Sergeant Steve Owen Made the Ultimate Sacrifice
Sergeant Steve Owen, a 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, made the ultimate sacrifice on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. While responding to a “Burglary in Progress” call, Sgt. Owen took a containment position at the rear of the location. According to Sheriff McDonnell:
“Sgt. Owen approached the suspect in response to a burglary call. “The suspect immediately shot Sgt. Owen. He then stood over and executed Sgt. Owen by firing four additional rounds into his body. He then unsuccessfully searched the body for the sergeant’s weapon with the intent to use it to murder the first responding deputy.
“Not only did the suspect want to kill our deputies, he held two teenagers hostage in a neighboring house until they were rescued by the heroic efforts of our Special Enforcement Bureau and our Lancaster Station personnel. He was subsequently arrested in the surrounding neighborhood without further incident.”
Hearing the gunfight, another deputy made his way to the back of the location where he confronted the suspect. Another gun battle ensued, with the deputy wounding the suspect in the shoulder.
The suspect fled on foot, returning to the front of the location where he tried to steal the slain sergeant’s patrol car, ramming another patrol car in the process. The deputy in that patrol car fired at the suspect who again fled on foot. This time he entered a home and held two teenagers hostage.
One of the teens was able to notify law enforcement that the suspect was in the home. The sheriff’s department Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) made entry into the location to rescue the teens. The suspect fled out the back of the house, where he was captured by deputies on the perimeter.
Sergeant Steve Owen, a hero, made the ultimate sacrifice and was the 42nd officer nationwide killed by gunfire this year.
Sergeant Steve Owen was a much beloved member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He was also loved by many people in the community he spent most of his career serving–the City of Lancaster.
I did not have the honor and privilege of knowing Sergeant Steve Owen when I served on the department, even though we were hired the same day (March 11, 1987). We likely crossed paths as I spent quite a bit of time at Lancaster Station, serving as a chaplain, following the line-of-duty deaths of deputies Steve Sorensen (EOW: August 2, 2003) and Pierre Bain (EOW: March 23, 2006). By all accounts, I’m sure it would have been an honor to share a radio car with him.
How I Heard about Sergeant Steve Owen
Being a bit of a news junkie, and always keeping tabs on my law enforcement family (locally and throughout the country), I was perusing Twitter when I heard that a deputy out of Lancaster Station had been shot and that an intense search for the suspect was taking place. I watched a live news feed of the suspect being taken into custody.
One of my friends, who is still on the department, sent me a message that the condition of the deputy (name not yet known) was grave. A few minutes later, the same friend messaged me to let me know that Sergeant Steve Owen had died. Shortly thereafter, the various local news outlets began to report the same information.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. It was a feeling I have experienced far too many times during my years as a deputy sheriff, department chaplain, and now as a retired deputy sheriff. I knew I had to go to the station to minister to the deputies and to the citizens in the community. Not having the close ties and immediate access I once had, I knew my best opportunity would be to stand outside the station with my “Law Enforcement Lives Matter” sign.
“I’m Glad You’re Home Tonight, Daddy.”
I continued to monitor the news throughout the evening. Toward the end of the night, Mahria and I watched on my phone the live news feed of Sergeant Steve Owen’s American flag-draped body wheeled on a gurney, out of the hospital, and into the awaiting coroner’s vehicle. Hundreds of deputies stood at attention, snapping a sharp salute as Sergeant Owen’s body passed.
We watched as a very long processional of patrol cars escorted Sergeant Steve Owen from the hospital, through the streets of Lancaster, and onto the freeway. The processional would travel some 70-80 miles to the coroner’s office in East Los Angeles.
As the processional made it’s way onto the freeway on-ramp, the configuration of the roadway, with the patrol cars all illuminating their blue and red flashing lights, produced the image of a giant red and blue ribbon against the black, night sky. It was beautiful and it was heartbreaking.
Soon thereafter, my youngest daughter Amanda (22) came into the room to give me a kiss and a hug goodnight. As she started to walk out of the room she said, “I’m glad you’re home tonight, daddy.”
