Forty-four days after he began the law enforcement career he had dreamed of, slain East Palo Alto Officer Joel Michael Davis was honored during an emotion-filled ceremony.
More than 1,500 officers and hundreds of friends and relatives bid farewell to Davis, celebrating his passion for helping young people and his desire to make the world he knew a better place.
In an impressive display of brotherhood for the slain rookie officer, a five-mile-long funeral procession of patrol cars, red lights flashing, silently wound its way through Palo Alto and Los Altos.
“The events that brought us here are a sad commentary on today’s society,” East Palo Alto police Chief Dan Nelson said at the memorial service at Stanford University. “He was the kind who could – and did – make a difference.”
A suspected crack cocaine user gunned Davis, 26, down June 22, after he chased the man through a darkened East Palo Alto neighborhood. Davis was off-duty at the time but offered to help fellow officers who were called to two emergencies simultaneously.
An exhaustive manhunt ended in the arrest of the man investigators believe pulled the trigger.
Davis, who graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1979, was the first officer to die in the line of duty in East Palo Alto and the first one to be killed in San Mateo County in seven years.
Twelve hours before he was fatally shot, he was playing ball with some boys from the San Mateo County Juvenile Probation Department. That was typical, his friends said – he had a knack for being where he was needed most.
In stark contrast to his last moments of life, Davis’ memorial service was held in the tranquil, tree-lined Frost Amphitheater at Stanford.
Hundreds of uniformed officers, including members of the class he graduated from at the police academy, lined up shoulder-to shoulder along the path leading to the amphitheater. As the copper, hardtop hearse crept up the walkway, the white-gloved officers snapped to attention and saluted.
In front of the stage was a portrait of Davis in uniform and a flowered wreath in the shape of a badge – No. 32.
The wooden casket, draped with an American flag, was hoisted from the hearse by eight pallbearers and placed in front of the stage. Seven of the pallbearers were police officers.
East Palo Alto Mayor John Bostic spoke first. He read a resolution from the City Council, urging people not to forget Davis and the price he paid for trying to make East Palo Alto a safer community. He called a knack for being where he was, Davis’ death a “profound loss.”
Davis easily could have worked as an officer in a city with kinder streets. But he chose to work in East Palo Alto, his friends said, because he knew the community needed top-notch police officers.
He truly believed he and his fellow officers could make a difference in East Palo Alto, his friend said.
“This is probably the hardest day of my 23-plus years in law enforcement,” Chief Nelson said.
Pausing several times, the chief credited the energetic Davis and Davis’ close friend, East Palo Alto Officer Tom Burns, with establishing the department’s crucial reserve force.
Davis, who worked full time in computers at Hewlett-Packard Co. until January, joined the East Palo Alto police reserves in 1986. Last year, he became the first reserve hired by the city to become a full-time officer. He was a standout at the police academy in San Jose, where he graduated May 10 in the top 10 percent of his class.
On May 15, he began a training program on the city’s streets that was to last eight weeks. “Ever since he was a little boy, being a policeman was all he ever talked about,” Davis’ uncle, Joe Alexander said.
The procession headed south on Interstate 280 to the Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in Los Altos.
Two horse-mounted color guards stood at the entrance to the cemetery.
Only the precise crack of a 21-gun salute broke the silence as row upon row of officers stood motionless and grim-faced in front of the casket.
The East Palo Alto police ranks – including some of the officers who found their colleague bleeding that night – were in front.
Davis had been shot twice – once in the head – but had managed to make it 15 feet before slumping to a driveway. After a 7 1/2 -hour fight to live, he died in the arms of one of his closest friends.
“He showed us how to live by giving his life,” The Rev. Chuck Smith of the Church of the Nazarene in Palo Alto said, “Joel Davis believed in what he was doing . . . And what an example he has given us.”
After Smith spoke privately with the family for a few moments, three San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies folded up the American flag that draped Davis’ coffin and handed it to his mother.
On a nearby knoll, an officer played taps on a bugle.
Davis is survived by his parents, Beth and Joel Davis; a sister, Michele Davis Flagler; and his grandparents, Verlile and Vel Alexander of Washington.