Honoring the Fallen: Kings County Peace Officer Memorial
Want to learn more about how our fallen heroes are being remembered? In this series of profiles, we focus on the memorials paying tribute to the sacrifice, dedication and valor of those who gave their all in the line of duty.
The Kings County Peace Officer Memorial was established on Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), 1998, and its creation was spearheaded by the Kings County Peace Officers Association (KCPOA). KCPOA President and Kings County Deputy Eric Anderson was instrumental in securing private donations and hosting fundraisers to cover the cost of the 2,000-pound pearl-gray granite monument located in the courthouse square of the Kings County Government Center (1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford, 93230). In his address to attendees during the dedication ceremony in 1998, Anderson said, “I want to tell a story, a story about a vision. This concept came together though a lot of pain, and this is the final result. It started off as revitalizing the memorial service, then let’s do a tree-planting, then James was killed. It just became this big labor of love.”
Anderson was referring to Visalia Police Officer James Rapozo, whose tragic line-of-duty death on January 9, 1998, was an impetus for the memorial’s creation. Prior to serving the citizens of Visalia, Rapozo had worked for the Hanford Police Department and Kings County Sheriff’s Office. “He had maintained many close relationships in Kings County, and his death impacted our law enforcement community,” says Nate Ferrier, secretary/treasurer for PORAC’s Central California Chapter and member of the Kings County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. (Ferrier also shared that Rapozo’s son, Max, followed in his father’s footsteps and currently serves as a deputy and K-9 handler for the Kings County Sheriff’s Office.)
When the research began for the names to be added to the memorial, information was discovered on two law enforcement deaths from the 1800s, Solomon Gladden (EOW 1893) and Constable Bird (EOW 1895). “Very little was known about these two men, but their stories were uncovered thanks to the creation of the memorial,” Ferrier says. When the memorial was dedicated, the names of Gladden and Bird were etched onto the top of the granite marker along with Rapozo and two other officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, Dean J. Esquibel (EOW 8/21/1985) and William E. Lehn (EOW 6/21/1994). Their names rest above LAPD Sergeant George Hahn’s poem, “The Monument,” which is inscribed on the front of the marker. The memorial is located in close proximity to the county’s Military Memorial Wall, which honors local heroes who gave their lives serving the country.
The KCPOA disbanded soon after the memorial was dedicated, “and from what I have learned, Eric was their final president,” Ferrier shares. “He certainly left his mark on the law enforcement community in Kings County by helping to create our memorial.” Sadly, he added, Anderson passed away earlier this year.
Since the dedication ceremony, the Kings County Peace Officer Memorial Service has been held at the monument each May. Local agencies take turns hosting the service and preparing the event, which includes various speakers, the playing of “Taps,” military flyovers and more. “The event serves as a reminder how dangerous law enforcement can be and provides a moment to remember our fallen heroes,” Ferrier shares. “Not only does the community come out to support peace officers, but many retired law enforcement members attend the event. It allows for new law enforcement members to interact with past members.”
In May 2000, a sixth officer was added to the memorial, Kings County Deputy Sheriff Alan T. Sharra (EOW 12/27/1999), who was killed in a traffic accident while en route to assist another deputy. To further memorialize Sharra, in 2019, the Kings County DSA and Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson worked with Assemblymember Rudy Salas to designate a portion of Highway 41, near Stratford, in his honor. The dedication ceremony for the memorial highway sign was held in December 2019, 20 years almost to the day after Sharra’s death. Earlier that same year, in May, Sharra was remembered during the annual memorial service. His widow, Gina Sharra, attended both ceremonies.
“I had a personal connection to Deputy Sharra’s death,” Ferrier shares. “The day he was killed was my very first day of FTO. I took great pleasure in helping to make the Sharra Memorial Highway a reality.”