01/08/2006

Suspect arrested in shooting of Calif. officer

By Julie Patel, S.L. Wykes and Rodney Foo   
Mercury News

Police and officers from the California Highway Patrol arrested a 23-year-old East Palo Alto man early this morning in the fatal shooting of a police officer on Saturday.

Alberto Alvarez was taken into custody about 6 a.m. without incident after an intense manhunt in East Palo Alto, where the shooting took place, a CHP spokesman said.

Alvarez is accused of killing East Palo Alto police officer Richard May, 39, who responded to a disturbance at a taqueria off of University Avenue about 4:30 p.m. A 14-year-old police Explorer Scout was on a ride-along with May at the time of the shooting.

May had been on the force for 18 months. He is survived by his wife and three children -- 17, 14 and 9 -- said Lt. Rod Norris.

Authorities cordoned off a neighborhood at Weeks Street and University Avenue after the shooting and launched an intense manhunt.

The teenager, who was riding in the officer's squad car as part of a volunteer police program, made the first call reporting the shooting. The teen was not harmed, Norris said.

It was not immediately clear whether the volunteer Scout had remained in the car during the shooting or whether the teen had witnessed the slaying, Norris said.

The killing -- a block away from police headquarters -- stunned the city's 48-officer force.

``The focus of the police department right now is to come together as a family and grieve,'' said Police Chief Ron Davis.

It was the second time in the department's history that an officer was killed in the line of duty.

In 1988, rookie officer Joel Michael Davis, 26, was shot and killed while chasing a suspected drug dealer, Ronald Price. Price was later convicted of first-degree murder.

Saturday's killing was preceded by hours of heightened police activity, said residents who noticed police cars flashing their lights and heard sirens earlier in the day.

May was dispatched to check on a reported disturbance at the Villa Taqueria at 2380 Cooley Ave., already notorious for being the scene of a 1995 homicide. Coincidentally, it is across the street from where Davis first encountered Price the night he was killed in 1988.

May recognized the suspect in the Saturday disturbance, Norris said, adding that he is someone who is known to police for past activity. May followed the suspect with his patrol car for about half a block until he stopped and got out to confront him.

Norris was unable to say where the officer had been hit and how many shots were fired.

But police were told the killer fled on foot, hopping over fences. Officers from other jurisdictions -- Menlo Park, Palo Alto, the California Highway Patrol -- poured into East Palo Alto Saturday night to search for the shooter and control traffic.

Those who knew May -- including merchants on his beat -- were heartbroken.

Hamdi Nijem, the owner of the Oakwood Market, said May came to his store three times on Saturday -- once for a barbecue lunch. The final meeting occurred just minutes before the shooting.

Frequently, May would drop by to check on Nijem's wife, Hana, if he knew she was minding the store alone.

``He really works hard. . . . He is a very good person, well-respected by all the business owners,'' Nijem said. ``He is a caring person.''

A somber Norris told reporters, ``He was a good man from what I know of him. He was a good officer, and we're going to miss him. . . . There is a lot of sadness, disbelief, and like with any family -- and this (department) is a family needless to say -- people are really hurt by this.''

 San Jose Mercury News (http://www.mercurynews.com/)

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