Thousands honor fallen San Jose officer

Nearly 4,000 people gathered at SAP Center in downtown San Jose for a memorial service to honor Officer Michael Katherman, who was killed in a collision one week ago.

Uniformed officers and personnel from various law enforcement agencies across the state attended the two-hour ceremony where they listened to remarks from Katherman’s family, friends and co-workers.

Katherman, 34, was fatally struck by a minivan about 3 miles away from the arena at North 10th and Horning streets on June 14 just before 4:30 p.m.

Katherman was on a police motorcycle heading north and was hit by the minivan as it was making a left turn to Horning Street. The driver stayed at the scene and cooperated with the investigation, police said.

Katherman was an 11-year veteran of the department who leaves behind his wife, April; two sons, Josh and Jason; parents, Tom and Diane and older brother, Nate.

A motorcade arrived at the arena at 10:27 a.m. after a roughly 12-mile trip from the Darling & Fischer Chapel of the Hills funeral home in Los Gatos.

Hundreds of officers in uniform stood in two long rows as the procession arrived. Behind the hearse carrying Katherman, more officers came on police motorcycles flashing red and blue lights.

Two San Jose fire trucks extended their ladders to hold an American flag outside the center’s entrance at West Santa Clara and South Autumn streets.

About a dozen flower arrangements, including one that read Katherman’s badge number 3900, were placed on and around the stage inside the arena.

Pictures of Katherman through the years were displayed on the Jumbotron that showed him as a child, police officer, father, newlywed and husband.

The ceremony began at 11:13 a.m. with an honor guard playing bagpipes followed by Katherman’s casket carried by eight pallbearers and family walking behind.

At today’s service, San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia talked about what he learned about the officer in the past week.

The chief said he didn’t personally know Katherman, but called him an “exceptional cop and an even better man.” Through conversations with Katherman’s friends and family, Garcia said he learned the officer had a “zest for life,” sense of humor and strong Christian faith:

“He was the ultimate partner and you knew you would be safe with him.”

The chief spoke of two cases that stood out from Katherman’s personnel file. The first was a case where Katherman spoke with a rebellious teenager at the request of her frustrated grandma, who later wrote in a letter that the talk was a “life-changing event for the family,” Garcia said.

The second case was from Christmas Eve in 2011, when Katherman saved the life of stabbing victim and a letter of appreciation in the file thanked the officer’s parents for raising him.

Garcia said:

“Mike was one of those strong pillars and cannot be replaced. We will all just have to work that much harder.”

Myke Whittington, a former San Jose police officer now working as an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, shared humorous stories of their time at the police academy and as beat partners:

“He was my superstar and I was his cheerleader.”

Whittington also recalled the times Katherman invited him to play basketball and practice martial arts.

Katherman’s father, Tom Katherman, noted his son’s love for ice cream was fostered at a young age through his mother, Diane, who would always take her sons out for the sweet treat after school on the coldest, rainiest days:

“Michael knows where every Baskin-Robbins and frozen yogurt shop is located within a 100-mile radius of San Jose.”

Michael Katherman had numerous hobbies that included fishing, martial arts, riding motorcycles and playing the guitar and drums, Tom Katherman said.

Michael Katherman also enjoyed baseball, was a San Francisco Giants fan and coached his sons’ little league teams, Tom Katherman said.

The 34-year-old man also enjoyed working with his hands and taught himself how to use a welder, Tom Katherman said.

During Michael Katherman’s time at Simpson College in Redding, he played basketball, traveled to China where he participated in clinics for children and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Tom Katherman and his family encouraged Michael in his law enforcement career that began when he entered the police academy in July 2005.

During a few police ride-alongs, Tom Katherman said he was impressed by his son’s professionalism on the job:

“We know that Mike’s passing is a shocking and stunning event. … It’s a blow to all of us and he will be sorely missed.”

Katherman was also vice president of the department’s Keith Kelley Club, an organization named after the first San Jose police officer who died while on active military duty, according to police Sgt. John Carr Jr.

The organization has a fund to support police officers in crisis and Katherman always checked if anyone in the department was in need, Carr said.

Katherman is the 13th San Jose police officer who died while on duty. His death comes a little over a year after Officer Michael Johnson, 38, was fatally shot by an armed man while responding to a distress call on March 24, 2015.

After Johnson’s death, Katherman called for commemorative T-shirts to assist the family, Carr said.

The crowd also watched a video taken during Katherman’s time at the academy that documented his journey to becoming an officer. Katherman talked about how he appreciated support from his wife and the rest of his family in his job.

San Jose police Officer Chau Pham was in the same academy class as Katherman, who he said had a “quiet confidence” and was a joker.

At the end of his remarks, Pham asked the crowd to stand up and say something to Michael, and in response the arena erupted in applause and whistles for the officer.

Over the center’s PA system, a police dispatcher called for all units to observe a moment of silence for Katherman. Afterwards, the honor guard played “Amazing Grace” with their bagpipes.

Austin Nielsen, Katherman’s friend from college, read aloud letters Josh and Jason addressed to their father. The boys wrote about how their dad teased their mom, took them on camping trips, “had cool police stuff,” and will be missed.

“Mike’s happy go lucky personality was coupled with a deep faith and willingness to put others before himself,” Nielsen said.

The service ended with a procession led by the honor guard, followed by eight pallbearers carrying Katherman’s casket and the officer’s family.

Outside the arena around 1:30 p.m., officers saluted to the procession as it made its way out on South Autumn Street. Katherman’s family stood outside to watch six police and sheriff’s helicopters fly over before departing in cars that followed the hearse.

The group was scheduled to take Interstate Highway 280 and U.S. Highway 101 for a private burial at a Gilroy cemetery Tuesday afternoon.

A number of agencies attended today’s memorial service including officers from Vallejo, Fresno, San Francisco, Pinole, Santa Cruz, Richmond, Fairfield, Pittsburg, Union City, Newark, Santa Rosa, San Leandro, Daly City, Santa Clara, Rohnert Park, Los Altos, Modesto, Watsonville, Elk Grove, Los Angeles Airport and California Highway Patrol. In addition, there were deputies from Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Sacramento, Placer and Santa Barbara counties.

The police department is looking for challenge coins to give to Katherman’s sons who collect them. The coins can be mailed to police Sgt. Paul Fontaine #3352 to 6087 Great Oaks Parkway, San Jose, CA 95119.

Donations to Katherman’s family can be made through the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. The police union is accepting funds online at http://www.sjpoa.com/Donations/Default.asp and by mail at 1151 N. Fourth St., San Jose, CA 95112.