On Tuesday, Aug. 21, Fresno Co. Sheriff’s Deputy Erik J. Telen and his partner, Deputy Brent Stalker, were assisting fire personnel in the mountains of eastern Fresno County. They were dispatched to a rural residence in the Dunlap area in regards to a reported suspicious person.
The deputies contacted the reporting party upon their arrival and made an extensive search for the subject. They eventually discovered signs of a forced entry and commenced their search of the interior of the house. Having cleared one room, Deputy Telen was beginning to clear an adjoining room when the suspect, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, fired from a concealed position, fatally wounding him.
The suspect, 20-year-old Ramadan Abdur-Rauf Abdullah of Binghamton, New York, surrendered after a six-hour standoff. He was charged with Telen’s murder and attempting to murder three other deputies. “He is also accused of the special circumstances of murder during a burglary and of a peace officer carrying out his duty, which makes him eligible for the death penalty if convicted,” stated James Oppliger, chief deputy district attorney in the homicide unit.
Sheriff’s Lt. Don Burk said at the scene that the suspect had access to six to 10 shotguns, rifles and handguns inside the home, as well as ammunition for all of the weapons.
At Telen’s funeral on Aug. 27, at the People’s Church, Fresno County Sheriff Richard Pierce told mourners that Telen made the ultimate sacrifice in part because he was “courageous and dedicated to his community.” He was doing the job “he did with all his heart” when he took a blast in the head.
Stalker, who stood with Telen as he fell, told the more than 1,500 mourners that it was because Telen took the left side of the hallway and he took the right as they crept in search of the burglar that it was Telen who was shot. After describing the incident, he continued that he had to radio in the code every officer prays he’ll never have to use: “Eleven ninety-nine – officer down.”
Officers from at least 68 agencies filled the pews and stood two-deep against the walls and up the staircases at the People’s Church chapel. The Ontario Police Dept., where Telen worked before coming to Fresno, sent more than 100 officers.
Attorney Gen. Bill Lockyer, the state’s top law enforcement official, told the audience of the time between Telen’s birth and his death: Nov. 20, 1974 – Aug. 21, 2001.
“Erik didn’t choose the first date and he didn’t choose the second date, but the dash was his. That was his time, and he used it well.”
Sheriff Pierce added, in brief remarks addressed mostly to Telen’s widow, that Telen had already become a loved member of a department that considers itself family. His death shook its ranks to the core, but, “in our department, people matter, values make a difference, and we know our faith will sustain us.”
Telen’s roommate from academy days, Justin Johnson, told of Telen’s marriage proposal. He only got out the ring and the word “I” before Shelley tackled him saying, “Yes!Yes! Yes!” The couple’s wedding photo was displayed while a recording of country singer Faith Hill’s song “There You’ll Be,” played: “When I think back on these times and the dreams we left behind, I’ll be glad ’cause I was blessed to get to have you in my life.”
At the conclusion of the funeral services, The Ford Expedition Unit that Telen used to patrol the mountains around Auberry was parked near the gravesite. In it, a deputy gave one final sign-off over the radio loudspeaker.
“Deputy Erik Telen, ID number 7647, 10-8, reporting for new assignment. Safe in heaven.”
Telen, 26, grew up in the Fresno County community of Clovis and attended California State University-Fresno and the State Center Peace Officer’s Academy at Fresno City College. Upon completion of the police academy, he was hired by the Ontario Police Dept. where he served for three years.
He was part of the Fresno County sheriff’s detail assigned to assist in traffic control and safety at the Dunlap forest fire site.
Telen is survived by his daughters, Bethanie, 2, and Brooke, 1; his wife Shelley, who is expecting their son in October; mother and stepfather, Sharon and John Burton; and brother, Dan Telen.
Remembrances to the Telen Family should be made payable to Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association “FDSA” in care of Shelley Telen, 1360 Van Ness, Fresno, CA 93721.