Yuba County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian E. Meibeck, 26, had been into his first law enforcement job for only six weeks when he was killed April 1, 1997 by a single shotgun blast that struck just above his bulletproof vest. Several of the shotgun pellets severed the deputy’s aorta, the sheriff’s office said. Meilbeck was shot while responding to a dispute between brothers in the community of Olivehurst, about 40 miles north of Sacramento.
Funeral services were Monday, April 8, 1997, with an elaborate ceremony held in the cavernous chapel at the Capitol Christian Center in Sacramento.
Almost 2,000 law enforcement officers from throughout the state gathered to say good-bye to a “character and prankster,” to pay their respects to his widow and toddler son, and to reflect on their own vulnerability.
“All day long, we go on these calls,” Jim Capoot, a Vallejo police officer, said before the memorial service. “We go on disturbance calls seven-to-10 times a day. It’s human mature to wander if it could happen to you.”
For Meilbeck’s family and deputies who knew the rookie deputy, the service was also aimed at starting the healing process.
“Some of us are experiencing a lot of hurt and hate,” said Yuba County Sheriff Gary Tindel in his eulogy to Meilbeck. “Is that healthy? No. No one can understand or explain why Brian was taken from us last week, but we have to move on.”
Tindel remembered Meilbeck as a “very intelligent, highly motivated and very nice to be around.” He said Meilbeck had worked as a security officer before joining the Yuba County force.
Meilbeck spent long hours preparing to be a deputy, working days and studying nights at the Sacramento City College Public Safety Center.
“He was one of my children,” said Assistant Commander Pamela Reedere, who worked with Meilbeck from the start of the 10-month Basic Police Academy Program until he graduated in a class of 36.
She called him a hard-working student who tackled the rigorous course work – three days of training a week plus all day Saturdays – with fervor.
“He was very dedicated, working a full-time job keeping his outside life all together,” she said, dabbing tears with a handkerchief.
Kim Mojica, a community service officer with the Sacramento Police Department, said her classmate had a sincere interest in other people, always offering help or volunteering extras, such as creating the class video. “He liked working with people. He said he always wanted to become a police officer.”
“Brian’s life was all too brief, his death all too violent, but we must not lose hope or faith,” said the Rev. Wayne Carlson of Valley Hi Covenant Church, where the Meilbeck family worshipped.
Sheriff Tindel said of the suspect, “I’m convinced he shot right at him. It’s a case where the deputies were just walking up to the (mobile) home and a shot came from nowhere.” Meilbeck didn’t even have a gun drawn, the sheriff said.
The Deputy was shot by a 27-year-old man who had earlier shot his brother in the leg, said Tindel. Philip A. Peterson was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge and related offenses. He is being held in the Yuba County Jail.
Sheriff Tindel stated, “We don’t know much about him. We do have a file on him, and he is familiar to us.”
Neighbors, however, said Peterson has had numerous run-ins with the law and had often been in conflict with his older brother, Michael Peterson. Meilbeck and two fellow deputies responded to a call from a woman who said that her son had shot his brother in the leg.
By the time the officer arrived at the Peterson’s property, Michael Peterson had been driven to the Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville by his father, Tindel reported. He was listed in serious but stable condition. Peterson remained barricaded for about 20 minutes in the trailer before surrendering.
Meilbeck’s widow, Chaney, hung her head over her knees for most of the service, which included honor guards and a flyover in missing-man formation.
Their 2-year-old son, Cameron, stayed in the chapel’s nursery, playing and napping through the memorial service, but Chaney Meilbeck held him as they walked out of the services between lines of law enforcement officers saluting the young family.
Meilbeck moved from Michigan to California after high school in 1989 to attend Cosumnes River College. He came to the area to pursue his dream of getting an education and of becoming a police officer, Ed Smith, a family friend and Meilbeck’s former boss at a tow truck service, told the gathered mourners.
“He was always interested in law enforcement,” Smith said. “When he was supposed to be hitching up a car, instead he would be at the crime scene, checking things out and trying to find out what happened.”
Meilbeck then got a job as a private detective, doing surveillance for insurance companies. He graduated from the Sacramento City College Police Academy with a 4.0 grade average in June 1996, before landing the job as a Yuba County sheriff’s deputy.
Dave Springer described his friend in a eulogy as a “character and prankster” who was always “ sly and clever, too quick for me.”
“He had a big heart,” Springer said of Meilbeck. “All he wanted to do was help people out. Unfortunately, he made the ultimate sacrifice for just wanting to help people out.”
A trust fund has been established to provide future education funds for Meilbeck’s son, Cameron Chase. Send your donations to: Yuba Account Deputy Sheriff’s Association Memorial Fund for Brian E. Meilbeck, c/o Sierra Central Credit Union, 422 Forth Street, Marysville, CA 95901.
He is the first Yuba County sheriff’s deputy killed on duty since 1974.
The defendant in the 1997 shooting death of Meilbeck was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges, and was sentenced to 35 years to life in state prison.