“I’m glad I’m home, too, sweetheart. But why tonight?”
As the smile left her face, Amanda said, “Because there is someone who will not be home tonight.”
My heart immediately filled with love and mourning: love for my daughter and the moment we just shared, and mourning for the family of Sergeant Steve Owen.
Amanda, like my other two daughters, grew up as the children of a deputy sheriff. They learned very early in life that there was always the possibility that daddy could get hurt, or that they might not ever see him again on any given day when he left for work. There were times–too many times–when one or more of my girls would grab onto my legs as I tried to leave the house, weeping and pleading: “Daddy, please don’t go to work tonight!”
I went to sleep praying for Sergeant Steve Owen’s family, the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station family, and for what I planned to do the next day.
Law Enforcement Lives Matter at Lancaster Station
The alarm went off at 4:30 AM.
It was about an hour-drive to Lancaster Sheriff’s Station. It was 6:00 AM when I arrived at the station and began to stand with my “Law Enforcement Lives Matter” sign, at the corner of Sierra Highway and Lancaster Boulevard.
The sun had not yet risen above the San Bernardino Mountains to illuminate and warm the Antelope Valley. It was dark and about 50 degrees. Traffic was light. I had arrived before the morning commute started. The bus and train station across the street were showing signs of life.
One of the first cars to come to a stop at the intersection was driven by a black man. He leaned out the window and yelled, “I understand the deputy got shot and all that! But you white people have been stealing from and killing us for too long!”
I raised my voice so the man could clearly hear me.
“Are you in favor of abortion?” I asked.
“That’s good! Because more black people are killed by their mothers than by any other people group!”
The light turned green. The man began screaming expletives. His words soon became unintelligible as he drove away. As I watched the car travel out of sight, I wondered if my first encounter on the corner was a sign of things to come.
Diana and I Came to an Understanding
Two city workers driving a maintenance golf cart stopped, hopped out, and came over to thank me for being on the corner with my sign. I had met one of them (Dan) the last time I had stood there as part of my Project 10-19 efforts. That day, Dan brought me a cup of coffee and a muffin.
As we stood there talking, a diminutive black woman came to the corner.
“Good morning.” I said.
“Good morning.” She replied.
I gave her a gospel tract.
The light turned green and she stepped off the curb. As she did, she turned and said, “All lives matter.”
Usually when someone says that to me as I’m holding the “Law Enforcement Lives Matter,” they do so with an angry tone–sometimes with the added visual aid of a middle finger. When people do this what they are really saying is, “Who cares about law enforcement lives! Law enforcement lives aren’t special!”
I asked the lady, “What do you mean when you say that?”
She paused, and then returned to the sidewalk.
“Oh, don’t misunderstand me.” She said.
The lady, who I would learn was named Diana, told me how heartbroken she was over the death of Sergeant Steve Owen. With tears now streaming down her cheeks she decried the seemingly worthlessness of human life in the eyes of human beings. It seemed to her that no one’s life mattered anymore.
I spoke to her about hope in Jesus Christ. I encouraged her to read the gospel tract I gave her, for Christ is the answer.
We apologized to each other for our initial misunderstanding and, with a hand on each other’s shoulders we wished each other well and thanked each other for the conversation.
Should Kelly Get a Gun?
“I can’t believe what happened! That dirt-bag oughta get the death penalty! The piece of @#$%&!”
“Hi. What’s your name?” I asked, as I handed her a gospel tract.
Kelly’s appearance was disheveled. Of course, it wasn’t even dawn yet. However, Kelly said some things that led me to believe she might be homeless.
“Should I buy a firearm?” Kelly asked, seemingly out of the blue.
I smiled at her and softly said, “Kelly, don’t put your trust and hope in a gun. Put your trust and hope in Jesus Christ.”
“Really? You don’t think I should buy a gun?”
“No, Kelly, I don’t think you should buy a gun.”
