Fallen officers honored, K9 memorial unveiled at Laguna Beach police commemoration ceremony

A tradition of the Laguna Beach Police Department of honoring officers who lost their lives in the line of duty continued on Tuesday, with additional memento for the department’s four-legged friends who have passed away.

The Remembrance Ceremony for Fallen Officers at Laguna Beach has been held on September 21 of each year since the death of Engine Officer Jon Coutchie on that date in 2013. It also pays tribute to Officer Gordon French, whose late shift took place on February 13, 1953.

This year’s ceremony included a tribute to the department’s K9 division, as a new K9 memorial to Gerard Stripling was unveiled next to the police’s largest “Eternal Legacy” memorial, on which Sian Poeschl, director of arts cultural activities of Laguna Beach, worked. Taylor and Stripling.

The memorial recognized the years of service provided by three police dogs to Gero (1988-1996), Max (1999-2003) and Ranger (2014-2021). Laguna Beach Police Chief Jeff Calvert called on respective managers – Ted Falencki (Gero) and Manny Nunez (Max) – to stand up and be recognized before giving way to K9 Cpl. Zach Fillers, who was the manager of Ranger.

Officers from the Laguna Beach Police Department laid flowers on the fallen officers memorial wall during the annual fallen officers memorial service on Tuesday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Ranger, who was so named because Coutchie was a former U.S. Army Ranger, died in June, Fillers said. The police dog was diagnosed with cancer in February.

Fillers told those in attendance about the origins of his relationship with Ranger, who he says came to the department from Europe.

“I was hoping he and I would become friends quickly,” Fillers said. “What happened over the next seven years was the trip of a lifetime. We were together 24/7 at work and at home. We spent thousands of hours together trying to become a great K9 team which has been one of the most rewarding and frustrating things I have ever done.

“Imagine trying to get an animal, which only understands a foreign language, to do exactly what you want on command when people’s lives are in danger and absolute perfection is required. Not stressful at all. “

Corporal Zachary Fillers, right, of the Laguna Beach Police Department shares memories of Officer K9 Ranger.

Cpl. Zachary Fillers, right, of the Laguna Beach Police Department shares mementos of the K9 Ranger officer during the annual fallen officers commemoration ceremony on Tuesday. Ranger, who recently died of cancer, was added on Tuesday along with two other K9s – Gero and Max – to the memorial to the fallen officers.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Fillers recalled that Ranger has the ability to lighten the mood, and he attempted to do so himself by showing how K9 training builds habits. He had taught Ranger to lie down when he had to communicate by radio, and as a reflex, Fillers gave the order while on a DUI patrol with another officer.

“Several times during the shift, I grabbed the microphone and gave the order to lie down in an empty backseat,” Fillers said.

Calvert shared the stories of the final missions for French and Coutchie, as well as their lasting legacies. The end of French’s quarter was the result of a gunshot wound. A suspect was in the department jail when a gun fight broke out and the officer was shot dead, Calvert said. French died of his injuries while being taken to hospital.

A Laguna Beach police officer places a flower on the fallen officers memorial wall.

A Laguna Beach police officer lays a flower on the fallen officers memorial wall during the annual fallen officers memorial service on Tuesday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“After his death, it became mandatory for all police officers to attend an extensive training academy,” Calvert said, noting that French had not died in vain. “In addition, it sparked action within our own community to build a local hospital.

“Six years later, believe it or not, Laguna Beach opened the South Coast Medical Center and then dedicated the Emergency Wing to Officer Gordon French. “

Calvert and Coutchie had known each other since they were students at Laguna Hills High School. It was the Laguna Beach Police Chief’s turn to offer a moment of levity when he said the two would call themselves “oil transfer engineers” while pumping gasoline as their first job. his father’s gas station.

Calvert said Coutchie was brought in to protect and defend the freedoms of the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He remembered Coutchie for his military service, which he said included two tours each to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sgt.  David McGill, center, is honored for his exemplary service on the Laguna Beach Honor Guard.

Sgt. David McGill, center, is honored for his exemplary duties on the Laguna Beach Honor Guard, as Honor Guard member Jason Farris, left, and Chief Jeff Calvert flank him, during the annual commemoration ceremony for deceased officers on Tuesday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“After Jon’s last overseas tour he called me up and told me he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he got home,” Calvert said of the deceased Coutchie. in a motorcycle accident. “I told him I had the perfect job for him.

“I knew John would love to be a police officer because he lived by the same core values ​​that police live by every day.”

Sgt. David McGill, member of the Laguna Beach Honor Guard, received the Honor Guard Memorial Flag. It aims to recognize a person who personifies the principles upheld by the guard of honor: honor, sacrifice, courage and remembrance.

At the end of the ceremony, the officers present each seized a flower and placed it at the foot of the two commemorative monuments.

The Laguna Beach Police Department's annual fallen officers commemoration ceremony included a new K9 memorial on Tuesday.

The Laguna Beach Police Department’s annual fallen officers commemoration ceremony included a new K9 memorial on Tuesday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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