.
Criminal records show Littlecloud had an extensive criminal history and had been running from police for a month before the shooting. Jones said Littlecloud should have never been released from jail.
On Thursday, law enforcement officers from across the state and other parts of the country, like Nevada and Texas, attended the memorial service.
French was considered a class clown, always cracking jokes with other officers, said Lt. James Giannelli, the watch commander for the North Division team that French worked on since 2009.
The two met while French was stationed at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, at the start of his career, and after Giannelli had been promoted to sergeant and transferred to the facility. He remembered French’s enthusiasm as a young deputy.
“He was bigger than life and had a magnetic personally,” Giannelli said.
French started patrolling in 2000, a task that Giannelli called French’s true calling. He used his knowledge of the area and investigative skills to try to solve cases or resolve problems, often keeping an eye out for opportunities to help victims.
“He didn’t just answer calls for service, he actively looked for the bad guys,” he said.
At home, French was a loving father and a good friend to many, said Merino, his girlfriend of four years who lived with him in El Dorado Hills.
She remembered weekends spent with French and her kids on her boat, and how he would go out of the way to do things for her on a daily basis. He became a role model for her young son during the time they spent together.
“I love you and your parents would be so proud of you,” she said.
Friend Mark DelCarlo recalled French’s drawl, which DelCarlo said came from French’s southern roots, as did his love for cowboy garb and country music.
“Most of all, he loved to make everyone’s life better,” he said. “He always had your back, up until the last minutes of his life.”