Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Memorial - Two Years Later

A Memorial – Two Years laterJanuary 7, 2008

By Richard May, Sr.

At approximately 4:30 PM on January 7, 2006, Officer Richard “Rich” May, Jr. was shot and killed when he responded to a disturbance call while on duty in East Palo Alto. When he arrived at the disturbance, one of the men fled. Rich attempted to stop that male. The suspect turned around and opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun, killing Rich. The suspect fled on foot. A young Police Explorer Scout was participating in a ride along with Rich at the time of the incident, but was not injured. It was the Explorer who made the radio call for help.

East Palo Alto is a city of 32,000 that once led the nation in murders per capita. In 1992, a body count of 42 earned the city the dubious distinction of "murder capital of the country”.

Rich, a 1985 graduate of San Luis Obispo High School, was a US Marine Corps veteran. He had served with the East Palo Alto Police Department for 18 months. He had previously served for 14 years with the Lompoc Police Department.

Rich’s parents were divorced when he was young. His mother moved to the Bay area with a new family. Rich was raised by his father Rick, and later, the two were joined by his step mother Lynn in San Luis Obispo. In Rich’s early years in grammar school, junior high and high school, he was known as a good person. “I remember taking Judo classes after school with Rich when we were going to Laguna Junior High, way back in the early 80's. This memory is still clear because Rich was such a neat person, so fun to be around, and he made you feel good about yourself, even at such a young age as we were then.” Another of Rich’s friends from school – a woman – remembered her first day at Laguna Jr. High. She wanted to pass through a doorway which was blocked by an older 8th grade student. When she asked if she could get through, the older student told her to go some other way. She said a skinny young boy near her turned to the older boy in the doorway and politely suggested that he should move. The boy moved. The young girl realized she met her first Jr. High. friend – Rich.

Within minutes after Rich’s shooting in East Palo Alto, officers from nearby agencies arrived to help in the search for the suspect. Police officers blocked off the neighborhood to search for the suspect, who was armed with a semiautomatic pistol. In all, more than 250 officers from 25 agencies participated in the manhunt. A suspect was caught about 6:00 AM the next morning after officers at a checkpoint became suspicious when they stopped a car and saw someone ducking in the back. The suspect, a 23 year old gang member on parole, was found with a bullet wound to his leg, that had been inflicted by Rich before he died.

As an officer, Rich committed much of his time to the DARE program in Lompoc, founded the town's youth Police Activities League, and helped turn the Lompoc Boys and Girls Club into a viable place for young people to spend after school time. “Rich was my DARE officer at Hapgood School about 10 or so years ago. A very nice, sharp, professional whom I greatly admired as did my class. What a fine, decent, and beautiful individual. He is one of the finest examples of law enforcement I can think of”. Rich taught Administration of Justice at Lompoc High School to give young adults a different view of the laws of society. Rich also taught classes to new recruits at the Alan Hancock Police Academy. “I worked closely with Rich when he taught at the Allan Hancock Police Academy. He was a brilliant and creative teacher.” During his time in Lompoc, Rich’s Marine Reserve unit was activated for Operation Desert Storm. In East Palo Alto, he helped by mentoring the Boy Scout Explorers. He worked tirelessly to help local young people in a one on one relationship. “the times that I spent with you in ride-alongs were exciting and fun I will never forget all the advice that you have given me in regards to my Future career in the marines/then my career in law enforcement the time that we spent having many discussions in the squad car will be priceless, I will always remember you”

While at the Lompoc Police Department, Rich received the prestigious H. Thomas Guerry Award in 1994 from the Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime for his role in saving the life of a victim suffering from cardiac arrest. In 1997 he was honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the Santa Barbara County Probation Department for his work with juveniles. The Lompoc Boys and Girls Club recently dedicated their gym to Rich. During his off duty hours, Rich raised money, painted, and repaired the building so young people would have a place to play after school. The center court circle will read “RICH MAY COURT”.

