Newly minted Sacramento police officers held a moment of silence for a rookie gunned down while helping a woman leave an abusive home but they said Tara O’Sullivan’s death wouldn’t make them timid about doing their jobs.
“I’m scared of the dangers we’re all going to face,” class speaker Thom Panen said. “Even though we are scared, we will not give into fear.”
O’Sullivan, 26, and other officers were helping a woman gather belongings from a Sacramento home as part of a domestic violence call Wednesday evening when police said a rifleman opened fire and continued firing, preventing other officers from reaching their wounded colleague for 45 minutes.
An armored vehicle eventually took O’Sullivan to the hospital, where she died.
She was the first Sacramento officer killed in the line of duty in 20 years.
Police had not revealed key details about what happened, including whether the man was already on the property when officers arrived, where on the property the shooting occurred, or why it took so long for O’Sullivan to be pulled to safety.
Police Chief Daniel Hahn said he had few details on how the shooting unfolded but noted that the gunman fired for hours. Hahn defended the delay in getting O’Sullivan to the hospital.
“One of the reasons it took so long is the suspect was continuing to fire at officers,” he said. “So I know the character of the officers that serve this community and I know that they would have done anything to get to her.”
Hahn said he met O’Sullivan many times, even before she was hired, and said less than two weeks ago she came out and ran 5 miles (8 kilometers) with the class that graduated Thursday night simply to lend them her support.
“I don’t think there’s a person on this earth who would say she wasn’t a perfect police officer,” Hahn said. “She was amazing in just about every way. Excited to be a police officer, excited to come to work. I never once saw her not smiling.”
The American flag outside the graduation ceremony flew at half-staff, and new officers and veterans alike wore black bands across their badges.
“I want to be happy for the recruits and I want to be happy for myself, but it’s still a pretty somber experience,” Panen said after he was sworn in. But he added of his profession, “This is what’s in my blood, and as long as I’m doing it with a good heart everything’s going to be OK.”
Officer Berlinda Cato said O’Sullivan’s death gives her more motivation to protect the community and help save lives. “And if that means that I get hurt doing it, then that’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to take.”
The ceremony opened with a moment of silence for O’Sullivan, who graduated from the academy in December and was only weeks away from working on her own. A row of law enforcement officers stood with heads bowed as O’Sullivan’s photograph appeared on the screen in the auditorium packed with white-gloved graduates.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he initially wondered if the ceremony should be postponed but decided the graduation “could not be more timely … You are uplifting our spirits and our hopes when we all need it most.”
A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, O’Sullivan was a member of the first class of a law enforcement training program at California State University, Sacramento. She completed the training program and graduated with a degree in child development.
“She had a big heart, a strong mind, a great personality. She made you smile — she is exactly what we need in the police force,” said Robert Nelson, the university president. The school plans to launch a scholarship in O’Sullivan’s honor.
Melissa Repa, director of the career center, recalled watching O’Sullivan go through an obstacle and ropes course in the rain during her first day in the university training program. She didn’t let her small stature stop her.
“Nothing would get in her way of climbing and surmounting her goals,” she said through tears.
Police identified the suspect as 45-year-old Adel Sambrano Ramos of Sacramento and said his standoff with police lasted eight hours, with five officers firing their weapons.
Ramos was in custody and scheduled to appear in court Monday.
Orlando Ramos, the younger brother of the suspect, told The Associated Press that Adel Ramos is estranged from his family.
He sent his condolences to the officer’s family.
“If he goes to prison for the rest of his life, I could care less,” Orlando Ramos said. “I’m a lot more heartbroken for seeing the pain in my mother and for the police officer and her family than I am for him going to prison.”
Court filings show a warrant was issued for Ramos just nine days before the shooting when he failed to appear in court on a November misdemeanor battery charge involving a female minor.
A judge twice granted domestic violence restraining orders against Ramos at his wife’s request in 2004 and 2007, court records show. In both cases, he was required to give up his guns. The restraining orders later expired.
Muhammed Ilyas, who lives near the scene of the shooting, said Ramos had a history of harassing a black family that lived next door and even threatened the three children with kitchen knives as they played outside.
He frequently shouted racial slurs at the family, said Ilyas, who identified Ramos as the man living there when shown a photo.
Law enforcement experts offered differing opinions on the standoff’s timeline and potential tactical actions.
Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association and a retired SWAT commander from Colorado Springs, Colorado, said lack of cover or protection, the topography of the area and the location of the fallen officer and shooter could explain why it took 45 minutes to get to O’Sullivan.
Charles “Sid” Heal, former commanding officer of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT unit, said putting additional officers in harms’ way without the proper protection is not an option.
However, Stephen Nasta — a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former inspector with the New York Police Department — called the delay “unacceptable” and said officers should have commandeered an armored bank vehicle, bus or heavy construction equipment if an armored police vehicle was not available or used diversionary tactics to distract the gunman as other officers rescued their wounded comrade.
Sacramento Police Officer Marcus Basquez, a department spokesman, said investigators were still at the crime scene and may be for several days.
“It’s so easy to Monday-morning-quarterback someone,” he said of critics.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this story.