Thousands mourn loss of police officer

Kevon Gavin recalled as a man devoted to family, friends, city

April 28, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Yesterday's tearful funeral was not enough to understand how Kevon Malik Gavin policed the dangerous streets of Baltimore. It was at the viewings this week that the residents Gavin so often helped completed his profile.

A man Gavin had twice rescued after falling from his wheelchair. A drug addict he counseled into treatment. A woman Gavin visited three days after her house was vandalized, just to check on her.

They were among more than 1,000 mourners who came to Loudon Park Funeral Home Tuesday and Wednesday to pay tribute to the 27-year-old officer. He was killed last week when a teen-ager fleeing police crashed into his cruiser in West Baltimore.

"He chose to live a life of honor," said his cousin, Shaun Gavin, during yesterday's two-hour service in a small chapel of the funeral home on Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said he talked to dozens of residents Gavin had helped during his six-year career. The mother of the man who kicked his drug habit, the mayor said, "smiled like only a mom can smile and told me, `My son has been returned to me. Officer Gavin talked to him.'"

The city's chief executive told mourners that Gavin knew "justice is more important than any fear he may have felt" on the street. "He was called to protect his fellow citizens, and he served with dignity and with honor and with distinction."

Gavin was eulogized at a service attended by more than 3,000 colleagues from virtually every jurisdiction in Maryland and from cities across the region.

The chapel had seats for only 250 people -- most had to stand outside and listen on speakers as a cold drizzle turned to a steady rain by noon.

A procession of more than 600 police cars wound its way around the Baltimore Beltway to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, where Gavin's wife, Lisa, was presented with the flag that had been draped across the casket, along with her husband's cap and badge.

He was remembered as a loving and devoted family man who grew up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., and escaped the scourge of drugs that claimed many of his friends. He joined the Navy and moved to Baltimore six years ago when the city department offered him a job.

Gavin left the city force to take a better-paid police job in Prince George's County, but he returned to Baltimore after three months because he felt he could make more of a difference in the city.

He died trying to stop a 17-year-old who police say was wearing body armor when he opened fire on a Southwest Baltimore street corner with a 10 mm handgun, wounding a man in the leg, and fleeing in a Ford Bronco.

Police said the Bronco was going 95 mph when it slammed into Gavin's cruiser -- which he was using to block West Lombard Street -- on April 20. He died a day later, on Good Friday. The teen-age driver has been charged with first-degree murder.

Relatives and friends preferred to remember the good times they had with Gavin, who had a son, Kevon Gavin Jr., 15 months, and two stepchildren, Shawn, 5, and Amber, 8.

They told of how the former military man disciplined his children by making them stand at attention or do push-ups. His partner, Norris Wells, said they were so close they shared a locker. His cousin, Shaun Gavin, said the officer was never happy unless he was eating, and that "he always managed to show up at your door just in time for dinner."

The circumstances of Gavin's death could not be ignored. "How could someone so young so suddenly be taken from us without hesitation and concern," Shaun Gavin said. He added that his cousin "would be the first to forgive."

That was not so easy for O'Malley. "When I was 17, I was just glad to have the keys to the car," he told reporters before the funeral. "I didn't put on a bulletproof vest when I went out for the night."

Inside the chapel, O'Malley told mourners that "we cannot accept what has happened."

Those thoughts were echoed by acting police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, a former New York officer who once worked with Gavin's uncle, Dennis Gavin, who remains with the New York Police Department and attended yesterday's services.

"I still can't make any sense of this," Norris said. "Trying to make sense of madness is never going to happen."

Norris said Gavin was one of the first officers he met when he was named Baltimore's police leader last month.

Thursday night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, as Gavin stayed alive only with the help of life support, Norris said he turned to O'Malley and shook his head in disbelief: "Why do we always lose the good ones?"

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