Rich always went out of his way to help others. A mother in East Palo Alto – “I was fortunate to witness first hand when Rich helped with my daughter over a year ago. She was missing and I can't even begin to explain how I felt. Officer May showed up, not because he was called to come out and take a report- that had been done. He knew our family and his face reflected my desperation. He wanted to find her; he wanted to help. One look at his face and I could tell that he genuinely empathized. He spoke of being a father himself. He was so articulate and poised. Most importantly though, his warmth just radiated about him. What a fantastic officer and human being.” From an East Palo Alto City Council person “When I first met him, I was happily surprised and impressed by his demeanor. In full uniform he radiated a disarming and comforting presence. Officer May was a person that was clearly at ease with himself and with our community. Community residents echo similar feelings about his gentlemanly manner in which handled his duties. He was the embodiment of community policing and served as a shining example of how an officer should comport him/herself in any community”. A school official – “Officer May came to the school and my aide on numerous occasions. He was the first one to respond when our Katrina funds were stolen. I was glad he responded because I think of him as the polite police officer that listened. Well God sent the right one that day. Even though he was calm, and in his usual professional manner, I could tell his heart was saddened.”

The letters from the individuals who state that Rich's personal involvement saved their lives are too difficult to share.

"My sense of outrage is great. I'm outraged to see this tragic waste of a good and decent man," said state Attorney General Bill Lockyer as he fought back tears speaking at Rich’s services at the San Jose HP Pavilion. "We know that we can take some comfort in understanding that he was doing what he loved."

I spent many shifts riding with Rich on his Lompoc patrols. He often called me and asked that I ride with him. I suspected it was so he could talk. We never talked about anything specific – just talked. It was clear to me that he was good at what he did. It was normal for officers in the field to call him for a meeting so they could ask his opinion about a pending arrest or how to complete a form. An officer asked one evening how he could impound the tractor cab of a big rig that was in town at the truck driver’s friend’s house. It seems the driver would unhook from his trailer outside of town then drive in a very noisy way to the residential street. Neighbors had complained about the loud noise for many months. Rich reminded the officer that when the department impounds the vehicle of a drunk driver, the driver can get to work the next day by bus or a friend. Rich explained that the truck was the driver’s office and that they should not impound the truck. Rich explained how to write a ticket that would be an expensive and firm reminder of the noise. On another occasion, Rich pulled over a small older car that had just slowly rolled through a stop sign. He talked for a few minutes to the woman driver then came back to the patrol car and drove away. He explained that the woman’s driver license had expired a few days earlier. There was a new baby in a car seat, the windows were down, the baby was crying, the car was full of grocery bags, seat belts were on, and it was 110 degrees outside. Her home was only a couple blocks away. Rich handed back the license asking the woman to apply for a new license – and then told her he had another call. The woman obviously knew what Rich did because she came to the police department a couple days later to show Rich her new license and to thank him for allowing her to continue home. On another occasion, “I remember how one Christmas Eve me and my family were forced to flee our house and stay in a hotel because my ex-husband had become really violent. Rich came to talk to my kids and when he spoke to the 11 year old, tears formed in his eyes when she showed him the little Christmas tree she had decorated with lights and put up in the hotel room. He told her that she was very brave.”

A few weeks after high school, Rich wrote home from Marine Corps boot camp describing the time he was required to have a firm, non smiling face for his official picture. Because it took several takes to get a firm picture, Rich had to do extra physical activities.

Rich took on a special job for one year while at the Lompoc Police Department. He was the SHO officer. SHO was a special Granted program - the Serious Habitual Offender program. Juveniles that had several misdemeanors and felonies during the previous 12 months could be assigned to Rich. It was Rich’s full time job to keep track of these young people, talk with them, try to keep them in school, and help in their family life. I remember going to one juvenile’s apartment because the juvenile had not been seen for a couple months. The apartment was in the name of a man who was the boy friend of the juvenile’s stepmother. The real mother and father were in jail. We never made contact with this person. However, there were many other meetings with young SHO kids who respected Rich and were doing their best to work within the rules as established by Rich.

Funerals for fallen police officers are heartwarming, amazing, difficult and impressive. Heartwarming because our family suddenly had thousands of close friends, all offering do anything from hugging to grocery shopping. Amazing simply because of the mass of friends at the services. Difficult because it is so public. One minute we were at a happy surprise birthday party, the next in a hotel room protected by officers to make sure we were not bothered, then to a service that filled the San Jose HP Pavilion with thousands of officers and general public. Impressive because of the ceremony, the rider less horse with the backward boots, the 21 gun salute, the missing person flyover, and the long procession. The California Highway Patrol stopped traffic on the Southbound 101 from East Palo Alto to San Jose. The motorcade of police vehicles stretched four miles. It took 20 minutes for the full procession to pass under a huge U.S. flag, suspended over four-lane road in East Palo Alto by two fire department cranes. The procession followed Highway 101 southbound to San Jose, empty and quiet as cars were held at on-ramps. Officers were saluting at attention at all the onramps. Overpasses were lined with fire trucks and saluting firefighters. Then a second service. The public process all over again. The funeral in Santa Maria two days later.

