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Slain Police Officer Laid to Rest

Several thousand turn out at funeral services for Ricardo Lizarraga, killed while answering a domestic violence call in South Los Angeles.

February 28, 2004|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

In an emotional funeral Mass, slain Los Angeles Police Officer Ricardo Lizarraga was eulogized Friday before a crowd of several thousand as "a good man and a good police officer."

The crowd of mostly law enforcement officers filled the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, while several thousand more stood in the plaza outside to pay their last respects to the 30-year-old officer.

Lizarraga was killed while responding to a domestic violence call in the Chesterfield Square area of South Los Angeles on Feb. 20.

Lizarraga's widow, Joyce, sat stoically through the service, occasionally dabbing her eyes. His LAPD partner, Officer Joel Ruiz, wept uncontrollably.

The service was held on a bright, clear and cold day, the first after days of rainstorms.

It was the first service for a fallen law-enforcement officer in the new cathedral and drew many dignitaries, including Mayor James K. Hahn, City Council members, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.

Hahn spoke briefly. Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton also spoke, calling for greater public outrage over street violence.

But it was Cardinal Roger M. Mahony who spoke most forcefully, taking up a cause the mayor and the police chief have clearly sought to keep in public view.

"There is no question we need more police on the streets," Mahony said. "We can count more murders here than soldiers who have died in an active war in Iraq. Something is terribly wrong."

Then Mahony homed in on the city's spending priorities as several members of the City Council listened. "Public safety should be carved out and given special priority" in budget negotiations, Mahony said.

Police say Lizarraga, the first LAPD officer to be slain on duty since 1998, was shot Feb. 20 by gang member and convicted felon Kenrick Johnson on West 48th Street near Western Avenue.

On Tuesday night, Johnson was found hanging from the bars in his County Jail cell. He died the next day.

Bratton said earlier this week that he hoped Lizarraga's death would serve to rally the city around its Police Department.

The officer's shooting, however, was followed, not only by Johnson's suicide, but by the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old motorist by police officers that drew questions about LAPD tactics.

The result was a mosaic of conflicting images of police in media reports over the last few days, some evoking sympathy and praise, others prompting criticism.

Against that backdrop, Bratton confined most of his comments at Friday's services to a familiar theme -- the need for public support against street violence.

He called for city residents to have "a mighty resolve" to counter violence and oppose the "criminals, cowards, sociopaths and domestic terrorists."

Hahn invoked the story of the good Samaritan. He said Lizarraga had died trying to help a stranger -- a woman who had sought police protection from an abusive boyfriend.

For at least 45 minutes before the service began, the crowd sat in near silence, staring straight ahead. Every seat in the church was filled.

The service opened with a song, Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings," performed by LAPD Officer Philander Butler.

Joyce Lizarraga sat next to her slain husband's parents, Candolario and Cristina Lizarraga.

Behind them was a sea of uniformed police officers, some crying.

Tony Gomez, Lizarraga's pastor from Culver City's St. Augustine Church, called the Los Angeles-born officer "a neighborhood hero" who had become "a hero for the city."

Police Capt. Fabian Lizarraga (no relation), Officer Lizarraga's patrol commander at the Newton station, also spoke at length in Spanish and English, at times taking deep breaths to keep his composure.

Colleagues had written "We will never forget you Ricardo Lizarraga" on the blackboard in their roll-call room, he said, and were wearing silver bracelets in Lizarraga's honor.

Lizarraga, an enthusiastic day-watch patrolman known for his helpful demeanor, barrel chest and bald head, "could be trusted," the captain said.

Lizarraga's younger brother Jeorge then spoke tearfully of Lizarraga's devotion to his job.

Downtown workers emerged from their offices to watch as Lizarraga's casket was taken away. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.

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