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January 2000

by his wife Gail Chetcuti & Captain Rob Dean

David (Dave) John Chetcuti was born 44 years ago, the youngest of seven children and the only one born in the United States of America. His parents decided to leave their tiny island home of Malta and seek a better life for their children, having seen and endured the ravages of the German war machine that cost them the lives of one infant and one unborn fetus while hiding in a bomb shelter. Who could blame them? It seemed to be the right thing to do.

Dave was a reflection of a family ingrained with simple, but firm values: be honest, work hard, value and take care of your possessions and above all, take care of one another so the family stays strong. As a boy, he began to develop his sense of humor mixed with simple, yet effective mischief. To the dismay of his older brothers and sisters, he became the family prankster and then took his refined trade to high school, where he and his close friends regularly pulled stunts on friends and relatives and teachers. As a young man, he began working when he left high school as a gardener, floor refinisher and warehouseman. His interest in cars was always there and he would tinker and fix them with friends. He also had that knack for doing just about anything, and if he had never done it, he experimented with it until he had it down. Yes, he was a jack of all trades, yet he was also a master of many of them too.

Beneath the surface of this hard-working, good-humored man lay a desire to become a police officer. It was a profession that captivated his interest and his wife Gail nurtured it along, finally telling him that if it was what he wanted to do, then just go for it. He applied to and was accepted into the Millbrae Police Reserves in 1984 and the once a week riding of 4 hours that was required quickly turned into whole shifts of 8 hours, sometimes longer. He was smart enough to keep his mouth shut with eyes and ears wide open. He gravitated towards the officers who liked to "find things” and always wanted to work Friday and Saturday nights. Soon he was a very well respected officer who could always be counted on.

In 1987, the Alameda Sheriff's Office hired him full-time. He entered their academy, graduating in July, but his heart was in Millbrae. An opening there was offered to him and he became an officer for the Millbrae Police Department in December.

While building a reputation as a solid officer, he was ever the prankster at the station and with others he would meet in the course of his work. His humor brought levity to the stresses and strains of police work at the station.

Dave progressed to being a Field Training Officer, where he did his usual dedicated and thorough job, constantly turning out well-trained, dedicated officers to the streets of Millbrae. He had an eye for motorcycles, and when an opening came up, he tested for and was selected to be a traffic officer. Ironically, it would be the maneuverability of the motorcycle that would contribute to his untimely death on April 25, 1998.

On that day, Dave heard an officer from neighboring San Bruno advising he had a “failure to yield” southbound on US Highway 101, which happened to be towards Millbrae. The officer then advised the car was pulling over just before the Millbrae turn-off and he asked for a cover unit. Dave was actually close by and began heading that way when the officer yelled, "he's got a gun." That was all Dave needed to hear and he raced to the scene, going the wrong way on the off ramp, then the freeway to get there. He drove right up to the stopped cars and saw no officer, but did see a black man with a rifle pointed into the bushes. Dave yelled for him to drop it but he instead wheeled and advanced. Dave began firing and the suspect fired back, hitting Dave just above his bullet resistant vest in the throat area. The suspect continued firing, walked up to Dave's motionless body and fired 3 rounds into his face. A total of 15 rounds entered his body before the killer coldly crouched down, rummaged about, looking for Dave's wallet, then took his service autoloader and magazines from his duty belt.

The good news is that, within fifteen minutes, the suspect, Marvin Patrick Sullivan, was in custody for Dave's murder and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office jumped on the investigation, doing a superb job. The bad news is the suspect decided to play "crazy", a ploy he had used before to get admitted to Atascadero State Mental for the Criminally Insane and get discharged without facing the charges against him. In June, 1999 Judge Runde of the San Mateo Superior Court, who ironically also resides in Millbrae, refused all arguments for the prosecution to have Marvin Sullivan examined by a psychiatrist of their choice, and certified Sullivan as incompetent to stand trial, sending him once again, to Atascadero Hospital.

The aftermath of this tragedy has changed simple lives into a very unsettled state of mind. Thus far, there has been no closure for Dave's three sons, nor his devoted wife Gail. The last year and a half, the community and police department have kept Gail very busy with various awards ceremonies to honor Dave. Additionally, State Senator Quentin Kopp introduced legislation and had a portion of US Highway 101 from San Francisco Airport exit to the Broadway-Burlingame exit named the Officer Dave Chetcuti Memorial Highway. Gail has attended the State and National Memorial Ceremonies, plus attends the survivor organization “Concerns Of Police Survivors” meetings whenever possible to keep in contact with other survivors when things begin to get to tough to deal with. Her biggest challenge right now is fighting with the court system with Dave's murderer Marvin Patrick Sullivan. To be sure, Dave is not forgotten and his rights are well cared for. Until you are actually in the legal system, you have no idea how bad it really is. Gail feels every much the victim, that she has been lied to and deliberately kept in the dark about what is going on and about future proceedings. The criminal has all the rights and gets whatever he wants. The D.A.'s, the judges and defense attorneys keep everything in motion, yet it is just one vicious circle with Gail looking in from the outside. She should have a major voice in many of the decisions, but often is left out and either reads about it in the newspaper or hears about it the day before it occurs. She is dedicated though to this proposition: Her fight won't stop until she has justice for the senseless and meaningless killing of her husband.

Through this myriad, unfamiliar world called the justice system, Gail is thankful for an organization like Citizens Against Homicide to help and assist in her fight to see that justice is done and that people like Marvin Sullivan aren't let go after they suddenly become sane again. That is a flawed system that needs to be righted and murderers must be held accountable.

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