Officers throughout the Los Angeles Police Department grieved Tuesday as news spread that a veteran detective had killed herself in the lobby of an L.A. County Sheriff's Department station Monday night.
Susan J. Clemmer, a well-regarded officer assigned to the LAPD's Gang and Narcotics Division, walked into the Santa Clarita sheriff's station about 9:15 p.m. and spoke to the sheriff's deputy at the front desk, according to sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore and LAPD officials.
Clemmer, 41, placed a box of personal items on the counter and asked to speak to a different deputy. After a brief conversation with a second deputy, when Clemmer was briefly left unattended, staffers heard a gunshot and rushed out to find her with a single gunshot wound in her head, police said.
No one else was injured.
What Clemmer said to the deputies, and whether she identified herself as a police officer, remained unclear Tuesday.
The death of the 19-year LAPD veteran left officers throughout the tightknit department stunned.
"We're in shock. It came as a complete surprise," said Capt. Kevin McCarthy, one of the commanders of Clemmer's unit. "She was always smiling and easy to work with. There was no indication that anything was wrong."
Clemmer, McCarthy said, had sent a text message to another detective in the unit saying she looked forward to seeing him at work later in the week.
Clemmer joined the narcotics unit about a decade ago and for the last several years was assigned to a squad that worked with the U.S. Postal Service on cases involving drugs sent through the mail, according to McCarthy.
He praised her as a solid officer.
Soon after joining the LAPD, Clemmer was thrust into the spotlight as a crucial witness for the defense in the Rodney King beating trials of the early 1990s.
She told jurors in a federal civil rights trial that King had laughed about the beating he got from several LAPD officers after a traffic stop and said King had spit blood on her during the ambulance ride to the hospital. She also testified that she had spoken to one of the accused officers moments after the beating and that he appeared frightened by the confrontation.
Clemmer's testimony was central to bolstering the officers' defense that they had been frightened by King and acted out of concern for their safety. She took the stand after an expert witness for the defense testified that King's behavior, as described by the defendants, was consistent with PCP intoxication.
Two officers were eventually convicted in the federal civil rights case. Clemmer gave substantially the same testimony in the officers' state trial, which ended in acquittals and sparked deadly riots in Los Angeles.
Between 1998 and 2007, 19 LAPD officers committed suicide, according to a department study released last year.