Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy Robert French’s girlfriend, El Dorado Hills resident Kara Merino, gives one of several eulogies Thursday. Village Life photo by Julie Samrick

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French ‘always had your back,’ mourners recall

By From page A1 | September 13, 2017

Thousands came to pay their respects to fallen Sacramento County deputy and El Dorado Hills resident Robert French Thursday afternoon. Mourners, including 3,000 fellow officers and first responders from across Northern California and beyond, packed the Worship Center at Bayside Adventure Church in Rocklin.

A mentor, a cop’s cop, a hero, were all words used by his colleagues to describe French, who died Aug. 30 after a shootout at a Sacramento hotel with an alleged auto theft suspect, Thomas Littlecloud, who later died from his injuries. The incident occurred on the 10-year anniversary of French’s parents’ deaths, who died in a plane crash at Cameron Airpark in Cameron Park.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear,” said Senior Chaplain Mindi Russell to French’s three adult children. “That really fit your dad.”

French, 52, became a police officer in 1996 after first working in the private sector. The father and grandfather would go on to bring confidence and plenty of fresh ideas to his career, his colleagues described.

Before the service, well-wishers looked at photos and a video montage capturing an iota of the big personality French was. He loved his family, country music and the Dallas Cowboys, among other things. And the fact that he loved his job was reiterated throughout. He would go on to train and mentor upward of 300 new officers.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones expressed mixed emotions during his tribute, stating that anger is one of them.

“His killer should never have been out of prison,” he said, adding he hurts for French’s family and a department that “has seen its fair share of tragedies.” Jones said honor is the emotion he will focus on and the one that will last. He said he feels honor for knowing an officer like French and also feels honor for serving in law enforcement. The magnitude of other officers in attendance spoke the same in volumes.

The three-hour service included all of the pomp and circumstance befitting a hero. The memorial began and concluded with the Sacramento Firefighters’ Pipes and Drums brigade.

French’s casket was draped with the United States Honor Flag, with a special explanation of its meaning by founder Chris Heisler. The flag first flew at Ground Zero after 9/11 during recovery efforts and has since traveled 7 million miles to offer solace to families of fallen heroes.

The service concluded with a helicopter fly-over and then Stanford Ranch Road and portions of Highway 80 in Roseville were closed so that the law enforcement processional could make its way to the private graveside service and the community could wish French a final farewell.

Good friend and Sacramento County Lieutenant James Giannelli knew French for 21 years. Giannelli recalled French telling him that John Wayne was “his utmost image of a true American” and he equated French in the same light. “He bought food and coffee for people and helped many people find the services that they need,” Giannelli said. “The mental health community loved Bobby.”

French’s girlfriend, El Dorado Hills mother of two Kara Merino, called him “the protector of their household and their circle of friends.”

“He loved to make other people’s lives better,” said French’s longtime friend Mark DelCarlo. “Bob always had your back.”

Julie Samrick

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