To serve and protect. A police officer’s duty, even to the death.
The thousands who mourned for Michael Frederick Clark on August 9, 1995, knew that. But the knowledge did little to ease their grief over the loss of the Simi Valley patrol officer, killed August 4, eight days short of his 29th birthday, by a suicidal man he tried to help.
Governor Pete Wilson and Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams joined rank-and-file cops, family, friends and acquaintances at Clark’s funeral Mass at his Westlake Village church.
Stephen Baker, a Hawthorne Police Department officer who lives in Simi Valley, brought his wife and daughters to the service. “I’ve been an officer for 18 years, and I’ve been to many funerals,” Baker explained. “But this was the guy who protected my family when I went to work. We owe this man our respect.”
Addressing mourners, Monsignor Thomas O’Connell said Clark “stared death in the face many times and never blinked.” Clark was “compassionate, gentle, tolerant, kind and loving,” O’Connell recalled. “I’m putting Michael up for sainthood,” O’Connell said. “I’m just telling about a man as I knew him.”
Clark left the Los Angeles Police Department after five years of service to join the Simi Valley department. He was the first Simi Valley officer to die in the line of duty in the department’s 24-year history.
The Mass and the memorial service at Valley Oaks Memorial Park drew officers from throughout Southern California, including the entire Simi Valley force. Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officers patrolled Simi Valley streets and Oxnard Police Department dispatchers handled the phones so Clark’s fellow Simi Valley officers could all attend.
A procession of patrol cars and motorcycles traveled from the church to the cemetery. An estimated 3,000 mourners attended the graveside service. Clark’s widow was comforted by relatives and friends as an honor guard saluted her husband and bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.”
After four police helicopters flew the missing man formation to honor Clark, Rep. Elton Gallegly, formerly Simi Valley mayor for six years, said it was hard to believe Clark had been shot. “Even in Simi Valley, there’s vulnerability in working as a police officer, he said. “The best training cannot mitigate that.”
Many of the grieving officers lived in Simi Valley, considered safe and affordable by thousands of cops who work the streets of Southern California cities. Jim Parker, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, attended the police academy with Clark. They became friends, sharing Marine Corps stories and competing for honors as squad leaders. “He was a top guy at the academy,” Parker said. “This is such a loss for everybody.”
“Michael was doing what he loved” when he confronted the suicidal man, Clark’s father Frederick said. “This was a distress call. He went out there trying to help someone. That was the kind of man Michael was.”
Clark was raised in Thousand Oaks, graduating from Westlake High School in 1984 and serving in the Marines for four years. He joined the LAPD in 1989 and was assigned to the Devonshire Division as a patrol officer.
Clark’s supervisors at the LAPD called him a solid, well-rounded officer, always one of the highest producers on the shift. They further described him as self-motivated, someone you could count on.
Simi Valley’s acting Chief R.W. Wright said, “In Mike’s short tenure with [our] department, we recognized that he was a top-notch officer, one upon whom we could rely to get the job done.
“Mike was not only a devoted police officer, but one who kept his priorities in line. Becoming a father was the pinnacle of his life. We have lost much more than just a police officer. We have lost a friend.”
Donations may be made to the Michael Clark Trust Fund, c/o Simi Valley Bank, 1475 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley, CA 93063.