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April 25, 2005

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24Seven Cop2Cop: News By, For & About Law Enforcement In the West
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Officer Steven Underwood remembered

Des Moines, Washington

After almost 4 years of waiting and countless delays, the fate of the man who shot and killed Des Moines Officer Steven Underwood, 33, was finally decided when 22-year old Charles Champion was sentenced to 34 years in prison. Champion who was 18-years-old at the time, was initially charged with aggravated first-degree murder, managed to avoid the death penalty when he pled guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree murder, a decision considered by many to be unfair and unjust. Although 34 years was on the upper end of the sentencing scale, many citizens as well as law enforcement officers believe that only the death penalty would have served some level of justice in such a cold blooded and senseless tragedy.

In the early morning hours of March 7, 2001 a 911 call came in from a horrified rider on a bus who eerily described that an officer was lying on the ground bleeding from the head as the suspects fled in various directions. The caller screaming and begging for police, fire, paramedics and anyone else to please hurry. As one who has heard the tape, could only give us a brief glimpse into those last few moments of Officer Steven Underwood’s life.

Steve was shot and killed in the early morning hours of March 7, 2001 when he stopped to check four young males along Pacific Highway South. Steve immediately recognized Champion, who he believed had an outstanding warrant and which was subsequently confirmed over his police radio. With back up units responding, Steve pulled over and approached Champion and the others. Without warning, Champion pulled out a .32 caliber handgun and fired four shots at the young officer killing him almost instantly. Underwood’s sidearm was still holstered and secured when he was fatally wounded leaving only questions about why Champion would kill for no apparent reason.

24Seven visited the Des Moines PD and met with Officer Bob Crane, a close and personal friend of Steven Underwood’s who shared an unique idea with us that served not only to honour Steve’s memory, but to serve as a reminder to all other officers in the Des Moines PD. He turned Steve’s locker into a memorial.

Officer Bob Crane,

Steve was my partner and personal friend; we spent a lot of time off duty together. The day Steve was shot was my first day assigned to the traffic unit otherwise I would have been there that night.

The idea came up by several officers at our department. I was the family liaison at the time of the service and continue to help the family with all of the bull that is going on with the trial. Since I was working so closely with the family, I ran with the locker idea and set it up as it is today.

The idea behind the locker was a way to remember Steve everyday, as we get dressed for our shift. Steve is the first and the only officer killed in the line of duty at our department in our 45yr history. It also helps us keep in touch with how dangerous it is on the streets in our city. It will also be a reminder to the new officers that will come after we have all retired to let them know who Steve was.

Steve's locker contains his uniform, boots, badge, commendation award and hat. The photo's that are inside the locker are photo's Steve had inside his locker when we opened it after his death. We removed the door and replaced it with tempered glass, it was sealed so dust and other dirt does not get inside. It will never be opened; his memory will always be inside his locker.

When I see the locker, even after almost four years it chokes me up, it is very moving.

If you want to contact Bob for information about making a memorial locker he can be reached at rcrane@desmoineswa.gov

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