“Do you think someone like that (referring to the man who murdered Sergeant Steve Owen), could ever be forgiven and go to heaven?”
The thought of a murderer of a deputy sheriff or police officer being allowed into heaven is about the most detestable and offensive and unfathomable idea to members of the law enforcement family and law-abiding citizens. Having been closely involved with ministering to sworn and law enforcement personnel and the community-at-large in the days and weeks following ten line-of-duty deaths, I have before been asked this question.
There’s only one right answer: the truth. Whether the hearer is offended or not, they need to hear the truth.
“Kelly, have you heard of the apostle Paul?” I asked.
“Okay. Well, let me tell you his story.
“A man named Saul was a very powerful Jewish leader who lived during the time of Jesus. Following the death of Jesus, Saul developed a deep hatred for Christians. In fact, he made it his mission to round up Christians and throw them in jail or throw them to the lions.”
“That’s awful!” Kelly exclaimed.
“Yes it was.” I agreed. “One day Saul was making his way to a city called Damascus. He was going there to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem. But while he was on the road, Jesus appeared to him and asked him, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?’ Saul asked, ‘Who are you, lord?’ ‘I am Jesus and it is me you are persecuting.’
“Jesus saved Saul that day. He would change his name to Paul. And Paul would be come the greatest preacher who every lived, second to Jesus.”
“Really?” Kelly asked.
“Yes. You see, Kelly, Jesus came into the world to save sinners–all kinds of sinners.
“Justice will be served. The man who murdered Sergeant Owen may very-well be executed. But, if he repents and receives Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, God will forgive his horrible sins and grant him eternal life in heaven.”
“Wow!” Kelly exclaimed.
“Kelly, have you ever been so angry with someone, even though you never said or did anything about it, that you thought you hated that person?”
“Did you know the Bible says that whoever hates another person is a murderer?”
“It does. God is holy. All sin, no matter how small it is in our minds, is sin punishable by death and eternity in hell in God’s eyes. Let me explain it this way.
“If you and I were friends and I playfully punched you in the arm, not much would happen to me. You might punch me back. You might call me an idiot. But since we’re friends, you’re probably not going to call the police.”
“Yeah.” Kelly agreed.
“What if I thought it would be funny to punch one of the reporters over there in the arm? He might want to fight, or he might call the police.”
“But what if President Obama came walking down the street with his entourage and I decided it would be funny to punch him in the arm?”
Kelly’s eyes opened wide.
“If I even survived the encounter, I’m going to prison for a really long time–and rightly so!”
“You sure would!” Kelly chuckled.
“Kelly, in each situation all I did was punch someone in the arm. What changed each time was who the offense was against. All of your sin is against God. He is holy, righteous, and just. No matter how small our sins seem to us they are infinitely sinful to an infinitely holy God.
“Does that make sense?” I asked.
“Now, the man who murdered Steve Owen must repent and receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Unless God causes that man to be born-again and saves him, he will perish in his sins and spend eternity in hell as the just punishment for his sins. But Kelly, that’s true for every human being. Unless a person repents they will likewise perish.”
It was at about this time that the first reporter approached me. My conversation with Kelly was more important than talking to a reporter. He was looking for a story. I was fighting for a soul.
After waiting impatiently for a few moments, the reporter all-but-stepped in front of Kelly and put a microphone in my face. I looked around the microphone at Kelly. “Please don’t leave.” I asked.
“Oh, I won’t. I want to talk some more.”
Fortunately, the reporter had just a few, brief questions for me. He was friendly enough and seemed to genuinely care about what had happened to Sergeant Steve Owen.
As the reporter walked away, Kelly returned.
“So, Kelly, does what I shared with you make sense?”
“Yes, it did. I’m Catholic.” She answered. I’m going to work harder…..”
“Kelly,” I interrupted. “You’ll never be able to work hard enough to earn God’s love and forgiveness. “The Bible says that the wages of sin (what we deserve for our sin) is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Jesus said, ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ You don’t need a gun, Kelly. You need to rest in Christ. You need to trust Him. You need to put your faith and trust in Him alone for your salvation.”
