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Capitol ceremony honors California’s fallen police officers

Video: California fallen officers memorialized

Thirteen fallen officers who died in the line of duty were honored Monday at the 2015 California Peace Officers' Memorial ceremony outside the State Capitol. Video by Sacramento Bee photographers Hector Amezcua, Sue Morrow and Randy Pench
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Thirteen fallen officers who died in the line of duty were honored Monday at the 2015 California Peace Officers' Memorial ceremony outside the State Capitol. Video by Sacramento Bee photographers Hector Amezcua, Sue Morrow and Randy Pench

The strains of bagpipes pierced the silence of a cool spring morning Monday outside California’s state Capitol.

Just beyond the elegant building’s grand entrance off Capitol Mall in Sacramento, thousands of law enforcement officers in blue, green and beige uniforms lined both sides of the sidewalk, their ranks stretching for more than a block. They stood in quiet stoicism, some wearing formal white gloves, in remembrance of 13 of their own who died in the line of duty last year.

Two of the fallen officers, from the Sacramento area, were gunned down on the same October day: Danny Oliver, a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy shot in the parking lot of a motel off Arden Way; and Michael Davis Jr., a Placer County sheriff’s detective killed in Auburn while pursuing the man who has admitted shooting Oliver. Authorities arrested Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Marquez Monroy, in the daylong crime spree that killed the two men.

Eleven other officers honored Monday represented agencies large and small, from the BART Police Department in the Bay Area to the Los Angeles Police Department. Each of their names has been permanently added to the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Monument, which features bronze figures of a county sheriff, a state trooper and a city patrolman and the words “In The Line Of Duty.”

Monday’s elaborate ceremony, which drew a sea of officers in patrol cars, motorcycles, horses and bikes from agencies up and down the state, followed a candlelight vigil Sunday night. The ceremonies have been held since 1977.

“This is a good closure, to allow us to go forward as our agencies move on,” said Placer County sheriff’s Sgt. Ty Conners, who wore a black band across his badge in acknowledgment of his colleague’s death.

The loss of Davis has been a poignant reminder that on any given day, “it could be any of us,” Conners said. “It could have been me.”

Monday’s service began with haunting bagpipe music from the San Francisco Irish Pipers Band. It ended with the families of each of the officers killed last year, along with five others who died decades earlier, visiting the monument across from the Capitol. The families approached one by one, escorted by representatives of each fallen officer’s agency. Some dropped red roses. Some bowed, perhaps in prayer. Some reached out and touched the statue.

Among them were mothers and grandmothers on walkers and in wheelchairs, and children clutching brown teddy bears. Widows wearing dark sunglasses dabbed tears from their faces. Tourists visiting the capital and state workers on breaks stopped to watch the spectacle, pulling out cellphones to document the throngs of nattily dressed law enforcers on the street.

In between orders barked by officers directing color guards, the clopping of mounted police in procession and speeches from dignitaries, there was stark silence in the large crowd. As the color guard ceremoniously folded a large American flag, the only audible noise was the singing of birds in the elm trees overhead.

The stillness, said California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, was a sign of respect.

“I am most touched by the deafening silence that exists out there for these officers and their families,” she said.

The chief justice praised the bravery of officers who “run voluntarily, in haste, to a crisis,” who face down criminals with guns and who understand that a seemingly ordinary car stop can turn into a fatal chase.

“I firmly believe that law enforcement is a calling ... much more than a job,” she said.

Gov. Jerry Brown called the group gathered on Monday “the very best of California.”

To the children of the dead officers, Attorney General Kamala Harris said, “Your fathers are heroes.”

Both Davis and Oliver were fathers and, according to friends and relatives, devoted lawmen whose absence has left a gaping hole in their households and their agencies.

“We were friends for 18 years,” Placer County sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said of Davis. She looked around at all of the pomp and smiled. “Mike would find all of this a little too much. He wasn’t a stuffy guy. He was very informal.

“It’s so hard to grasp that he is gone,” she said, turning somber. “It’s surreal.”

Jason Davis, a Placer County sheriff’s sergeant, told Monday’s crowd that his older brother Michael was his lifelong mentor. The two worked together for years and ended every conversation with a hug, he said. Michael died 26 years to the day that their father was killed in the line of duty while working for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department.

The man arrested in Davis Jr.’s and Oliver’s deaths has admitted to killing the officers during recent court hearings in the case and has demanded an execution date. He is facing the death penalty if convicted, and his wife could be sentenced to life in prison.

Call The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @Cynthia_Hubert.

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