Hispanic officers make the ultimate sacrifice E-mail
Written by Kevin P. Morison   

Mario Moreno’s life ambition was to give back to his beloved community of San Antonio. Born and raised there, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from McCollum High School and served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. But after four years of honorable military service, he chose to return home. While completing his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice at Wayland Baptist University, Mario joined the San Antonio Police Department in 1996. He excelled as an officer and was promoted to detective in June 2007, landing an assignment with the elite “Repeat Offender Task Force,” which targets some of the most violent recidivists in the city.

On September 21, 2007, Detective Moreno and other Task Force members went to an apartment complex to serve an arrest warrant on a suspect wanted for murder.

The suspect was known to be hiding there, but the officers managed to lure him into the parking lot. He immediately fled on foot, with officers in pursuit. As Detective Moreno closed in, the suspect turned, drew a handgun and shot Detective Moreno in the face, mortally wounding the devoted husband and father of two. San Antonio Police Detective Brian Peters, a fellow Task Force member, summed up Mario Moreno’s life and legacy this way: “You put your life on the line for me and the rest of the team.” Detective Moreno’s tragic death came between the days of September 15 and October 15, when our nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, focusing on the contributions of people of Hispanic heritage to the history of the United States. For Hispanic Heritage Month 2008, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) pays special tribute to the 637 Hispanic American law enforcement officers who have made the supreme sacrifice and whose names are engraved on the National Memorial in Washington, D.C. These brave men and women embody the proud tradition of law enforcement service by Hispanic Americans dating back more than 150 years. The first Hispanic American law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty was Joaquin DeLaTorre, a deputy sheriff with the Monterey County (CA) Sheriff’s Department. On November 10, 1855, Deputy DeLaTorre and two other members of his department were shot and killed while attempting to make an arrest. Research files maintained by the NLEOMF show that there would be only two other Hispanic officers to die in the line of duty during the remainder of the 19th Century.

During the first half of the 20th Century, a total of 90 Hispanic American officers made the ultimate sacrifice. One of them was Dimmit County (TX) Deputy Sheriff Candelario Ortiz. On September 11, 1913, Deputy Ortiz was part of a posse hunting down a group of nearly 20 men believed to be smuggling weapons and ammunition from the United States into Mexico. The arms smugglers were spotted by the posse, and a fierce gun battle erupted. When he ran out of ammunition, Deputy Ortiz was captured and forced by his captors to carry a heavy load of supplies as they fled.

When he became exhausted, the 20-year law enforcement veteran was brutally shot and killed. As the Hispanic American population of the United States grew as a whole, so did the number of Hispanics serving in law enforcement. Sadly, the sacrifices endured by these brave men and women would increase as well. From 1950 through 1999, 407 Hispanic officers died in the line of duty.

Since the year 2000, another 137 Hispanic Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Over the last decade, one in ten law enforcement fatalities in the United States has involved a Hispanic American officer. Thirty Hispanic officers died during 2001, the deadliest year for Hispanic officers in the history of the law enforcement profession. Among them were six heroes who perished during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center: Chief James Romito and Officers Antonio Rodrigues and Richard Rodriguez of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, and Officers Jerome Dominguez, Ramon Suarez and Santos Valentin Jr., of the New York City Police Department. NLEOMF records show that just over half (321) of the Hispanic officers killed in the line of duty have served in Puerto Rico.

One of them was Agent Yesenia Nieves Ruiz. On August 31, 2002, Agent Nieves Ruiz had just left work at the Puerto Rico Police Department and, while still in uniform, escorted her uncle to a nearby automated teller machine. A band of masked suspects followed the agent and her uncle from the bank to her residence, at which point they produced weapons and announced a robbery. As Agent Nieves Ruiz attempted to stop the robbery, she was shot and killed.

She is one of 15 female Hispanic officers from across the U.S. whose names are inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. After Puerto Rico, the jurisdictions with the most Hispanic law enforcement fatalities throughout U.S. history are Texas, with 91, California, with 57, and New Mexico, with 22. Some of our nation’s fallen officers came to the United States to pursue the American Dream – and found their calling in law enforcement. Such was the case with Washington, D.C. Metro Transit Police Officer Marlon Morales.

He was 15 years old when his family emigrated from Guatemala to the United States. In May 2000, he joined the Metro Transit Police.  Just over a year later, on the night of June 10, 2001, Officer Morales was questioning a “fare jumper” in the subway. Suddenly, without warning, the man pulled a gun and shot the 32-year-old officer in the head. Officer Morales’s service and sacrifice – and the service and sacrifice of all fallen Hispanic law enforcement officers – are remembered throughout the year at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, but especially so during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Kevin Morison is the senior director of communications for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.  Visit www.nleomf.org  for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

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