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Officers who became off-duty victims of violence

Those who knew Clifton Rife II had nothing but the utmost respect for his abilities and the way he conducted himself. A 13-year veteran of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, Sergeant Rife, 34, was a hardworking officer who had no fear of the streets. Assigned to the prostitution unit, Sergeant Rife was "head and shoulders above any other candidate who applied" for the position, said Commander Hilton Burton.

During the early morning hours of June 2, 2004, Sergeant Rife was off-duty when he was confronted by a would-be 16-year-old robber. The two exchanged gunfire. The young assailant, who had run away from a group home earlier in the year after being charged with possession of heroin, died at the scene. Sergeant Rife managed to make it to a friend's apartment before collapsing and was flown to a nearby hospital where he died a short time later.

"He was just a dedicated guy who would do anything," said Commander Burton. Another police official added, "You got so used to him doing a great job that it just became the standard."

The incident recalled another case involving a District of Columbia officer that took place seven years before. During the early morning hours of February 26, 1997, Officer Oliver Wendell Smith Jr. was on his way home from work when he was robbed at gunpoint as he got out of his car. The thieves were about to flee the scene when one of the suspects found Officer Smith's badge and realized he was a police officer. That's when they stuck a gun to his head and shot him execution-style.

In fact, the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department has had seven officers killed in off-duty incidents. Only two municipal agencies have had more — New York City with 18 and Cleveland with nine. Another occurred on a cold February evening in 1995, when a DC police officer named James McGee was off-duty and in street clothes when he came upon two men robbing a cab driver at gunpoint. He was trying to make an arrest when two of his fellow officers drove up and failed to recognize Officer McGee as one of their own. When they ordered him to drop his gun, Officer McGee turned toward the sound of their voices with his gun in his hand. One of the officers fired twice. It was a horrible case of mistaken identity. Officer James McGee died at the hospital 25 minutes after the shooting.

A look at the records kept by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reveals that more than 300 federal, state and local officers have lost their lives in off-duty law enforcement incidents. The first was Robert M. Rigdon, a Baltimore City (MD) police officer, who was assassinated at his home in an act of retaliation for court testimony the 37-year-old officer had given earlier in the day. This cold-blooded killing took place on November 8, 1858.

In a similar off-duty act of revenge, Sheriff Harvey K. Brown of the Baker County (OR) Sheriff's Department, was killed on October 1, 1907, when a bomb exploded as he opened the front door of his home. He was murdered for assisting in the capture of a man who had killed the Governor of Oregon.

Minor Cudihee, an officer with the Tacoma (WA) Police Department, was merely visiting one of his colleagues in the hospital on July 30, 1892, when he was accosted and stabbed to death by a band of thugs. The assailants knew they were killing a cop — Officer Cudihee was still in his uniform at the time of the attack. Denver (CO) Patrolman Luther McMahill suffered the same tragic fate. On September 14, 1918, Patrolman McMahill was riding home from work on his bike when he encountered a gang of robbers. He was shot in the chest and died instantly.

Harry Aurandt's life was tough in the beginning. His father died before his second birthday. But, his mother did a fine job raising him and eventually Harry led a very successful life as a devoted family man and police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, though, Officer Aurandt's life would end as tragically as it began. On Sunday evening, December 19, 1921, Harry and Tulsa's chief detective, Ike Wilkinson, were off duty and driving on a road five miles from the city when they spotted a suspicious vehicle and stopped to investigate. Tulsa was in the midst of a crime spree at the time and all officers had been on the lookout for any sign of trouble.

As Harry and Ike stopped, they were ambushed by four desperadoes, all with criminal records and all out on bond. Harry raised his arms as he was directed to do by the bandits, but they shot him anyway. Detective Wilkinson fired back, but he was also seriously wounded. Despite his critical injuries, Harry held courageously to the wheel of the car and managed to drive himself and Ike to a farm house about a mile away. Ike Wilkinson survived the shooting, but permanently lost the use of his legs. Harry Aurandt, at the age of 48, was not so lucky. He died the day after the attack with his wife, Anna, by his side.

But, the story doesn't end there. With great courage, Anna Aurandt vowed that the death of her husband was not going to destroy the lives of her children. She succeeded — so well in fact that her son, Paul, went on to become one of the most beloved figures in all of America. He is the most popular broadcaster in the history of radio. He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt but, of course, we all know him simply as Paul Harvey.

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