Southern California’s law enforcement community, feeling battered and bitter, gave an extraordinary tribute to one of its own April 7, 1992, as nearly 4,000 uniformed officers saluted the copper coffin of slain Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Nelson H. Yamamoto.
It was a day of solidarity and pride, a time for officers to take stock of their lives and mission as they gathered with family members and friends for the funeral services for the 26-year-old deputy.
Deputy Yamamoto died March 31, 1992 of complications related to four gunshot wounds he received in a brief firefight that ensued while investigating a disturbance call in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County of Walnut Park on March 29. He was the first deputy slain in the line-of-duty since 1989.
The Gardena resident was in his second month of a six-month mandatory training period at the Firestone substation where he had been assigned since Jan. 30.
“He (Yamamoto) had a great rapport with everybody here,” said Lt. Jim Taylor, one of the watch commanders at the Firestone substation. “He was a trainee so he spent a lot of time studying and learning.”
Taylor explained that the officers at the substation expressed a great deal of frustration and confusion after hearing about Yamamoto’s death.
Yamamoto graduated from the Sheriff’s Training Academy on May 26, 1989 and was assigned to the Hall of Justice jail where he worked for two-and-a-half years before being transferred to the Firestone substation. During his stint at the jail, he worked three months at the Inmate Reception Center.
A graduate from North Torrance High School, Yamamoto attended El Camino College and later went to the California State University, Dominguez Hills, before entering the sheriff’s academy.
The incident which ended Yamamoto’s life took place at about 8:10 p.m. March 29, 1992, when he and two other deputies went to investigate a complaint that two men with guns had threatened a neighbor.
After being directed to a garage that was converted to a residence, deputies peered into one of the windows and observed at least two armed male Hispanics.
One of the two suspects suddenly exited the house and repeatedly fired a handgun at deputies, thereby wounding Yamamoto. The suspect continued to run down the driveway toward the street and out of sight, Deputy Gabe Ramirez of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said.
A third suspect was shot and killed by deputies at the scene.
According to a report, Yamamoto managed to empty all 16 rounds from his 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun. Yamamoto suffered wounds in his abdomen, shoulder, leg, and foot by bullets fired from a .357 magnum.
Yamamoto’s alleged killer, Cesar Uriel Mazariego-Molina, was shot and killed April 6, by police troopers in upstate New York after he repeatedly ignored their commands and attempted to run over them.
Yamamoto, who lived with his parents in Torrance, was remembered as a modest, dedicated, athletic young man who had recently announced his intention to marry his high school sweetheart, Michele Tomei.
The youngest of three children born to Henry and Jane Yamamoto, he had grown up studying martial arts, playing Little League baseball, and attending a Baptist Sunday school.
“We will miss Nelson – a personable, quiet, sensitive, hard-working, dedicated, meticulous human being with a lot of heart,” Sheriff Sherman Block said. “Truly a good cop. Truly a hero.”