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'A Sad Day for All Law Enforcement' : Services: Officers paying their last respects to Michael Clark are hurt, angry and visibly shaken by his untimely and violent death.

August 10, 1995|ANDREW D. BLECHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WESTLAKE VILLAGE — They came from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Ana and Nevada, as well as from police and fire departments across Ventura County.

Most of the Simi Valley Police Department was there, joined in mourning by dozens of police officers from the Devonshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department in the San Fernando Valley.

There were too many to fit in St. Jude's Catholic Church, so many stood at attention in dress uniforms under the relentless sun, listening raptly to the service on speakers set up in the parking lot.

They all came to Westlake Village to pay their last respects to fallen Officer Michael Clark.

They were hurt, angry and visibly shaken by Clark's untimely and violent death.

"It's a sad day for the Simi Police Department, a sad day for all law enforcement and obviously a sad day for the family," Simi Valley Police Officer Jon Gonce said.

Clark's death rested heavily on officers from the Devonshire Division as well, where Clark worked for six years before moving to Simi Valley just months ago.

"He was very well-liked," LAPD Officer Gary Hansen said. "A lot of officers at the station are around his age, and this has probably been the hardest on them."

Devonshire Officer Rebecca Smalling said she was devastated by Clark's death.

"I've lost a good friend," said Smalling, who graduated from the police academy with Clark. "I'm just so sad."

Many in the audience of navy blue uniforms never met Clark, but in the tradition of police solidarity, they were there to show their respect for a comrade.

"I didn't know him, but that doesn't matter," said Officer Selvy Surrena of the LAPD's Wilshire Division. "We are all fellow officers. We are a family."

Whether they knew him or not, whether they were longtime officers or fresh from the academy, they all grappled with Clark's death.

"No matter how much you prepare, it seems like there's always a situation that comes along that can take an officer's life," Simi Valley Police Lt. Anthony Harper said. "It comes when you least expect it . . . and you find yourself burying one of your own."

It was a day that left Harper terribly depressed about America's escalating violence.

"This kind of violence is something you used to only read about. Now you see it so regularly it scares me. Too many officers are being shot and killed."

That was a sentiment echoed by L. A. Police Chief Willie Williams.

"I've been to 10 or 12 police funerals in the last three years," Williams said.

Funerals for police officers killed on duty are particularly unsettling because many of the victims are cut down in their prime, he said.

"Usually, funerals are for older people," Williams said. "But when you're dealing with police funerals, you are usually dealing with a young officer, a young widow and young children."

Randy Adams, who was named chief of the Simi Valley Police Department on Tuesday, said he and the department are working with Clark's widow to create a memorial.

"We want to memorialize him so that one day his son can come into our department and see what a hero his dad was," he said.

Clark's death proves that no city is safe from violence, said Adams, who worked 23 years in the Ventura Police Department.

"We live in a much more violent society than when I joined the force 23 years ago," he said. "Respect for the sanctity of human life isn't what it used to be. Nobody hesitates to use guns and knives to settle arguments anymore."

And respect for law enforcement isn't what it used to be either, former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates said.

"It's often not until a police officer dies that the public appreciates what the police do for them," he said. "People don't understand that officers are simply trying to maintain the peace, and it's getting harder and harder every day."

Many in the audience were unable to make sense out of a senseless killing.

"I try not to dwell on it," said LAPD Sgt. Bob McDonald, who worked for a short time with Clark when Clark was a rookie in the Hollywood Division. "I've been to too many funerals lately. This happens all too frequently."

"It's rotten, really rotten," said Wilshire's Surrena. "The man just gunned him down when all [Clark] wanted to do was help the guy."

During the funeral Mass, half of Lindero Canyon Road was turned into a vast parking lot of police cruisers stretching more than half a mile.

Later, at the cemetery, hundreds of officers stood in long lines of dress blues and khaki, with Simi Valley officers and the Devonshire Division nearest to Clark's family.

At the bark of a commander's order, they stood rigidly at attention, their backs perfectly straight, their white-gloved hands in firm salute above tearing eyes.

But when it was all over, they were still faced with a tremendous sense of loss. A loss intricately woven with honor and duty, but a loss nevertheless.

There was still a young widow crying beside a slate-gray casket and an infant without a father--none of which was lost on anyone in the vast crowd.

"This tragedy has changed the course of history for the family," said Candy Koehler, a San Diego marshal's deputy.

LAPD Sgt. John Amott also worried about Clark's wife and child.

"That boy has no father now," Amott said. "He'll never feel his father's love and embrace again.

"And his mother, oh my, she must be terribly alone."

Times staff writers Joanna M. Miller and Julie Tamaki contributed to this story.

* CROSSING PATHS

Clergyman's life has been interwoven with that of widow. B7

MAIN STORY: A1

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