The Merced Police Department had not lost an officer In The Line of Duty in its’ entire 115 year history, dating back to the year 1889. On the evening of April 15 all of that changed. Officer Stephan Gray, 34-years-old, a 7 – year veteran of the Department was shot and killed by a known felon on parole. Officer Gray assigned to the Special Operations Unit working street-level narcotics and gang violence had stopped a vehicle with an occupant known to Gray, 21-year-old Tahua “Tao” Rivera, a felon on parole. Witnesses at the scene said they talked for sometime, but when Gray attempted to search Rivera he broke and ran. Officer Gray pursued the suspect on foot when the suspect turned and fired an unknown weapon at Gray, striking him twice, mortally wounding the officer.
A massive manhunt was immediately mounted for suspect Rivera, joined in by all of the surrounding local law enforcement agencies and the California Highway Patrol. A substantive reward was being offered for the apprehension of Rivera, but he continued to elude arrest. Rivera’s mother, 43-year-old Erika Rivera, who was known to have had contact with her son after the shooting was arrested for aiding and abetting and as an accessory and was being held in the Merced County jail, with bail set at $500,000.
Gray’s death was followed by an outpouring of sentiment from the entire community. Police Chief Tony Dosetti, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, city and county officials, members of the State Legislature, all expressing their grief and a resolve to do something about the ever increasing criminal conduct of gangs in their community. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the First Lady expressed their personal condolences and the Governor directed that the flags flying over the State Capitol be flown at half-staff in honor of the fallen hero.
On May 2, seventeen days after the tragic death of Officer Gray, the multi-jurisdictional task force that had worked day and night to apprehend “Tao” Rivera, was rewarded when he was arrested outside the town of Chowchilla. Rivera will be prosecuted for murdering a peace officer in The Line of Duty, a crime calling for the death penalty.
Stephan Gray was remembered by his peers as an outgoing, good spirited professional who related well to his community. He loved to stop and talk to people, especially young people. He cared, helped them with their problems and served as a role model.
On the morning of April 21 St. Patricks Catholic Church was filled beyond capacity with more than 2,000 people; family, friends, civic officials and uniformed peace officers from a myriad of jurisdictions, all paying their final respects to a real hero. Attorney General Bill Lockyer was present, as he always is at law enforcement funerals, offering condolences on behalf of the people of our Great State. Michelle Gray, widow of the fallen officer eulogized her husband thusly, “Someone asked me if Stephan was a hero for the way he died. I had to tell her Stephan was a hero for the way he lived”.
A Motorcade of more than 300 police vehicles escorted the flag draped coffin and remains of a brother officer to his final resting-place.
Officer Stephan Gray is survived by his wife Michelle, daughters Landess, age 13, Cameron, age 3 and son Isaiah, age 5.
A trust fund has been established at the County Bank “In memory of Stephan Gray”. Contributions can be mailed to the Merced Police Department, 611 W. 22nd Street, Merced, California 95340.