Slain Ga. officer praised, mourned

Mae Gentry; Staff
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

The extended family of a DeKalb County police officer killed last week in the line of duty turned out in force Monday for his funeral.

Detective Dennis Carmen Stepnowski's widow, his parents and his "brothers in blue" --- hundreds of officers from DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Atlanta and other police departments --- listened solemnly as the 33-year-old officer was hailed as dedicated, enthusiastic and hungry to do good police work.

Many of the officers still wore black bands over their badges, a symbol of their grief.

Stepnowski was killed Thursday in a gunbattle with a Louisiana man wanted for murder. The man, 25-year-old Lucas D. Palmer of Lacombe, La., also died in the gunfight.

Stepnowski, who started his career as a sheriff's deputy in Clayton County, had been with the DeKalb Police Department for 12 years, the last three as a member of the SWAT team.

In a soft voice, DeKalb's acting police chief, Nick Marinelli, addressed Stepnowski's widow, Kellie Teas, and parents, Dennis R. and Patricia Stepnowski, who were seated in front of his flag-draped casket.

"I'd like for you to look around and take a look at the size of your family," Marinelli said. "I read once some time ago a passage that describes the bond of men in uniform. '... We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.' "

DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown, former Chief Executive Officer Liane Levetan and former DeKalb police Chief Louis Graham were among the 2,000-plus mourners at Stepnowski's funeral, held at First Baptist Church of Atlanta in Dunwoody. He was buried in the Zion Baptist Church cemetery in Covington.

At the funeral, a friend read a poem written for Stepnowski written by the brother of an officer he pulled from a burning squad car. The poem, "My Brother Wears Blue," prompted uniformed officers to sniffle loudly and wipe away tears.

Maj. Frank J. Kliegrath, who delivered the eulogy, recalled Stepnowski's sense of humor and his devotion to duty.

"When Kellie and Dennis met, he was already a police officer," Kliegrath said. "To say he was a dedicated officer is an understatement, as Kellie found out when he excused himself from their engagement party, put on his uniform and went to work."

Kliegrath said Stepnowski was a fan of the 1980s TV series "Miami Vice," and likened him to its main characters.

"Crockett and Tubbs would break all the rules, fight with their superiors and catch the bad guys," he said.

Stepnowski earned eight commendations, including the department's highest award, the Medal of Honor.

Kliegrath recounted the events that led to Stepnowski's death at an apartment complex near Stone Mountain.

"People were in danger --- his partner, innocent children," Kliegrath said. "Nobody else was hurt that day because Dennis Stepnowski was on the scene." 


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