“Okay. Well, I better get going.” Kelly said.
We said our goodbyes and she walked away.
After the first reporter approached me, others did as well. One reporter representing a local radio station asked if I would be willing to do a live interview with the morning news hosts. I agreed to do it and I gave the reporter my cell phone number, which he relayed to the radio station. I put out a short Instagram video in which I asked for prayer.
A few minutes later I received a call from someone I assumed was the show’s producer. He explained that the interview would last only a few minutes. He put me through to the hosts, and I waited for them to introduce me.
The host came back on the air, after a commercial break. After a brief introduction and explanation as to where I was and what I was doing, I was asked two questions. The first question was a request to explain why I was standing outside the sheriff’s station with a sign. The second question was an ambush.
The female host began her question by saying words to the effect: “Some are speculating that Sergeant Owen may have hesitated.” She used that statement to preface her question, in which she asked me if I thought officers were more hesitant to take action because of the recent unrest over officer-involved shootings.
I was incensed. I had to think quickly while calming myself and reminding myself about Who I was representing (namely, Jesus Christ) and who was listening (namely, members of my law enforcement family). While I allowed that some officers might be second-guessing themselves before taking action (I thought of the recent situation in Chicago involving an officer who admitted she was afraid to pull the trigger because of the possible repercussions), I made it clear as strongly as I could that I would never second-guess Sergeant Steve Owen’s heroism. I wasn’t about to play arm-chair quarterback about a deputy sheriff who had just given his life in the line-of-duty.
I don’t know if my answer surprised the hosts, or if they realized the question I was asked was utterly offensive, or they just ran out of time. Whatever the reason, the hosts didn’t have much to say after I answered and the interview was over.
After the hosts released the line, the producer came back on the phone. He thanked me for being on the program and we said goodbye. And there I stood holding my sign and wondering if I said anything that might offend anyone in my law enforcement family. I was mad and I felt a knot in my stomach.
A few minutes later my phone rang. It was the producer. He called back to apologize for the last question I was asked. He told me that I gave a very eloquent answer. I thanked him for taking the time to call back and encourage me.
Comforting a Deputy’s Wife
Not long after my radio interview, I saw a lady walk toward my corner from the opposite side of the street. She got about halfway across the street when I discerned she was coming to talk to me.
I handed her a Police Lives Matter gospel tract, having already run out of the other tracts I had in my pocket for the civilians with whom I made contact.
“I was on my way to work when my friend called me to tell me there was someone standing outside the station. I told her that there are probably lots of people at the station. My friend said, ‘No. There’s a guy out there with a sign that was just interviewed on the radio.'”
My first thought was, “Oh, no! I’m about to get slapped in the face for something I said during the interview. I offended her and her friend!”
Tears filled her eyes. My heart sank.
“I can’t thank you enough for being here.” She said. “I just had to come here to thank you. My husband is a deputy at this station. People just don’t understand…..”
Her emotions would not allow her to utter another word until she composed herself.
“People don’t understand what it’s like for the wives and children of the deputies.” I said, finishing her sentence.
She nodded her head, crying harder now.
“Would it be all right if I gave you a hug?” I asked.
She nodded her head before putting her arms around me.
We spent a few more moments talking about life in a law enforcement family. Before she left, she gave me another hug and thanked me again.
“No, thank you.” I said.
More Interviews…..and a Demoniac?
Yet more reporters from various radio, television, and print outlets wanted to interview me. One of them was Joe Serna with the Los Angeles Times. He was a nice young man and seemed genuinely appreciative of the outpouring of support, in all its forms, for Sergeant Steve Owen. Joe posted the above image on Twitter with a caption that reads:
“Tony Miano, a retired Santa Clarita sheriff’s deputy, has been out here since 5:45 a.m. Some drivers honk in support, others…not so much.”
The most bizarre encounter of the morning occurred as I talked to Joe. We met a man who represented the “not so much” in his photo caption.
