As one of the wounded officers who tried to save him looked on, Glendale Police, Investigator Charles “Chuck” Lazzaretto was remembered on June 2 as the best his department had to offer, a man who would have become chief had he not been ambushed by a gunman.
More than 2,000 people, including peace officers from across California, attended services for Lazzaretto who was shot to death in an ambush on May 27 in a Chatsworth warehouse while investigating a domestic violence case.
Glendale Police Chief James E. Anthony said “He was… the essence of what a police officer is supposed to be.”
The memorial followed a private Mass earlier in the day in which Cardinal Roger M. Mahony comforted Lazzaretto’s widow, Annamaria, a part-time dispatcher whom he met on the job.
Present for the church service were LAPD officers Kevin Foster, 24, and Jude Bella, 26, who were shot while trying to rescue Lazzaretto. Bella, who was shot five times, was transported to the private ceremony in an ambulance and then whisked back to the hospital. Foster, who was shot in the arm, attended both the Mass at Incarnation Catholic Church in Glendale and the memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills.
Lazzaretto’s death has been felt deeply in the small Police Department in which he worked and among residents in Glendale, which has not seen an officer slain since 1915. Tightly clutching the hand of Lazzaretto’s mother, Nan, Annamaria Lazzaretto took several deep breaths as she watched the casket taken in to the Liberty Court at Forest Lawn. As she waited, she variously sobbed and smiled at the police officers who came to comfort her.
Lazzaretto and his partner, Investigator Art Frank, had gone to a Chatsworth warehouse looking for suspect Israel Chapa Gonzalez, 28. Gonzalez was suspected of seriously beating his 25-year-old girlfriend Mischell Bowen and shooting her with a stun gun.
A warehouse employee told the two officers that Gonzalez wasn’t there, so they asked for permission to walk through the building to learn the layout in case they had to return. A few paces into the warehouse, Gonzalez, who was hiding in the dark with a gun, ambushed them. Lazzaretto was shot several times and is believed to have died from his injuries almost immediately. Foster and Bella, called to the scene as backups, were wounded by gunfire when they tried to go in to rescue Lazzaretto.
After a two-hour standoff, Gonzalez put his gun in his mouth and committed suicide, reported a coroner’s office representative. Glendale police, who swarmed to the scene, described Lazzaretto as an easygoing, well-liked officer who was very popular among the 229 members of the Glendale police force.
The father of two sons, Andrew and Matthew, ages 3 and 2, he was the son-in-law of a well-respected former LAPD commander and current assistant chief of the USC Department of Public Safety, Bob Taylor. “As you can imagine, we are in a state of shock,” said Chief Anthony. He was a very popular officer… a positive guy, you could always count on him to be there. Even as a young reserve officer, young cadets looked to him for leadership and guidance.”
LAPD Capt. Richard Wemmber said “This morning we had the most devastating thing that can ever happen, that is to have an officer lose his life. Nothing is ever more traumatic for us than to see someone giving their life… especially someone who dies at the hands of a violent criminal.”
Struck in the head, Lazzaretto lay still for nearly two hours as backup officers struggled to get near him but were driven back by more gunfire. Lazzaretto’s partner was willing to do whatever he could do, he was ready to throw on a vest and go back in there,” said Glendale Sgt. Rick Young. “He couldn’t see him or hear him… he kept calling for him and asking for him, but he got no response. Frank, Lazzaretto’s partner, spoke at the memorial. “Chuck’s death has made me realize how fragile life is. It can change at any moment,” he said. Speaking between long pauses to collect himself, Frank said one of Lazzaretto’s last acts was to call his wife, Annamaria, and tell her he would be home late. Frank recalled that Lazzaretto told his wife he loved her before hanging up the phone.
As the pair drove to Chatsworth in search of Gonzalez, he said Lazzaretto jokingly laid out plans for covering his front yard with asphalt so he would never have to do yard work a bit of whimsy typical of the his high spirits, both on and off duty. “He taught us, no matter how low you feel, the world is still full of good people,” Frank said.
Other colleagues remembered him for his courtesy, his sense of humor, and his deep commitment to his family. “Chuck made it seem so simple but it was really very complex,” said Glendale Officer David Buckley, a former partner. He was known as a sharp and dedicated officer who was often commended by judges and prosecutors for his meticulous work. His doggedness, said Chief Anthony, was clear in his pursuit of Gonzalez in the Chatsworth warehouse. “He worked everything as if it was the big case,” said Officer Roger Johnstone.
Lazzaretto also dazzled colleagues with the breadth of his interests outside work: He scuba-dived in Fiji, golfed, flew model planes, played softball, hunted, fished, ran marathons, played soccer with his brothers and was a whiz with computers. “Your typical Mr. Gadget guy,” Johnstone said. “He had a knack for figuring things out.”
In recent years, Lazzaretto had taken up long-distance running, completing a marathon in Washington, D.C., recently with his father, former Burbank City Manager Andrew Lazzaretto.
Lazzaretto joined the Glendale Police Department 10 years ago, spending two years as a reserve officer before going full time.
An arson investigator for much of his career, he had recently been named to the robbery/homicide unit, a transfer colleagues said he was thrilled about. Being a police officer was Lazzaretto’s dream since boyhood, said Dominic Lazzaretto, 25, of Glendale, one of the officer’s three younger brothers. “He was always the law and order brother. I’m not sure why,” he said, adding that Charles was the first in the family to go into law enforcement. Dominic Lazzaretto said the family never talked to Charles about the dangers of his job. “It was always in the back of everyone’s mind. But we always supported him 100 percent. He loved his work. He loved doing it.”
Chief Anthony recalled how a crime victim who had been interviewed by Lazzaretto later called to say he had treated her “like a close friend.” “In time, he would certainly have had my job,” the chief said.
A trust fund has been established for Lazzaretto’s family. Checks should be mailed to: “Charles Lazzaretto Fund” c/o the Glendale Police Officers Association, P.O. Box 245, Glendale, CA 91209.