Those who knew Rich during his off duty hours, remember his constant companions everywhere he went - his two daughters, Deanna and Lauren.

Rich was as involved with youth in East Palo Alto as he was in Lompoc. From a volunteer affiliated with the East Palo Alto Teen Home - “our agency has relied on our police department for assistance in dealing with our teen girls. Officer May would at any time, call our facility as well as have follow-up visits to check on the girls and hold them to high standards in working on their programs. I found it unusual for Officer May to speak to our girls in a fatherly manner, as well as an officer. It's not the type of personal, one on one interaction I expected to be a part of and it made me realize there was something different about this person. In speaking with other members of the community, checking in on you was the way he performed his job. Officer May I am sure, set many goals for himself. The goal of making a difference in the lives of others was attained.” From a department employee – “Having worked for 3 Police Department's in my life, I can say that Rich was the kindest, most compassionate, caring and all rounded officer I've ever had the pleasure to work with.”

A local corner grocery store In East Palo Alto was the object of regular robberies. Rich started visiting the store regularly to make his presence known to the area. He often sat in the store doing his reports. He stopped by several times a day to purchase lunch or a soft drink. Robberies ended at this store. Rich called me one day to tell me how bad he felt. Shortly after he left his shift the evening before, the store was robbed and one of the owners was shot in the shoulder.

One statement resonated from the funeral – “To honor Rich, individually find one young person who needs help. Spend your time with that youth. Help that person become a good and productive adult. And do it with a smile." Our family is working with, and raising funds for, the Redwood City Friends For Youth - the RICH MAY One-On-One MENTORING PROGRAM in East Palo Alto. Helping at-risk youth becoming attached to responsible adults on a one-on-one basis is the best way we can duplicate what Rich was doing. Our family is involved in several other projects. We are arranging for a scholarship for graduates from Rich's high school in San Luis Obispo, who need help attending police or fire academies. We are assisting the Lompoc Police Department PAL organization with youth activities - currently raising funds to purchase scoreboards for youth softball fields. We assist the Lompoc Boys and Girls Club in any way possible. The Boys & Girls Club is adding to their facilities for youth services. We assist with youth sports in East Palo Alto. Rich’s mother’s family is working on a field and building for youth activities in the City of East Palo Alto. If you wish to support one of these fine activities, send an email note to Rick May at OfficerRichardMay@gmail.com

San Mateo County is holding the 23 year old suspect in jail. The trial is expected to start December, 2008.

From the San Jose Mercury News “If every cop who dies in the line of duty is a hero, then perhaps Richard May was a superhero”. A retired Highway Patrol officer recently said Rich “was the best damn officer he ever met”.

And finally, a note shortly after Rich’s death from his cousin Sean. “Rich was my cousin and someone I looked up to my whole life. I am just now starting to be able to be sad, because all I have been able to feel is anger. For you kind people that did not know Rich and are offering your condolences, I wish you did know him. If all of the kind words spoken by those who knew Rich make it seem like he was a great guy, it only touches the surface of what an outstanding man he was. It is not often that people come along that are able to have such an impact on so many people in such a small amount of time. Being a police officer did not define Rich, it just happened to be the honorable way that he was able to help others. If Rich had been anything else he still would have been one of the best people I have ever known. (To Rich’s family), I wish so much that I could take your pain for you. My family and I are in so much agony for what you are going through. I hope we can all hold on to the good memories, and find some peace in knowing that Rich did the good deeds of 100 people in his own lifetime. We love you Rich, and we miss you, but we will never forget you. God bless. “

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did not know Officer May but I am really moved by this great person. I read online in the San Jose Mercury News website today that the killer was convicted of first degree murder. I hope this gang banging scum gets the death penalty. If I could trade the lives of a thousand gang bangers to bring back Richard May I would do it in a second.