Albert ‘Al’ Patch died in the line of duty 35 years ago

Story by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
Video by Jeff Baur, CDCR Television Specialist

Despite the blazing sun, a breeze blew across the grounds of the California Medical Facility (CMF) as the flag was lowered to half-staff to honor Correctional Officer Albert “Al” Patch, killed in the line of duty 35 years ago.

“Thirty-five years ago today, Officer Patch came to work like he had every day for the previous 16 years, but on that day Officer Patch did not get to go home at the end of his shift,” said CMF Warden Robert Fox during the Aug. 17 ceremony.

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Patch was on duty at CMF when a fight broke out between a group of inmates. Patch, while attempting to break up the fight, was fatally stabbed. It was the first and only staff homicide CMF has had since it opened in 1955.

Current and retired staff from CMF and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) gathered at the prison to dedicate a monument in remembrance of Patch’s ultimate sacrifice to public safety. While a photograph and plaque have hung at CMF to remember Patch, Warden Fox, CMF Associate Warden Gary Thumser and the rest of the CMF family decided it was time to put something more prominent on institution grounds.

“This monument will stand not only as a memorial, but as a simple act of praise for all that work behind the wall,” said CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan, who spent part of his career working at CMF. “We must remember our brothers and sisters who day in and day out do a job that not many can do.”

Kernan and CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard both addressed the crowd, thanking not only Officer Patch for his sacrifice, but also all current and former CDCR employees for their hard work.

“This can be a tough and challenging job at times, and I want to thank all CDCR staff for their service to the department and to the state,” Beard said. “The work they do is important. It makes a real difference to the department and to the state. I think that was something that Officer Patch was keenly aware of.”

Indeed, Patch’s friends, family and co-workers all remember him as a kind, loyal, dedicated man who took pride in his work and loved his family dearly. His daughter, Kimberly Patch, was 17 when her father was killed. She said she was very moved by the dedication ceremony and how CMF has honored her father’s memory over the years.

“I was so honored – I’m so glad I could be here today,” she said in between greeting a line of people waiting to tell her how much they loved her dad. “He’s very deserving of it, as they were saying – everything they were saying and beyond.”

Jose Cueva, who retired as an Associate Warden at Calipatria State Prison, spent most of his career at CMF. He was the Watch Sergeant on the day Patch was killed, and said it was in Patch’s character to jump in and help any way he could. He recounted how staff also sprang into action, quickly securing the institution and how staff from headquarters and other institutions began arriving by the busload to help.

“I take a lot of pride and I’m proud that the staff responded as they were trained to respond to an incident of such magnitude.”

Cueva remembered how not only were staff members devastated by Patch’s murder, but CMF inmates were also saddened, as Patch was a kind, professional officer who treated inmates with respect. One memory that sticks out for Cueva is how, in the days after Patch’s death, an inmate who could not read or write created a large, colorful card to share his condolences with Patch’s family.

As CMF began to raise funds for the monument, one group that stepped up to offer support was the California Crime Victims Coalition (CCVC). Comprised of CDCR staff and staff from other state law enforcement agencies, CCVC members offer support to law enforcement in times of crisis, from helping families who have lost a loved one to delivering food to institutions during major events. Not only did CCVC step up and pay for the monument, its members also donated to CMF to hold the memorial ceremony.

CCVC board member Sgt. Gerardo Arteaga and his wife, Tina, traveled from San Diego, where Arteaga works at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, to represent the organization at the event.

“At CDCR, you find that even though we have thousands of employees, we’re one very small family,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody, and if not you know somebody who knows somebody.”

Several organizations contributed to the memorial event, including the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, California Correctional Supervisors Association, Volunteers of Vacaville and even Chick-fil-A, which provided food for the event.

Looking out at the crowd, retired CMF Warden Anna Ramirez-Palmer commented that she was grateful the ceremony included a moment of silence for Patch, as it represented the 35th anniversary of the “first moment of silence” – the hush that fell over CMF as the tight-knit institution family mourned its fallen brother.

“I really saw the staff come together,” she remembered. “People who might have had misunderstandings – there were no enemies on that day. We were all one huge family, and that’s a feeling that I’ll never forget. It’s a feeling that we should remember.”