On Sunday at 5:23 a.m., a group from the Berkeley Police Department will gather in the pre-dawn light to honor a fallen officer.

The men and women will stand in front of a statue commemorating Sgt. Jimmie H. Rutledge, who was slain June 16, 1973, at 5:23 a.m. by a man who went on to murder a 4-year-old girl he had taken hostage.

The brief, informal ceremony will mark the 40th anniversary of Rutledge’s death. “We’ll say a few words,” said Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan. “We’ll do a salute. It’s our way of acknowledging that even though it’s been four decades, he sacrificed himself for the city and we don’t want to forget that.”

Two Berkeley police officers have been killed in the line of duty. The first was Ronald Tsukamoto, who was slain on Aug. 20, 1970. Tsukamoto had stopped a motorist on University Avenue, near McGee Avenue. While talking to the driver, another man approached the car and fired at Tsukamoto, killing him. The assailant has never been arrested, although police believe they know who he is. To honor Tsukamoto, the city named the police and fire public safety building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way after him.

Rutledge, a 23-year veteran of the force, was killed just three years later. He and some other officers had responded to reports of a prowler in the 2200 block of Russell Street. The officers did not find anyone, but Rutledge stayed around to watch the area. He later questioned a man and tried to place him under arrest. That man, Ernest M. Silas Jr., resisted and grabbed Rutledge’s gun during a scuffle. Silas then fatally shot Rutledge, 49, and wounded a neighbor who came to help.

Jimmie Rutledge. Photos courtesy of Berkeley Police Department
Jimmie Rutledge. Photos courtesy of Berkeley Police Department

Silas then forced his way into an acquaintance’s home and took a number of people hostage, including a 4-year-old girl. Silas killed the girl during a standoff with police, then forced all the other hostages to leave the house. Silas also left the house and was killed by police.

The plaza outside the police administration building is named after Rutledge. There is a bronze bust of him on a pedestal. The sign reads, “He will always be missed.”

The Berkeley Police Department is still in contact with Rutledge’s family. His son works for the East Bay Regional Park District and is planning on attending the memorial ceremony, said police Capt. Andrew Greenwood.

Police department’s past continues to influence officers of today [03.26.13]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...