As Joe and I talked, a man made his way from the bus stop across the street to the corner where we stood. When he arrived, he immediately interrupted the interview to explain to us how police officers are much better than deputy sheriffs. His argument: police officers fight crime while deputy sheriffs want crime to continue so they can make money.
The man–homeless, obviously not of sound mind, and carrying his tennis shoes in one hand with a bag full of trash and personal belongings in the other–went ballistic when he learned I was a retired deputy sheriff.
I very quietly and calmly tried to reason with the man, which is to say I simply said “that’s not true” or “you’re wrong about that” when he uttered inflammatory falsehoods. I knew my efforts would likely be to no avail, but I had to give it a shot.
A few moments into his rant, the man turned his attention to Joe. I gave Joe a “you knew the job was dangerous when you took it”-smile. Joe smiled back as if to say, “Thanks a lot.” I turned around to face the street with my sign.
Joe put up with the man’s antics for a moment or two and then returned to the front of the station. The angry homeless man–who I believe was either insane, demon-possessed, or a little of both–crossed Lancaster Boulevard. The man heckled me, stringing expletives, accusations, and perverted insults together in a way I had not before heard. That’s saying something when you consider I’ve been heckled on streets halfway around the globe, for more than a decade.
The man stayed across the street until he saw another reporter approach me. The reporter said he heard my radio interview early in the morning, appreciated what I had to say, and asked if he could interview me. We were only about a minute into our conversation when the man across the street came back to continue giving me and the world a piece of his mind.
“Are you going to be here all day?” The reporter asked.
“I’ll be here until about 8:30.” I answered.
“Great. I’ll come back when this leaves.” He said, tilting his head toward the out-of-control homeless man.
The angry man’s rant intensified. Now, no one was exempt from his vile wrath: the reporters outside the station, people walking up and down the street. I think he would have yelled at the clouds had he seen them move. He moved back across the street where his rhetoric and gestures became even more perverse.
Jenny was Compelled to Stop
Like so many others, Jenny (pictured above) introduced herself and thanked me for being on the corner with my sign.
“As I drove by I heard that man yelling and screaming at you, and I had to stop. I just want to thank you for being here.” Jenny said.
And, like everyone else I met on the corner that morning, Jenny received a gospel tract.
Jenny silently stood beside me. I looked at her and said, “You know, I have another sign like this in my car if you would like to hold it.”
“Oh, that’s okay. Thank you. I’ve got to get to work. But again, I just had to stop and thank you.”
Before Jenny could leave, a reporter asked to speak to her. Meanwhile, I continued my work of holding the sign.
Other Encouraging Encounters
The Lord blessed me with several more encouraging encounters.
Two teenage girls, each carrying an eight-week-old black and white Border Collie puppy (yes, the sight was as cute as it sounds) stopped to thank me for being there. They also wanted to tell me that their grandpa is a retired deputy sheriff.
A Christian man who appeared to have a mild case of Cerebral Palsy walked slowly to the corner from across the street. When he arrived, he softly and very humbly asked, “Would it be all right if I just stood with you for a while?”
“Of course! Thank you!” I replied.
And there he stood, by my side. Whenever I waved to acknowledge a supportive motorist, my new friend would wave, too.
He told me where he attended church and how he came to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. It was a wonderful time of fellowship.
After several minutes, he said, “Well, I guess I should be going. Thank you for letting me stand with you.”
“Oh, no, brother. Thank you. The Lord has used you to encourage me this morning. Thank you so very much for standing with me.”
He smiled and returned from whence he came.
And remember Dan, the city maintenance worker?
I looked at my watch and saw that it was time for me to make the 70-mile drive down to The Master’s Seminary. It was Thursday, and I try to devote Thursdays to fellowshiping with the young men at the seminary and leading a few of them out to the North Hollywood Metro Station for street evangelism, for a couple hours between classes. A big part of me wanted to make a day of it, at Lancaster Station. But I had to go.
