Two Riverside County sheriff’s deputies investigating a domestic disturbance were ambushed and shot to death Sunday, January 5, 1997.
Deputies James Lehmann Jr., 40, of Apple Valley and Michael P. Haugen, 33, of San Jacinto were gunned down shortly after 3 a.m. as they left their patrol cars at a trailer home in the Whitewater area near Cabazon, stated Riverside Co. Sheriff Larry Smith.
The deputies were struck several times by shots fired from about 50 yards away and died at the scene, Smith said. “Both deputies were approaching on foot, so as not to alert the suspect, reported Smith. “He obviously was lying in wait.”
Shots were also fired at a sergeant who arrived to check out the scene when the deputies failed to call in. The gunman fired sporadically at other deputies who arrived to cordon off the area.
Timothy Russell, 36, was arrested a quarter-mile from the home about 7:30 a.m. He was booked for investigation of murder. It took several hours to apprehend the gunman, Smith reported.
“He came walking toward deputies. They yelled out to him and then he ran” but then lay down and surrendered, said Mark Lohman, sheriff’s spokesman.
Russell was unarmed but an M-1 military rifle was later recovered. He has no felony criminal record, though he does have a record for misdemeanor arrests, including one for domestic violence.
Russell’s wife made the domestic violence call from a neighbor’s home. She stated that he had assaulted her and that he might be under the influence of methamphetamines. She was not seriously injured.
Deputies had little prior contact with Russell. He was arrested in the 1980s for investigation of spousal abuse but was not convicted.
Sheriff Smith said that a domestic violence call is “probably the most dangerous call that a deputy sheriff can go on.” “You don’t know what you’re facing. These deputies took every precaution, but there’s only so much you can do to defend yourself against somebody that’s out to ambush you,” Smith said. “Their commander described both these deputies as very hard working, very productive, very interested in doing their public safety job.”
Deputy Michael P. Haugen:
Michael Haugen was remembered during his funeral service as a loving husband, a devoted father and a good cop who paid the ultimate price for wearing the badge.
Banning sheriff’s Capt. Stan Sniff told more than 3,100 mourners at Harvest Christian Fellowship that Haugen and his partner, James W. Lehmann, died doing the job that they loved and did well.
“It is not surprising that, in their last act on Earth, they did it as a team,” Sniff said. “Even in the face of mortal danger, to the end, they remained together. They were selfless, Michael and Jim were truly great men.”
The funeral service began with hundreds of law enforcement officers in dress uniform standing at attention on each side of the church entrance. Many wiped away tears as six sheriff’s deputies slowly carried Haugen’s flag-draped coffin into the church.
They were followed by Haugen’s family and close friends, including his wife Elizabeth and 9-year-old son, Stephen. He is also survived by a 16-month-old daughter, Catherine.
Almost 2,000 law enforcement officers representing more than 120 agencies from San Jose to San Diego filled the 2,850-seat Harvest Christian Fellowship, one of the largest churches in Riverside County.
About 200 people jammed the entrance hall, where photographs of Haugen’s life and family were on display. Others listened to the service via loudspeakers outside the church.
Mourners included all five Riverside County supervisors and Rep. Sonny Bono, R-Palm Springs.
Sheriff Smith called Haugen’s death a terrible loss to the community and fellow law enforcement officers. “We must pray for strength,” Smith said. “The same kind of strength Michael had.” Smith said the names of Haugen and Lehmann, will soon be added to the memorial near his Riverside office that pays homage to 32 county law enforcement officers who have died in the line-of-duty.” Now Michael’s name and the name of his partner, James Lehmann, will be carved on that memorial, as well as in the memory of all the people here today,” Smith said. “And now that he has laid down the burdens of this life, let us hope Michael’s name is the last one entered on that memorial.”
Banning police Cpl. Susan Ladd, whose office is near the Banning sheriff’s station where Haugen and Lehmann worked, remembered Haugen as “an awesome cop and an awesome father as well.” She told of meeting Haugen in the field and watching in delight as the officer she knew as a consummate professional wrote a report using a pen in the shape of a Dalmatian dog. He told Ladd he was using it because his son had asked him to. Ladd was among the officers called to the shooting scene. She remembers waiting with other officers in a drizzling rain, “doing our best but all feeling helpless.”.
