Saturday, August 13, 2011

Part 3 of 3 - Officer Down on the Streets of San Jose: A Tragic Day in 1970

Part 3 of 3

The Arrest

Before Officer Huerta was pronounced D.O.A. at San Jose Hospital, detectives were already on scene looking for evidence.  Also at the incident was Sgt. Clark Randall who gave uniformed officers specific details to locate witnesses and gather their statements. When two canine officers arrived, Terry Moudakas and Dave Lustig, Randall paired them up with two officers Joe Ross and Greg Pinck and had them begin a yard-to-yard search for the suspect who they believed to be still in the area.

Working their way east with their dogs Celto and Rex, the two canine teams searched house-to-house until just after 3 a.m. when Pinck climbed on top of a BBQ pit at 543 N. Thirteenth.  As Pinck peered over the privacy fence, suddenly he made eye contact with a black male lying on his side up against the fence.  Drawing his duty weapon, Pinck ordered the man to freeze.  Arousing the attention of Officer Ross who was in the adjoining yard, Ross looked up to see Pinck pointing his weapon at someone.  Springing into action, Ross smashes through a six-foot fence to come face to face with the man who yells “Okay man, you got me, I give up!”

However, as quickly as he blurted out the words of surrender, the suspect jumps to his feet exposing a gun in his waistband.  Ross immediately yells “he has a gun!”  At that moment, Pinck grabs for the suspects gun hand while Moudakas’s dog Cieto nails the man in the chest, knocking all three men to the ground.  Struggling with the suspect, the man goes for the gun in his waistband, but Lustig’s dog Rex leaps at that very moment and takes a nasty bite on the guy’s leg and a few other places. 

Now under arrest, the man in wrist bracelets reveals his name, Emile Thompson.   The suspect, flanked by Detectives Dave Brickell and Larry Stuefloten, arrive at Valley Medical Center to get Thompson treatment for the dog bite wounds.  Brickell, many years later, recalls just getting into bed after a long shift only to get a phone call from Bart Collins advising him that Richard had been shot and to return immediately to the Police Administration Building (PAB).  While at the hospital, Brickell reflects back regarding the demeanor of Thompson, “I remember clearly…he was smiling from time-to-time and acted if the whole thing was no big deal.”

During the entire three hours at the hospital, Brickell and Stuefloten were forced to endure Thompson’s constant black power rhetoric ramblings.  However, what the suspect said while lying in his hospital bed took the two detectives by surprise.  Out of the blue, Thompson asked Stuefloten “You want to know why?”

Moving his tape recorder to Thompson’s big mouth, Emile starts on a tirade of the “pigs” this and the pigs that.  At one point, he claims that he was hassled for no reason by a cop and that was the justification for shooting Richard.  When asked why he targeted Huerta, Thompson said “he stood for all pigs, besides he was the easiest.”  Stuefloten said “you mean you just walked up to the car and shot him?”  Thompson replied “yeah, I just, bam!”

While waiting for his arraignment and trial, Brickell said they would get a phone call from the deputies at the jail each time Thompson received a visitor, and each time, someone would be sent to listen in on his conversations.   Dave remembers one such visit from Emile’s brother who happened to be a Corrections Officer for Oakland P.D.  Showing the true callous of Thompson, when asked by his brother why he didn’t shoot the witnesses, Emile sobbed and said “I didn’t have any more bullets left”.

The Trial

Emile Thompson was charged with first degree murder but with numerous motions, appeals and delays, the trial didn’t begin until October of 1971.  The trial, three weeks in duration, was continuously disrupted by outbursts from Thompson.  Shouting his father was a “pig” and verbally threatening a juror that he would murder his children were the order of the day for Thompson.  At one point, he even tried to escape.  However through it all, the evidence showed that Huerta’s murderer stalked him for at least 15 minutes before killing him.  One would think this should have been enough for a death penalty conviction if there ever was one.

On October 22, 1971, Emile Thompson was given life with the possibility of parole.  How the jury came to the conclusion that this man deserved mercy I will never understand.  Perhaps it was a sign of things to come like the infamous Rodney King trial, O.J. Simpson, and Casey Anthony.

Richard Eugene Huerta was much more than just a great cop.  He was a father, husband, son, and brother.  He was a music teacher who loved to teach children the enjoyment of music.  One student of his recently wrote this of Richard, “I was one of his students.  I think he had about a dozen pupils.  Richard had a way about him with kids.  He was really good with us.  I won’t bore you with the details of his teachings, but there are certain aspects of that teaching that have stayed with me these past 35 years.”

I can’t think of a better tribute to one’s life than to be acknowledged like the man above did for Richard.  Many people, not just cops have been affected by the murder of Officer Huerta.  But it is that special bond that police officers have with each other that continues to sting for the rest of their lives.  I myself remember sitting in briefing and each time I looked over at Richard’s plaque, I felt an emptiness and deep sadness even though Richard had been gone many years before I joined the SJPD.    

Emile Thompson will be up for parole in April of 2012.  In his 2008 parole hearing, over 400 letters from current and retired police officers, as well as citizens, urged the parole board not to release Thompson.  The board agreed saying the murder was a “premeditated, well thought out, tactical assassination and execution of a law enforcement officer simply because he was wearing a uniform”.  Thompson is currently incarcerated at Vacaville State Prison in California.

Thanks to Sgt. Dwight Messimer, a retired 22 year veteran of the SJPD and a great historian for many of the facts that occurred that horrible night.  Also Dave Brickell for his observations of Thompson which gave us insight to the demeanor of this killer.  And finally thank you to Ivano Franco Comelli, retired officer and author who also provided much information regarding Richard’s assassination.  

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