At the time Deputy Donald Bear graduated in Class 137 from the Sheriff’s Academy in January 1970, he had no idea that in just three years he would become involved in a horrifying shooting.
After working two years in the Hall of Justice Jail, he transferred in February 1972 to Temple Sheriff’s Station. A little more than a year after transferring to Temple Station, Deputy Bear had become familiar with his job and he knew his patrol area.
On March 25, 1973, Deputy Bear was assigned to unit 55B on early morning shift and was responsible for patrolling in South El Monte. That night, James H. Kelly, an 18-year-old police science student at Citrus College, was riding along with him.
As Unit 55B drove through a residential area at 1:35 a.m., Deputy Bear observed four male subjects standing by a car that was parked in front of a house on Parlin Street. Several of the subjects were juveniles, so when Deputy Bear saw beer bottles sitting on top of the car he decided to investigate further. He turned the corner and chose to park behind the car. As the radio car pulled up, two of the juveniles walked away and entered the house.
Deputy Bear and Kelly exited the radio car. Deputy Bear asked the subjects for their identification. But one of subjects walked away and threw a lighted cigarette onto the grass. Deputy Bear thought it looked suspicious. After all, why would someone walk away to throw a cigarette? Deputy Bear retrieved the cigarette, which he identified as marijuana.
Deputy Bear decided that he was going to arrest the person who tossed the lit joint and possibly arrest the others. At that time, possession of marijuana was a felony.
Kelly was related to a lieutenant on the Sheriff’s Department and had been on many ride-alongs, so he was familiar with how to operate the Sheriff’s radio. Deputy Bear knew about Kelly’s experience so he asked him to request a unit backup. In those days, deputies did not have handheld radios. All communication was done over the radio in the patrol car. Kelly went to the radio car and requested a unit backup. As Deputy Bear stood by, all four subjects turned and began walking toward the house. Deputy Bear quickly caught up to 25-year-old James Buffey of Covina and arrested him for possession of marijuana.
Unit 55 arrived to back up unit 55B. In unit 55 was Deputy Richard Filbin and 16-year-old Explorer Robert Hernandez. They exited the car and approached Deputy Bear, who explained the situation.
Gilbert Valdez, one of the juvenile’s parents who lived at that location, exited his home and began berating the deputies in a loud and obnoxious manner. He told the deputies that these were his kids and demanded that the officers get off his property. He also told the deputies that they had no warrant to be on his property. Valdez, with the help of the other boys, grabbed Buffey from Deputy Bear and took him into the house.
Deputy Bear instructed Hernandez to request additional backup because the situation was escalating, He also ordered Hernandez away from the scene, to a position of safety. Hernandez went immediately to the radio car and requested additional units.
As the subjects entered the home, Deputies Bear and Filbin followed. They took Buffey, who was still handcuffed, out onto the porch. As this was occurring, Valdez, who had moved into the open doorway, began hitting both deputies. A struggle ensued between the deputies and three of the subjects.
At that time, deputies wore holsters that were referred to as the Widow Maker because of the poor retention quality of the holster. Many times deputies lost their guns when they were in a fight, chasing after a suspect, or even exiting their radio cars. The gun would simply fall out of the holster. It was also easy for a suspect to remove the deputy’s gun from the holster, which is exactly what occurred in this situation.
During the fight, one of the suspects took Deputy Bear’s revolver from his holster and shot Deputy Filbin in the stomach. Another shot was fired, which took off the tip of Deputy Bear’s right middle finger. The bullet kept traveling, piercing Hernandez’ thigh. Hernandez, in his determination to help the officers, had defied Deputy Bear’s order and was standing on the lawn at the time. Although shot in the leg, Hernandez was able to struggle to the patrol car to broadcast a call for help by yelling into the radio, “998! Officer involved in a shooting!” This radio call was an urgent call for help and deputies responded by rolling as fast as they could, with lights and sirens, to the location.
After the shots were fired, the suspect dropped Deputy Bear’s gun on the porch and all of the suspects ran into the house, slamming the door behind them. Deputy Bear, who didn’t realize that his finger tip had been shot off, picked up his gun and fired several rounds through the front door, hitting three of the suspects.
