Remembering a fallen officer

It’s one of those anniversaries you wish didn’t exist but, out of respect, you don’t forget.

Twenty years ago this year, Master Officer Howard Dallies, Jr. of the Garden Grove Police Department was shot to death during a traffic stop on Aldgate Street, east of Brookhurst.

Dallies, 36, spoke some of his last words to fellow officers rushing him to the hospital; he described the Kawasaki motorcycle he’d stopped, and the driver who shot him four times.

Dallies, along with four other officers, is enshrined at the “Call to Duty” Garden Grove Police Memorial outside of the Garden Grove Police Department at 11301 Acacia Parkway, his plaque on a wall behind a sculpture of a mourning officer holding an American flag.

The crime remains the only unsolved killing of a lawman in Orange County history.

And there’s a twist.

The three-striker who law enforcement experts consider, to this day, the No. 1 suspect in Dallies’ killing is making a case that he should be freed from prison. John J. Stephens, doing 25 years to life in Folsom, is eligible for release because California voters changed the state’s three strikes law in 2012, offering leniency to criminals whose third strike is non-violent (Stephens’ third strike was for meth; his other convictions were for assault with a firearm and battery, among others).

As Judge Erick Larsh listens to both sides in a continuing series of hearings, Stephens’ family – including his wife and teenage son – is making the case that he is not a danger to society. A UCLA psychologist has backed them, saying Stephens is low-risk. They stress that Stephens has not done anything violent since his third-strike conviction for meth in 2003.

Many in these parts remember 1993. They remember the high-profile case that concluded with charges against Stephens being dropped because of alleged police misconduct. They remember Stephens sticking out his tongue at cameras after going free.

Now, those opposed to his release are stepping forward for the prosecution and telling their stories to Judge Larsh. Many are victims of Stephens’ crimes. Their testimonies are telling: Stephens was a meth-head and a thug in the 1990s. During one of two times he assaulted victims with a firearm, and was later convicted, a man took a bullet in the chest and survived.

Others are reminding Judge Larsh that Stephens – they believe – is a white supremacist and belongs to a prison gang.

Attorneys for both sides are making closing arguments this week.

I’ve been trying to get someone from the Garden Grove Police Department to comment, even about Dallies and what kind of man he was, but law enforcement is staying mum to the press, which is understandable. They don’t want to make any move that jeopardizes the state’s efforts to keep Stephens behind bars.

Last week, I visited the memorial, going left to right on the wall, reading the plaques of the fallen: Sgt. Myron L. Trapp in 1959, Officer Andy Reese in 1970, Officer Donald Reed in 1980, Officer Michael Rainford in 1980, then Dallies, the officer “… known for being a quiet, patient and sincerely polite man.”

–Brady Rhoades

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