As dawn broke, Ladd said she saw two rainbows “on the very spot where Michael and James lay.” “They disappeared into heaven,” Ladd said, “as if angels had come to show them the way.”
Late in the 80-minute service, when Capt. Sniff had finished speaking, Haugen’s 9-year-old son stepped up to the podium. There, with Stephen Haugen proudly looking on, Sniff read a book the boy wrote and illustrated in honor of his father, “Me and My Dad.”
“I remember when my dad cheered for my hockey games,” Stephen Haugen wrote, “and when he took me up in his plane. I remember when he took me to the movies. We went to see a silly movie. “I remember him and he will still be in my heart forever. But I still miss my dad. I love you.”
Deputy James W. Lehmann Jr.:
James Lehmann was mourned Saturday, Jan. 11, by 3,000 law enforcement comrades and friends as an “A-plus guy” who gave his life making the community a safer place in which to live, work and raise a family.
“The fullness of a man’s life is not measured solely in years, but in what he accomplishes,” Sheriff Smith said in his eulogy of Lehmann. “Using that measure, Jim lived a full life – as a husband, father and police officer,” Smith said. “He will be missed.”
Peace officers from 145 agencies attended Lehmann’s funeral in Our Lady of the Desert Catholic Church. The procession included 3,000 motorcycle officers and hundreds more in squad cars, some from as far away as Placer County in Northern California and Blythe on the Arizona border.
The funeral service included remembrances from Lehmann’s colleagues. At the conclusion, every officer from the Banning station touched his casket as a final tribute to their dead colleague.
Following the services, a train of police and civilian cars stretched the entire seven miles to Sunset Hills Memorial Park, where Lehmann was buried. Residents along the route waved American flags when his hearse passed by; some snapped to attention. One woman held a placard that read simply “RIP.”
Lehmann’s grave lies in the shadows of nearby mountain peaks and commands a majestic view of Apple Valley and the high desert, where he attended college and lived the last seven years with his family.
A waterfall flows gently nearby. Although fog shrouded the roads leading to Apple Valley before the service, the heavens opened and brilliant sunshine beamed down on those gathered at the gravesite. Two trumpeters blew “Taps” and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” Four helicopters from law enforcement agencies in Riverside and San Bernardino counties flew overhead, one peeling off in “the missing man formation.”
Colleagues said Lehmann represented the best in law enforcement, a man who strapped on the gun and put on the badge not to earn a high salary or bask in the spotlight, but to keep peace in a world often struck by senseless acts of violence. “He had a quality of caring,” said Assistant Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle. “He exemplified quality in the way he did his job, ran his family and served his community. His loss, and the loss of Deputy Haugen, leaves us with a sense of emptiness that cannot be filled.”
Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, R-Riverside, a former Riverside County prosecutor, said the average person often doesn’t realize the line separating chaos from peace is a thin one, staffed only by cops. The line got a little thinner with the loss of Lehmann and Haugen. But Pacheco doesn’t doubt that the officers who carry on after their fallen comrades will continue to serve the public well. “We’re able to live our lives in relative peace because of the men and women of law enforcement,” he said. “They put their lives on the line every day.”
Mike Davis recalled Lehmann as a person “who would go the extra mile for anyone” without having to be prodded. He was almost like a coach on the field, taking aside players and showing them the proper way to block or tackle an opponent. It was the same way when he was a police officer. When Lehmann answered his last call, he wasn’t thinking about himself but only how to help, how to make a difference, Davis said.
“There are special people in this world whom everybody likes and respects and who care,” Davis said. “Jim was that kind of man.”
Lehmann is survived by his wife Valerie, 13-year-old son Chris, and nine-year-old daughter Ashley.
Trust funds for Haugen’s and Lehmann’s children have been set up at the Members Own Federal Credit Union, 14250 Seventh Street, Victorville, CA 92392-4230.