An officer, a friend, a good citizen, and a kind man – Deputy Sheriff Dighton Little was all of these.
About 1,500 people attended the Mass for Little Tuesday, Oct. 24, filling all the pews at the Cathedral of the Annunciation and leaving people standing three abreast in the aisles more than an hour before the ceremony began.
About 250 crowded into the adjacent school auditorium and listened to the mass through a public announcement system.
Law enforcement officers from around the state came in formal uniforms and stood outside with 440 San Joaquin Sheriff’s officers before the service. They wore their black bands across their badges. Condolences to Sheriff’s officers came from as far away as Florida.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Esau said it was not surprising to see more than 800 officers at the funeral. “Dighton really liked police work. He was an officer to the marrow and the bone. He loved it,” Esau said.
“He was the guy that naturally gets excited and once he was committed to do something, he went for it,” Esau added. “He was very popular with everybody.”
Little died Friday, Oct. 20, from a gunshot wound to the head he received as officers armed with a warrant prepared to enter a house trailer in Ripon. Other officers returned the fire, killing Richard Elsas, who they said fired the shot that killed Little.
It was silent in the rainy street outside the church as the officers stood at attention and county officials, family and friends filed in.
Honor guard officers wearing western-style sheriff hats and gold arm cords carried Little’s coffin, which bore a U.S. flag from the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, into the church while a bagpiper played and officers saluted.
Sheriff’s Lt. Max Benitez, who is a deacon with the Catholic Church, aided Father Laurence McGovern with the service. Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Serpa did the readings for the Mass, which was open only to family, friends, and officers.
Most people left the service with tears in their eyes. A horse with an empty saddle bearing empty boots and a Sheriff’s blanket, led by Deputy Sheriff Wesley Evans, headed the funeral procession to San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery.
Sheriff John Zuniono presented Little’s parents and sister with the flag from the coffin. Two California State Police officers gave them a flag from the governor that flew half-staff at the Capitol in Little’s honor. Honor guard officers each placed a red rose on Little’s grave while Deputy Sheriff Rick Caccan played “Taps.”
Officers, family, and friends left the scene quietly.
“Everybody is hurting,” Esau said of his colleagues.
Little was the son of Warren and Patricia Little. Warren Little was the senior FBI agent in Stockton for many years before his retirement. Dighton Little also had a sister, Linda Little of New York. He was divorced and had no children.
Little graduated from Lincoln High School in 1972 and went to work as a security guard while he attended Delta College. After two years in the U.S. Army, Little got an Associate of Arts degree in Political Science at Delta College and a Bachelor of .Arts degree in Criminal Justice at California State University at Sacramento.
He joined the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department in 1979 and was a detective in the sheriff’s robbery/homicide division at the time of his death.
Little was an active member of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Big Brother/Big Sister programs, child abuse programs, the Bacon Bash annual charity football event, and formerly was a member of the Stockton Judo Club.
– Lodi News Sentinel