A massive procession of police cars that moved slowly through San Diego was part of a last tribute to rookie officer Jerry Lee Hartless, who died January 31, from a bullet believed fired by a narcotics suspect nearly four weeks earlier.
More than 2,200 people, most of them fellow officers who came from as far away as Sacramento, turned out to mourn the 24-year-old officer who was described as “a thoroughbred.”
Packing the auditorium of the Horizon Christian Fellowship Church in Clairemont, they heard San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender eulogize the energetic, one-time high school track star whose life ended tragically after less than a year on the force.
The chief recalled Hartless’ police academy graduation last May, in which the young officer was honored as the most physically fit member of his class.
“When his name was announced, this brand new police officer jumped from his chair and sprinted to the stage. And I mean sprinted. I don’t know if anyone timed him, but there’s no question in my mind: Jerry Lee Hartless had broken another record.”
Hartless was on patrol late at night in a Southeast San Diego neighborhood known for drug trafficking when he and his patrol partner stopped to question a group of men.
The men scattered when the two officers got out of the car. Hartless and Officer Johan Schneider ran after one of them, but Hartless – with his superior foot speed – quickly outdistanced his partner. Police said Schneider heard a shot and found Hartless critically wounded in the head.
Hartless died 23 days later, after laying in a coma at UCSD Medical Center with a bullet lodged in his brain.
A suspect was arrested two hours after the shooting. He is Stacy Don Butler, 24, who had been released from prison 11 days before the shooting.
“Hartless,” Kolender said “was gunned down in a cold-blooded and cowardly murder.”
An estimated 1,500 uniformed officers, with badges taped in black, assembled in the parking lot of San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium and went in a motorcade to the Horizon Christian Fellowship Hall five miles away in Clairemont to join at least 700 other officers, friends and family members of the slain officer and his wife, Shawn Dee.
Hartless is the 11th San Diego police officer in 11 years to be killed in the line of duty. He is also the second lawman to be slain in the last few months in this county. Sheriff’s Deputy Lonnie Gene Brewer, 29, was killed Dec. 5 when he and fellow officers stormed an Escondido apartment.
Hartless was raised in Hillsdale, Mich., where he set high school middle-distance and long-jump records. His father, Clyde Hartless of Tucson, Ariz., was a career Marine, and Hartless joined the Marine Corps after graduation.
Hartless married Shawn Dee, whom he met in high school, after he graduated from Marine Corps boot camp here. After serving a year in the Marines, he received a medical discharge because of an allergy and began working as a graphic artist.
Kolender said Hartless had a bright future in the graphic arts field, but was restless.
“He had a finely honed sense of right and wrong, and he wanted to act on his principles, to contribute to his community. Policing was his destiny,” Kolender said. He said Hartless took a sizable pay cut to join the force.
Hartless had two loves, Kolender said. One was police work and the other his wife.
“He was extremely proud of their relationship and he let people know it,” the chief said. He said they were planning to have a family and looking for a lot to build their own house.
Following the memorial services, a procession led by 600 police cars – their yellow, red and blue lights flashing – and 50 motorcycles wound its way slowly through Clairemont residential streets to Morena Boulevard, past Sea World, and through Ocean Beach and Point Loma to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, where graveside services were held.
At the cemetery, a flag-draped wooden casket was carried from the hearse to a stage where members of the Hartless family were seated. After the traditional salute with rifles and a refrain of Taps by a Marine Corps bugler, the flag was neatly folded and given to a sobbing Shawn Dee.