Officer Tara O’Sullivan, the 26-year-old Sacramento Police officer gunned down in the line of duty Wednesday, seemed determined to be a cop.
She started volunteering at police stations in her home town at a young age. And as one of only a handful of women in her police academy class, O’Sullivan was described as “tough,” “strong” and a “natural born leader.”
Casey Claudius, a community service officer for the Sacramento State Police Department who knew O’Sullivan, said he was shocked to hear the news of her death, the first line of duty death in the department in 20 years.
“That was the last person I expected to hear on the news as killed in the line of duty,” he said at a press conference at O’Sullivan’s alma mater, Sacramento State. “Everybody looked up to her.”
“She always had a smile on her face,” he added.
O’Sullivan grew up in the East Bay community of Pleasant Hill where she was a member of the Pleasant Hill Police Department’s Explorer Program, according to a social media post by the department. She also participated in a similar program in neighboring Martinez, where her family lives today.
“Tara O’Sullivan will always be remembered as a vibrant, energetic and passionate community servant who rose through the ranks as an explorer sergeant and served the community with purpose,” the Martinez Police Department said in a news release.
Alissa Ratliff, a family friend, said she knew O’Sullivan growing up and remembered her as a happy person.
“Tara was happy 24/7 and her joy was contagious.” she said.
Another family friend, Glen Salling, said “The O’Sullivans are a great family and Tara was caring, hardworking and she contributed positively to our community.”
O’Sullivan’s family members could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“The O’Sullivan’s are a private, tight knit family,” Salling said. “They have requested that no one speak at this time out of respect for their privacy.”
O’Sullivan graduated from College Park High School before attending Diablo Valley College and Sacramento State.
She was part of the first class of graduates of Sacramento State’s Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars program in 2017. O’Sullivan was the only female among the first four graduates.
In a press release about the program, O’Sullivan said it gave her “an inside look at what to expect in the academy: the tasks that will be asked of me, how to walk, what to wear, how to put up my hair. This is another edge I will have over other recruits in the academy.”
Assemblymember Jim Cooper said he remembered meeting O’Sullivan at her graduation ceremony.
“A woman with a bright future and it was taken away just like that,” he said. “My heart goes out to her family, coworkers and SacPD.”
She attended the Sacramento Police Academy where she graduated in December 2018, where she was one of seven women in her class.
“Here’s something fun and interesting that we, the mayor and I, were told by several of her classmates: she did a 30-minute plank during the academy,” said Councilmember Angelique Ashby. “She’s tough, she’s strong. There was no one more fit or ready than Tara O’Sullivan to represent the City of Sacramento and our fine police department tonight.”
Melissa Repa, director of Sacramento State’s career center, tearfully described O’Sullivan as dedicated and a forward thinker.
“It wasn’t just status quo,” she said. “Everything (O’Sullivan) did was above and beyond, and that’s why it hurts so much.”
Repa said the 26-year old had “so much potential.”
“Living in Sacramento, she’s the person that I’d want to protect me and my family,” she added.
O’Sullivan was nearing the completion of her training as an officer at the Sacramento Police Department, law enforcement officials said in a press conference late Wednesday.
She was two weeks away from the last phase of her training in which an officer would shadow O’Sullivan to evaluate whether she was ready to go on patrol on her own, said Sgt. Vance Chandler, spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department. She had been with the department for less than a year.
O’Sullivan died late Wednesday after she was shot while responding to a domestic violence call in the north Sacramento neighborhood of Noralto.
In a press conference Wednesday, Chandler said the incident began when officers got a call Wednesday morning about what he called a “disturbance” between a man and a woman. At about 5:41 p.m., police went to the 200 block of Redwood Avenue, where they were helping the woman collect some personal belongings.
While that was occurring, the officer was shot at about 6:10 p.m.
“Due to one of our officers being shot, our officers took safe positions, and at that time they believed the officer was shot with a rifle,” Chandler said. “The officer went down in the yard of a residence, and due to the suspect being armed with a rifle and actively shooting our officers maintained cover in safe positions until we were able to get an armored vehicle in the area.”
That vehicle was able to rescue the wounded officer at about 6:54 p.m., Chandler said, and she was transported to a hospital at 6:59 p.m. and considered to be in serious condition.
Within hours, however, O’Sullivan died at the UC Davis Medical Center. Standing solemn and silent, officers and members of O’Sullivan’s academy class were still gathered outside the hospital at the time of the announcement.