LOS ANGELES – The city's first SWAT officer slain in the line of duty was remembered Friday as a deeply religious family man who went above and beyond the duties of a good cop, dedicating his life to protecting others as well as helping poor children escape inner-city streets.
Thousands of police officers, some from across the country and overseas, filled the 10,000-seat Crenshaw Christian Center Faithdome to pay their final respects to Randal Simmons. Another SWAT officer wounded in the same shooting attended the funeral with Simmons' family, along with numerous officials.
"My brother was a protector because he thought about others before he thought of himself," said his sister, Gina Davis, trying to hold back tears.
Simmons, known as "the rock" and "the reverend" by his colleagues, had been with the city's elite SWAT unit for 20 years and had the second-longest tenure of anyone on the team, which formed in 1967.
His death was all the more stunning to colleagues, they said, because they saw their physically imposing, highly professional fellow officer as all but invincible.
Simmons looked like he'd been chiseled from ivory, said his former partner, James Hart, and was so imposing that often when he approached a crime suspect the person, startled, would say to himself, "Jesus Christ!"
"I'd look at them and say, 'Not quite,"' Hart recalled with a laugh.
Many speakers said Simmons was known for going beyond the call of duty.
"They called him a deacon for a reason," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "He mentored at-risk kids, he led Sunday school on the sidewalks, he drove toys for kids at Christmas time."
A number of children at the funeral wore white T-shirts bearing Simmons' picture and the words, "Our Hero."
Simmons, 51, was shot as a SWAT team entered the home of Edwin Rivera, 20, who had called police and said he had killed his father and two brothers.
Fellow SWAT officer James Veenstra was shot in the jaw before the team retreated under heavy fire from the gunman. Veenstra, who is recovering following surgery, attended the service with his wife, a captain in the Los Angeles Police Department.
The hours-long standoff ended on Feb. 7 with a police sniper killing Rivera.
The incident is still under investigation, but Police Commission Inspector General Andre Birotte has said preliminary information gave no hint of problems with police actions that day.