The sky was gray the day of Theodore Brassinga’s funeral, but the farewell by nearly 1,000 family members, friends and fellow police officers was brightened by shared memories.
“When you’re the best, your star will always shine,” Palo Alto police Sergeant Larry Peterson wrote to Brassinga’s 14-month-old son Andrew in a letter read during services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Redwood City.
Brassinga, 33, a Palo Alto reserve officer since1993, died May 15, 1994, in a training exercise accident. A salesman for a San Leandro moving company and a police academy graduate, the Redwood City resident was about to become a full-time officer.
The exercise was based on a scenario of a terrorist taking hostages, and Brassinga played the part of the terrorist. He was shot in the abdomen by a Mountain View officer whose gun had at least one live bullet in it, despite safety checks.
Departmental weapons check procedures involve two range masters who inspect officers’ guns and check each other’s weapons. Range masters are specially trained and considered responsible for weapons instruction and safe conduct with weapons.
At the weapons check, one range master’s gun was found to be dirty, leading to a discussion that diverted the officers’ attention from a careful check of the other range master’s weapon, Davies said. The second range master was the officer who fired at Brassinga.
The officer was not charged with a criminal offense. “This was an accident,” Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Dave Davies said. “It shouldn’t have happened, but gross negligence just wasn’t there.”
Davies stated that a charge of involuntary manslaughter requires a finding of gross negligence – conduct that to a reasonable and prudent person shows disregard for human life. Incidents triggered by inattention or misadventure do not qualify.
More than 400 officers from all over the state, black mourning bands on their badges, filled the church to pay their respects to Brassinga. Many stood at attention outside during the two-hour service. Inside, the fallen officer was remembered for his warmth and compassion, his “magical goofiness” and his pride and joy in his work and his family – especially his young son. Andrew behaved beautifully during the long service, although he did fidget at one point and called out, “Daddy, Daddy.”
“Nothing can make up for the absence of one we love,” said the Rev. Michael Harriman. “We must simply hold out and see it through.”
Escorted by a procession of police cars to Holy Cross Cemetery in Menlo Park, Brassinga’s casket was lowered into the grave. A cornet sounded “Taps,” bagpipes played “Amazing Grace,” and fellow Palo Alto reserve officers folded the flag that had draped Brassinga’s casket. An especially emotional scene followed as the officers saluted, each hand pausing over the heart in a fist as it descended from forehead to side. Tears streamed down the face of more than one officer.
Out of the silence, the sound of helicopters emerged. Five police choppers flew the missing man formation, one peeling off to disappear into the clouds.
The Palo Alto POA arranged a trust fund for Brassinga’s wife Angela and their son Andrew at the Palo Alto City Employees’ Credit Union, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301.