Deputy Bear noticed that Deputy Filbin was sitting against the wall, moaning. Deputy Filbin was in dire condition so Deputy Bear dragged him off the porch and out to the radio car. Deputy Bear broadcast “999! Officer needs immediate assistance!” This radio call was for urgent help from all Sheriff’s stations and police departments. When a “999” was broadcast, it meant that the deputy was in imminent danger and needed numerous officers to respond as quickly as possible. Patrol cars responded to the call with lights and sirens.
The first assisting deputy arrived and observed Deputy Filbin’s condition. With his adrenaline flowing like never before, the deputy immediately helped Deputy Filbin into the radio car and transported him Code 3 to Garfield Hospital in a desperate attempt to save the deputy’s life.
Numerous other radio cars raced up to the scene and screeched to a halt. They helped Deputy Bear and Hernandez into their radio cars. Turning on their lights and sirens, they pushed their vehicles to their limits to get them help.
During the chaos, two of the suspects escaped out the back of the house and hid in the neighborhood. While the wounded deputies and explorer were being loaded into the radio cars to be transported to the hospital, other deputies surrounded the house. They carefully entered the house with their guns drawn and found the three wounded suspects. All three suspects were handcuffed and transported to the hospital so their gunshot wounds could be treated. When deputies discovered that two other suspects had fled, they contained the area and conducted an intensive search of the neighborhood. Both suspects were located and arrested. After searching the home where the shooting occurred, several grams of marijuana were recovered.
Suspect Gilbert Valdez was treated for a head injury at San Gabriel Community Hospital and booked at Temple Sheriff’s Station for assault with intent to commit murder. Buffey was treated at Arcadia Methodist Hospital for minor injuries and booked at Temple Sheriff’s Station for 217 P.C. (Assault on a Public Official). All suspects were convicted on various charges.
Deputy Filbin was forced to retire after the gunshot wound resulted in limited mobility of his left leg. Deputy Bear lost the tip of his right middle finger. He returned to work and after years of service retired as a homicide Lieutenant in 2003. Explorer Hernandez recovered fully from a through-and-through wound to his upper leg.
On April 13, after Hernandez had recovered from his gunshot wound, he was honored during the graduation ceremonies of Sheriff’s Academy Class # 158 in the Board of Supervisors’ Hearing Room in the Hall of Administration. Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess honored Law Enforcement Explorer Robert Hernandez with the Sheriff’s Department’s Distinguished Certificate for his bravery and heroism.
Sheriff Pitchess also nominated Hernandez for the United States Secret Service’s Law Enforcement Assistance Award. This award recognized Explorers who assisted law enforcement agencies through meaningful and exceptional service. The Secret Service chose Hernandez as that year’s award recipient.
As an award recipient, Hernandez also received an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. from the National Council, Boy Scouts of America. While in Washington, Hernandez met with James J. Rowley, director of the Secret Service. Director Rowley presented Hernandez with a plaque and certificate.
On New Year’s Day of 1974, Deputy Harry Hansen, assigned to Community Relations Bureau, picked up Explorer Hernandez at his home, in a new Chrysler Imperial with emergency lights in the front grill. Dressed in a business suit, Deputy Hansen’s assignment was to transport Hernandez to the Rose Bowl where the explorer would be the guest of President Richard Nixon. When they arrived at the Rose Bowl, they were given parking up front. They were escorted to the player’s breakfast, which was for the football players who were playing in the game that day. After that, the Secret Service escorted them to their prime seats on the 50-yard line. They sat just a few seats down from President Nixon. When they arrived at their seats, President Nixon greeted them and said some kind words to Hernandez for his heroic deed. Deputy Hansen watched Hernandez as the President spoke to him. Hernandez was quiet and shy and didn’t talk very much. He seemed overwhelmed by everything that had happened. Hernandez was very proud that he had been recognized by the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and by the President of the United States. It was such an honor for him.
Robert Hernandez chose another career and did not pursue a career in law enforcement.