On April 26, 1995, Prince George's County Police Corporal John Novabilski was working an off-duty job as a security guard for a local liquor store. He was in uniform and sitting in his marked patrol cruiser. Suddenly, without any apparent warning or provocation, a man walked up to his car with a MAC-11 assault pistol and opened fire. Corporal Novabilski was shot at least 10 times. The assailant then grabbed the officer's service weapon and ran off.
Corporal John Novabilski
It wasn't much more than a month later when FBI Special Agent William Christian was taking out a parking lot at the Greenbelt Middle School. Twenty-six other members of the FBI and Prince George's County Police Department were there with him. They were waiting for a man named Ralph McLean, who was wanted for two unprovoked attacks on D.C. police officers.
It was about 1 a.m. The team of investigators was spread out so they wouldn't be spotted. But, McLean had apparently sensed that the police were waiting for him. He silently emerged from the nearby woods and bushes, snuck up on Agent Christian and shot him several times through the driver side window with his MAC-11 assault pistol. The 20-year FBI veteran never had time to draw his gun.
Special Agent William Christian
The other officers immediately gave chase and a furious gun battle ensued. When police had their suspect cornered, McLean turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
When police found McLean, there were two guns lying near his body-the MAC-11 assault pistol and the stolen service weapon that belonged to Corporal John Novabilski. McLean, as it turned out, had assassinated both officers. There was no motive in either attack, except that McLean hated cops and loved to kill.
Unfortunately, records kept by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reveal that hundreds of other law enforcement officers have been similarly assassinated by cold-blooded killers. One of those fallen heroes was Jerry Haaf, a Minneapolis police officer who was shot in the back while having a cup of coffee. It happened during the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 1992. Officer Haaf was nearing the end of his shift and he stopped by a favorite cop hangout to get a cup of coffee and finish some paperwork.
He never saw the two gang members enter the dimly lit restaurant. He didn't even have a chance to draw his weapon. The murderers quickly walked up behind him, shot him twice in the back and then ran out the door. The entire incident lasted less than 30 seconds. It turns out that the gang members who committed the cowardly assassination didn't even know Officer Haaf. They just wanted to kill a police officer.
Officer Jerry Haaf
Derwin Brown, a 22-year law enforcement veteran, had been elected to serve as Sheriff of DeKalb County, Ga. The department had been plagued with corruption and Sheriff-elect Brown had promised to clean up the mess. But, on Dec. 16, 2000, just three days before assuming office, Sheriff-elect Brown was shot several times as he returned home from a party celebrating his graduation from the Sheriff's Training Academy. On Nov. 30, 2001, three suspects were arrested and charged with the murder of Sheriff-elect Brown, including the former sheriff, who was ultimately convicted of the crime and sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison.
Sadly, Derwin Brown was not the first sheriff-elect to be assassinated by a beaten incumbent. On Nov. 16, 1884, Lamar County, Tex. Sheriff-elect James Black was shot and killed as he opened the front door of his home. He was to take office the following day. The subsequent investigation and trial revealed that the man James Black had beaten in the election, Sheriff G. M. Crook, had recruited one of his prisoners to commit the murder.
Pulaski County, Ken. Sheriff Samuel W. Catron suffered a similar fate two years later. He was assassinated while leaving a political rally. Sheriff Catron had just given a campaign speech for the upcoming election in which he was running for his fifth term. A suspect shot Sheriff Catron in the back with a high-powered rifle as he left the event. A suspect, who was running against Sheriff Catron, was charged with capital murder. Ironically, Sheriff Catron's father, Harold Catron, Sr., the chief of police in Somerset, Ken. died in 1964 from injuries he suffered during an ambush and shooting. His son, Sam, was four years old when his father was killed.
Sheriff Samuel W. Catron
On the morning of Oct. 7, 1991, Ronald L. Richardson, a Washington, D.C. correctional officer, walked out to his car and was preparing to get in when shots rang out. A neighbor said she ran to her window after hearing about seven shots fired in rapid succession. She told police she saw Officer Richardson lying face down behind his car as his wife kneeled over him. She could hear his wife screaming, "Get up. Don't die. Get up."
Officer Richardson never did get up. He died soon after. Police investigating his murder could not ignore the fact that on the morning he was shot, Officer Richardson was scheduled to appear as a key witness against an inmate in a kidnapping and drug trial. The previous November, Officer Richardson and another correctional employee were working at a D.C. halfway house when they smelled a strange odor coming from one of the inmate's rooms. They went in and discovered crack cocaine and large amount of cash. The inmate involved then produced a gun, took both men hostage and forced them to let him escape out a back door.
On the day of his death, Officer Richardson was going to testify against that inmate, but he never got the chance. As it turned out, the police were right. A cold-blooded killer decided to keep a good man from simply doing his job.
About the author
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund was established in 1984 to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession by permanently recording and appropriately commemorating the service and sacrifice of all federal, state and local law enforcement officers.