When a Los Angeles police officer has been killed in the line of duty in recent years, his absence has been symbolized by a riderless horse in the funeral procession.
At the funeral of Officer Charles D. Heim, the horse was absent as law enforcement personnel gathered to say farewell to the 11-year veteran who was gunned down October 22, 1994. For it was Heim whose duty it had been to lead the horse.
The 33-year-old Heim, on temporary assignment to the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, was shot when he and his partner, Officer Felix F. Pena, acted on a tip given to them during a traffic stop. Someone was dealing drugs from a motel room in the same block.
They knocked on a door at the Dunes Motel, and the suspect’s girlfriend opened it, department sources said. When Heim stepped into the doorway, he was shot twice in the upper body and Pena was wounded in one hand. “There weren’t even words exchanged,” said one officer familiar with the shooting. “The guy just opened fire.” Heim died a few hours later Pena was treated for his wound and released.
SWAT officers were called to the shooting scene. A 26-year-old gang member, Manuel Vargas Perez, was wounded by a police rifle shot during the standoff and died from a self-inflicted gunshot to his head.
Heim’s wife Beth, also an LAPD officer, said a friend, Officer Michelle Botello, called to say two unidentified officers had been hit. “I knew immediately it was him,” said the widow, pregnant with the couple’s first child. “I don’t know why. I just knew.”
The slain officer also leaves a 12-year-old son, Charles Heim II, who lives with Heim’s ex-wife in Kernville.
Throughout the department, colleagues remembered Heim as an outstanding officer who had yearned to work in the LAPD’s mounted unit from the day he first heard about it.
“There was no finer officer,” said Lieutenant Mike Hillman of the Metropolitan Division.
Few crises tested the mounted unit, or the department, more than the riots that erupted after four Los Angeles officers were found not guilty in the beating of Rodney G. King. The slain officer’s colleagues said they relied on him in those frightening and sleepless days. “We went days without rest,” said Sgt. Kirk Smith, Heim’s longtime supervisor. “One of the things that kept the unit going was Clark. He just hammered out one-liners, one after the other. It got so that people were just waiting for the next one.
Few things gave Heim deeper satisfaction than the solemn role he played in the funerals of fellow police officers. In 1989, the military custom of a riderless horse, empty boots reversed in the stirrups to honor a fallen officer, was introduced into police funerals.
Heim’s parents, Paula and James Heim of Santa Clarita, said their son had wanted to become a police officer ever since catching a thief during his senior year at Canyon High School.
Heim was remembered as a meticulous and aggressive policeman, a caring father and husband, a prankster, a horse lover, a cowboy and an embellisher of stories. “Many of you have asked me not to forget to say he was just an ordinary cowboy,” LAPD chaplain Richard Bargas told the crowd of 4,800 gathered at the funeral. “No frills, no lace, just a good guy.”
As the chaplain finished his remarks, the air was filled with the strains of a Willie Nelson singing “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League set up a trust fund for Heim’s family. Donations can be sent to the Officer Charles Heim Fund, c/o Getzoff Accounting, 16255 Ventura Blvd., Suite 525, Encino, CA 91436.