I made my way to my car, climbed inside, and made another short Instagram video to thank those who prayed for me and to give a quick report.
No sooner had I posted the video that I heard a knock on my driver’s door window. I turned to see Dan, the city maintenance worker. With a big smile on his face he held up a cup of coffee and a styrofoam container, which contained what I would soon discover was the best breakfast sandwich I have ever eaten.
“I figured you might be getting hungry.” Dan said, still with a smile on his face.
“Wow! Thank you, Dan!”
“No problem. I appreciate you being here.”
We chatted for a couple minutes, and then Dan went back to work. I sat in my car and enjoyed my breakfast. The food and drink were particularly tasty, considering the kindness shown me by the one who provided the meal.
What took thousands of words to describe to you, in reality, spanned but a few hours on the corner of Sierra Highway and Lancaster Boulevard.
I thank God for my time there. I thank God for the overwhelming positive response from the community-at-large. As has been the case every time I stand outside a patrol station with my “Law Enforcement Lives Matter” sign, most people driving and walking by were very supportive of their law enforcement community. And, in this case, very appreciative of the sacrifice of Sergeant Steve Owen.
I thank God for the many deputy sheriffs who drove by in their patrol cars–brave men and women–friends of Sergeant Steve Owen–who waved, said thank you, and took pictures of my sign.
I thank God for the opportunity to serve Him in this way–a way that any Christian can serve Him: a sign, some gospel tracts, and a willingness to talk to people.
To My Brothers and Sisters Behind the Badge
I love you all very much. I grieve when you grieve. I hurt when you hurt. As I watched the live video feeds in the time Sergeant Steve Owen was gunned down, until the time the suspect was taken into custody, I wanted to be out there with you.
I consider every member of the law enforcement family part of my family. Although I am now retired, my love for you has not changed. It has not wavered. Because I love you, I must tell you this.
Law enforcement lives matter. Your life matters. I appreciate your service to your community. I’m aware that a member of the law enforcement family, your family, my family, gives his or her life in the line of duty, making the ultimate sacrifice every 60 hours (in the United States). There is no greater and no more tragic testament to this truth than the recent sacrifice of a hero, Sergeant Steve Owen.
“Thank you” seems woefully inadequate for not only what can be rightly described as your heroic efforts, but also your daily commitment to protect and serve. There are many people like me who greatly appreciate your sacrificial service. It is with appreciation and respect for you–not only as a public servant, but as a human being (my neighbor)–that I share the following with you.
Every human being, people on both sides of the badge, will one-day stand before their Creator to give an account for their life. God, the perfect Judge, will judge you according to the law He has written on your heart. You know it is wrong to lie, steal, take God’s name in vain, engage in sexual immorality, or hate another human being because you were created in the image of God, and God is not a liar, thief, blasphemer, fornicator, adulterer, or murderer. Because God is good, He must punish sin. The punishment he has determined for sin is eternity in hell.
Yet God has also provided a way for you to be declared innocent and receive His forgiveness. Your only hope is for Jesus, the God-Man, to save you from the wrath of God. God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth–fully God and fully man, yet without sin. He voluntarily shed his innocent blood and died on the cross, taking upon Himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God. Three days later, He forever defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave. And what God commands of you, my law enforcement brethren, is that you turn from your sin and turn to God and, by faith alone, believe the gospel and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Please do this while God has given you time. I am praying for your safety.
One last thing. I believe if Sergeant Steve Owen could speak to you right now, he would tell you this: “Don’t miss heaven.”
The Bible says:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29).
My prayer for you, my law enforcement family, is that God would use our nightmare–the murder of Sergeant Steve Owen–to bring many lost souls, on both sides of the badge, to Himself. I pray that you will one-day be able to look back at our shared day of tragedy, grief, pain, and mourning and be able to testify that it was during the aftermath of Sergeant Steve Owen’s valiant sacrifice that you recognized your need for the Savior. I pray the day will come (and may that day be today) when you receive the love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace of God through the perfect sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.
You are in my prayers.