The last officer from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division to be killed in the line of duty was honored Monday at the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Whitworth Drive. He was killed in 1996 while investigating a theft from a 7-Eleven store near the corner.
The intersection was dedicated as Officer Mario Navidad Square during a ceremony attended by the officer’s widow, son and daughter, as well as City Council President Herb Wesson Jr., 10th District, Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, and numerous LAPD officers and community members. Navidad was remembered as a dedicated law enforcement official whose childhood dream was to become a police officer. The 27-year-old Navidad had been with the department for a little more than one year when he was shot and killed by a reputed gang member. Koretz said the idea for the dedication came from Capt. Eric Davis, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division.
“Mario Navidad was an officer assigned to the Wilshire Division, and on Dec. 22, 1996, he paid the ultimate price,” Davis said. “It’s an honor that is long overdue. Mario Navidad will never be forgotten.”
The fallen officer was patrolling on Fairfax Avenue south of Olympic Boulevard in the Little Ethiopia District when a clerk at the 7-Eleven store flagged him down to report that a suspect had stolen two six-packs of beer. Navidad and his partner located the suspected thief in an alley behind the store, and as they were exiting their patrol car, the suspect pulled out a gun and started firing. Both officers returned fire, but Navidad was struck in the armpit in an area that was not covered by his protective vest. He later died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The suspect was struck numerous times and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wesson commended Navidad for his courage in serving as a police officer, particularly for his role in putting himself in harm’s way to protect the pubic. He said although each officer faces danger on a daily basis, it is always upsetting when a police officer is killed over what he described as a petty crime.
“Every day, these folks put on the uniform, and it could be their last day,” Wesson said. “[Officer Navidad] was like that. He worked so hard, and was able to accomplish his dream and make his family proud. To have your life taken over two six-packs of beer, I just can’t get over that.”
Navidad was born in Santa Monica and spent the early part of his life living in Sinaloa, Mexico. He later returned to the United States and graduated from Venice High School in 1987. After working for approximately 10 years as a box boy and grocery clerk, he earned an administration of justice degree from Santa Monica College, and was accepted to the LAPD Training Academy. Upon graduation, he spent his initial training period at the LAPD’s Rampart Division before transferring to the Wilshire Division.
Sandra Navidad, the officer’s widow, said she is grateful for the support from the LAPD. When her husband was killed, their son Brandon was four years old, and their daughter Melissa was an infant.
“It was very hard,” she said. “It is very nice how this came together, with all of the people who came over to be here with us in this special time. It means a lot to me and my children.”
Brandon Navidad, who is currently attending Palomar College in San Marcos, hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps in law enforcement and join the U.S. Border Patrol. Melissa Navidad is currently attending high school.
“I appreciate everyone’s support for my family, and from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you,” Brandon Navidad said. “It is something you have to learn to live with. You try to move on, but it is something you never forget.”
As an LAPD bagpiper played, the Navidad family unveiled a new sign at the corner indentifying it as Officer Mario Navidad Square. Koretz said he had been working for four years to get the dedication approved.
“It’s a bureaucratic process, and having the family be comfortable with it, but its something we were talking about for the last four years” Koretz said. “I think it means a lot for the neighborhood, the police department and for the family of one of our fallen heroes. It’s important when someone makes the ultimate sacrifice, that he be remembered for that.”
Harry Gill, the owner of the 7-Eleven where the theft occurred, said he had met Navidad a few times.
“He was a regular young man who loved his job,” Gill said. “Everyone was shocked. When you have someone killed like that, it is very tough.”
Berhanu Asfaw, president of the Little Ethiopia Business District and co-owner of the Messob Restaurant, said the neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance. The area is much safer now than it was in the years leading up to Navidad’s death, he added.
“He was serving the community and that was good,” Asfaw said. “There is much less crime now. There used to be a lot of graffiti, and you used to park close so you wouldn’t have to walk far to your car. These days, it’s very safe.”
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