Dan Walters, a San Diego Padres player-turned-San Diego police officer who died in the spring of 2020 was honored Wednesday with a long-overdue police procession through the East County and a memorial highlighting his legacy -- never to be forgotten.
SDPD Officer Dan Walters, 53, died on April 23, 2020, from health complications stemming from injuries he suffered in 2003 when he was shot on the job.
At the time of his death, the Padres and the San Diego Police Department mourned his loss on social media; the county was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, so a proper goodbye for the beloved officer was just not safe or possible. The police memorial for Walters was postponed.
But on Wednesday, Walters’ colleagues finally had their chance to send off the officer with a much-deserved farewell.
A “Line of Duty Death” procession for Walters began at 6:30 a.m. at San Diego State University and traveled to Shadow Mountain Church on Greenfield Drive in El Cajon via eastbound Interstate 8.
The procession included first responders stationed on overpasses along I-8 in San Diego’s East County, between College Avenue to Greenfield Drive.
At 9 a.m., a law enforcement memorial service for Walters was held at Shadow Mountain Church. After the memorial, a procession was planned from the church to El Camino Memorial Cemetery on Carroll Canyon Road.
SDPD Remembers: 'Never Forget Dan Walters'
Chuck Price, a chaplain for the SDPD, opened the memorial service by playing an archived news video about Walters from former longtime NBC 7 reporter Gene Cubbison.
Price said the day dedicated to Walters had been a long time coming.
“This memorial, this tribute to Dan Walters has been a long time coming – and not just since April 23, 2020. This has been a long time coming since Nov. 12, 2003,” Price said. “Today is the day we celebrate the life of an incredible man – an athlete, a son, a friend, a nephew, an uncle, a warrior – who stood valiantly and fought even on the thin blue line.”
Price described Walters as “bigger than life” in both his personality and his 6-foot-5 stature.
SDPD Chief Nisliet spoke next, saying Walters “was all about San Diego” – from growing up in San Diego County and going on to play professional baseball for the Padres, to joining the police department.
“He was an outstanding cop,” Nisleit said.
Nisleit – a self-professed sports nerd – said he remembers watching Walters as a Padre.
Everyone in the department knew of him.
“Of course, when he joined the San Diego Police Department, you heard about Dan Walters, the former Padre catcher, joining the ranks for the San Diego Police Department,” Nisleit said.
The chief said he will forever cherish the conversation he had with Walters over the years about his love of police work, his love of baseball, and his love of his family.
“One thing that really resonated with me was Dan always wanted to make certain he was not forgotten,” Nisleit said. “Not forgotten while he was alive, not forgotten after his passing – it was very important to him – the love of his profession, the love of his PD family. It’s just way too long that we weren’t able to honor Dan.”
Knowing how important it was to Walters to never be forgotten, the chief had one request for the room filled with law enforcement officers at the memorial:
“My ask of everybody in this room – of every law enforcement brother and sister – is this: Never forget Dan Walters. Never forget the sacrifice that Dan Walters made,” Nisleit said. “Never forget what Dan Walters stood for – and that was family, that was protection. He was a warrior; he fought through injuries in his professional career in baseball, he fought through injuries and fought like hell after his injury to stay with us for all that time.”
“Dan, you’ll never be forgotten,” the chief continued. “May you rest in peace. Thank you for everything you’ve done for this police department. Thank you for standing on the thin blue line. We got it from here, bud.”
Many other friends and loved ones spoke at Walters’ memorial service Wednesday including Reggie Waller, a former Houston Astros scout-turned-baseball executive who drafted Walters in 1984.
He fondly remembered the “tall, gawky kid” who turned out to be an incredible ballplayer – and an even better human being.
Waller lamented that, because of the pandemic, he never did get to have a final lunch outing with his friend, but also promised to keep Walters’ legacy alive.
“We’re going to make sure that he’s not forgotten,” Waller said at the service.
Walters was remembered by loved ones as a man who lived with great compassion – no matter the physical pain and medical struggles he had long lived with.
SDPD Officer Dan Walters' Legacy
Walters was born in Brunswick, Maine, but moved to San Diego County, where he graduated from Santana High School in Santee.
A right-handed catcher, Walters made his Major League Baseball debut with the Padres on June 1, 1992, at the age of 25. He played two seasons and 84 career games with the Friars and hung up his mitt in May of 1993.
Walters then went from Major League Baseball to a major career move: he became an officer with the San Diego Police Department, hired as a police recruit on Nov. 30, 1998.
On Nov. 12, 2003, his whole life changed when he was shot while in the line of duty.
That night, Walters and rookie SDPD Officer Aaron Hildreth were on routine patrol on 43rd Street when they stopped to help SDPD Officer Henry Ingraham, who was approaching a suspicious man standing between two cars.
As Ingraham stepped closer to the suspect, the man opened fire. Walters and Hildreth were getting out of their patrol car and the suspect shot Walters on the neck, severely wounding him. A passing motorist then hit Walters, further adding to his injuries.
Hildreth – just 19 days out of SDPD training – fired his service weapon at the suspect and killed him, according to the San Diego Police Museum. Walters was awarded the Medal for Valor and the SDPD Purple Heart for trying to help Ingraham amid the threat of gunfire. Hildreth was awarded the Medal of Valor.
The shooting left Walters paralyzed from the neck down.
He would go on to have several medical procedures as a result of his wounds, SDPD public information officer Adam Sharki said.
At the SDPD memorial on Wednesday, Nisleit said Hildreth was there, paying his respects. The chief also acknowleged the many friends and colleagues who took care of Walters over the past two decades after he was injured in the line of duty.
Ten years after the shooting, Walters spoke with Fred Dickey for a moving story for the San Diego Union-Tribune. In the piece, Walters spoke about the day he was shot in the line of duty.
He recalled lunging at the shooter, and how the suspect then put the gun to the back of Walters’ neck and fired. Walters told Dickey that the moment he was shot, he thought he was dead. Then he was hit by the car.
When he regained consciousness, according to the U-T piece, Walters said he realized he “couldn’t move a muscle.”
In that story, Walters also spoke in-depth about his life and how he didn’t want to be forgotten.
The police procession for Walters on Wednesday, although nearly 14 months after his death, fulfilled Walters' wishes.
Nisleit said Walters would be memorialized on SDPD's wall of fallen officers in San Diego. Nisleit said this October, Walters' name would also be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Wall in Washington, D.C. He urged San Diego police officers to stop by the wall to remember Walter if they're ever visiting D.C.
Wednesday's tribute to Walters in the city he loved ended with a final special moment at Petco Park in downtown San Diego. At the Padres vs. Marlins game, the San Diego Padres displayed a photo of Walter, in memoriam, on the mega screen. In the photo, Walters was outfitted in his Padres jersey. The SDPD tweeted about it, grateful for the goodbye.