On the afternoon of Saturday, January 7, 2006, the city of East Palo Alto lost an officer committed to the community – especially its troubled youth, and the family of Officer Richard May lost loving husband, father, and son.
At approximately 4:35 p.m., Officer May responded to a reported fight at a taqueria. With him on a ride-along was a 14-year-old Explorer Scout.
When they arrived at the scene, the suspect was leaving the restaurant on foot and Officer May followed in his car. The suspect began to run, attempted to scale a fence but failed. As Officer May pursued him on foot, the suspect turned and opened fire.
The Explorer Scout was still in the car when the shooting began and was not harmed during the incident. He made the first call of ‘officer down’ to report the shooting.
The suspect fled the scene but was apprehended the following morning. The Scout’s description of the suspect is credited with helping lead to the arrest of 23-year-old Alberto Alvarez of East Palo Alto, a known gang member on parole after serving 16 months in prison on drug and weapons charges.
“He explained what happened and what the suspect was wearing,” said Officer Brian Frayer, the assistant adviser for the East Palo Alto Police Department’s Explorers Program. “The slain officer’s family is extremely grateful.”
The teen, whose identity is being withheld by authorities, had logged about 650 hours riding with police officers during his 18 months in the program. “He did what he was supposed to do,” said John Richers, chief executive officer for the Boy Scouts Pacific Skyline Council, of which the boy is a member. “We’re terribly proud.”
Four days later, hundreds gathered at the HP Pavilion in San Jose to eulogize and remember Officer Richard May. He was described as a hero with a mischievous sense of humor and a loving father.
“I’m outraged to see this tragic waste of a good and decent man,” Attorney General Bill Lockyer said.
Upon high school graduation in 1985, May joined the Marines, eventually serving his country in Operation Desert Storm. This service led to the idea of doing police work, and he joined the Lompoc Police Department just over 10 years ago. He worked as a drug education officer and dedicated himself to youth outreach. He founded a Boys and Girls Club, raising money for a building and driving kids to games. He taught law enforcement classes at the high school and worked in a program that matched habitual offenders with police officer mentors.
On occasion Richard Allen May Sr., would ride along with his son and watch as he dealt with the people he met. “He was an officer who wanted to help, no matter what,” his father said.
When May transferred to East Palo Alto PD, he was unwilling to uproot his family – wife Dianna and three daughters, then age 9, 13 and 17. Instead, he commuted from San Luis Obispo, staying with his mother and stepfather at their home in Atherton during his half-week shifts.
Frank Merrill, Officer May’s stepfather, said although he sometimes talked about the dangers of patrol, more often May focused on the hopeful signs. “His biggest concern was trying to make a difference,” his stepfather said. “If he could make a difference with one kid, he was a success.”
A trust fund has been established for the May family as follows:
May Family Trust Fund
Account No. 458233826
San Mateo Credit Union
P.O. Box 910
Redwood City, CA 94064-0910