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Mourners Recall Terrible Irony of Clark's Death

August 10, 1995|MARY F. POLS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTLAKE VILLAGE — Sally Anderson sat on the curb in front of St. Jude's Catholic Church and mourned for a man she never met.

"This just didn't need to happen," Anderson said, eyes fixed on the church where a Catholic Mass was being said over the body of Michael F. Clark.

The few heart-rending details she had heard about the slain Simi Valley police officer were enough to draw her to the Westlake Village church near her home to watch Wednesday morning as a swirl of uniformed officers, dark-suited dignitaries, and solemn-faced family members and friends of Clark's arrived for his funeral.

She knew that he had joined the Simi Valley police force because it was supposed to be so safe.

She knew that he had a baby, too young to ever remember him.

"And the wife . . . ," Anderson said, her voice trailing off as she shook her head over Jenifer Clark's tragedy. "You don't expect something like this to happen out here."

Both inside and outside the church, mourners echoed Anderson's shock and dismay. Politicians and friends alike talked about the terrible irony of Clark's death, just months after he deliberately took a job in a city known for its low crime and safe streets, a city that Gov. Pete Wilson described in his eulogy of Clark as the place "where the mountains keep out the violence."

Clark's death in the line of duty--he was negotiating with an apparently suicidal man--was the first ever for Simi Valley's 25-year-old Police Department. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) said he was stunned to hear the news on his arrival home from Washington, D.C., Friday night.

"When it's one of your own, it's really tough," Gallegly said sadly. He stood next to Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton at the entrance to St. Jude's on Wednesday morning, greeting Clark's grieving colleagues and friends as they entered the church.

"The irony is that you have a guy trying to save a life, and his only duty that day was to try and save a life, and he ends up a victim," Gallegly said.

Both politicians said no amount of training could have saved Clark, a Moorpark resident, but Stratton said he nonetheless expects a review of departmental policy as a result of the 28-year-old man's death.

"It's a dangerous job, even in a safe city," he said.

Stratton said he hopes that prosecutors will press for the death penalty for schoolteacher Daniel Allen Tuffree, accused of shooting Clark in the back during a confrontation at Tuffree's Simi Valley home Friday.

"Nothing brings back the officer," he said. "But there is a penalty one must pay."

During the service, an overflow of mourners pressed against the door of the church, straining to hear the words from inside. About 100 uniformed police officers from around Southern California stood in the parking lot, listening as the speakers' voices crackled out over a loudspeaker system.

Wilson arrived nearly an hour late, his flight from Sacramento delayed by a problem with a radar tower, and spoke briefly in a raspy voice. He finished with a message to Clark's 5-month-old son, Bayley.

"I have a message from for Bayley from the heart," Wilson said. "Be proud of the father you will not know."

As Clark's casket was carried from the church to the hearse for the two-mile ride to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks cemetery, Jenifer Clark stood at the doorway of St. Jude's, slumped against a companion.

She pressed her hand tight against her cheek, wiping away tears.

Wilson left immediately after the ceremony, but Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams, Gallegly and Stratton joined the motorcade to the cemetery for the burial. About 500 motorcycles and cars took part in the procession, lights flashing, sirens silent, as media helicopters buzzed overhead.

As the procession wound its way down Lindero Canyon Road, Tammy Baker of Simi Valley waited at the cemetery, watching for the stream of motorcycles, for the riderless horse, for the hearse.

She wanted, she said, to bring her daughters Kristin, 10, and Jessica, 8, to pay their respects to Clark. The girls did not know Clark, but their father is an officer in the Hawthorne Police Department.

"He was an officer out there protecting us when my husband wasn't home," Baker said. "We wanted to show our respect to the family. It could be our family."

As the police cars drove into the cemetery, turning an unpaved field into a glinting sea of black and white, Giuseppe Iezza of Agoura stood under the shade of an oak on the hillside.

"You ask God why," he said, shaking his fists at the air. "Why does this happen to a policeman?

"Ahh," he said. "This is bad. Very bad."

Times staff writer Joanna M. Miller contributed to this story.

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