Death of Calif. officer resonates 10 years later

When 'a simple arrest' went tragically wrong


Vallejo Times-Herald

VALLEJO, Calif. — In the long history of Vallejo, only three police officers have been killed in the line of duty. All by gunfire. All in early April.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the shooting death of 21-year veteran Vallejo police officer Jeffrey Azuar at the hands of Joseph Teitgen.

April 12, 2000 had been a beautiful day that ended in tragedy and sadness at the shocking news of the shooting. It was made more shocking because Azuar, 50, was one of the department's most popular officers. He was particularly well liked by school children, for his easy-going manner and how he taught them about his police dogs Rondo and A.J.

Rondo was killed in the line of duty three years earlier. And, A.J. his replacement, was in Azuar's patrol car when Azuar joined officer Doug Wilcox that fatal afternoon when the two officers tried to serve what they thought would be a routine arrest warrant on Teitgen.

Thirty-four years earlier, on Thursday, April 7, Vallejo officers Calvin C. Thacker, Jr., 35, and William L. Easson, Jr., 31, had pulled over a car with four occupants. It was late at night.

While Thacker was apparently writing a ticket because the driver lacked a license, he was shot twice. Easson was in the patrol car and apparently was shot twice as well, but was able to fire a couple rounds before he too was mortally wounded.

Their killer escaped, but turned himself in later and was convicted of murder.

As staff writer Tony Burchyns' two-part Front and Center detailed over the past two days, the passage of a decade since Azuar's death has neither erased the memory of that day nor the love that his family and colleagues had for the Vallejo officer.

Azuar's daughter Mandy spoke movingly about how her father's death led to nightmares quelled only by the cathartic visit to the scene of the shooting.

She also spoke of how her dad's colleagues have helped her deal with the ongoing pain and grief of such an ill-timed loss.

Her recollections underscore the often forgotten reality that police officers are also human beings with families. In Azuar's case, the native Vallejoan died before he could bask in the joy of seeing his infant granddaughter, not quite a year old, take her first steps. She's now 11 and knows of him only through stories she's heard.

As we've all learned from this case and last year's nightmare in Oakland, police work is highly dangerous. It's a tribute to their training that more officers are not killed in the line of duty. In sprawling California, 1,486 officers have died while on duty, more than 700 by gunfire. That's since California became a state nearly 160 years ago. A huge number, but so much lower than it could have been in such dangerous times.

In Solano County, the police officer death toll has been relatively low, but each death is a grim reminder of the potential perils officers face every day. We must not forget their sacrifices.

Besides the three Vallejo officers, those who have fallen in the line of duty include: Fairfield Sgt. Arthur Koch, 34, on July 29, 1984; Suisun Constable Ganson Burdick, 65, on Sept. 1, 1927; Dixon Constable Dan McKinnon, 48, on Nov. 22, 1918; Solano County Sheriff's Deputies Jose Cisneros, 40, on Aug. 25, 1985; Dale Humphrey, 42, on March 15, 1963 and John Sandlin, April 23, 2004 and California Patrol Officer Charles Sorenson, 32, on March 15, 1963.

We cannot know how Azuar's family and friends will feel today. We do know, however, that at a time when Vallejo residents feel less secure and resentful because some officers have left the force, they'll recall a certain canine cop who gave his life for his city.

And, they'll recall him with affection.

Copyright 2010 Vallejo Times-Herald

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