On Feb. 4, 1946, Officer Walter Kesterson of the Los Angeles Police Department was working in plain clothes near the Los Angeles Coliseum. Nearby, bandits robbed a movie theater of $90, threatening the teller at gunpoint. Kesterson and his partner spotted two men who fit the description of the suspects standing on the corner of 43rd Place and Avalon Boulevard. Kesterson got out of the car, but the suspects pegged him for a cop. One of the men pulled a .38 revolver and shot Kesterson, 51, in the chest. Mortally wounded, Kesterson returned fire, killing both suspects. Detectives later learned that one of the suspects had murdered a Vernon, Calif., officer.
Kesterson was the first officer of the Metropolitan Division of the LAPD to be killed in action. His picture hangs on the wall inside the Metro Division station, and an LAPD valor award is named for him.
But other than the fact that his bravery and his marksmanship are well honored in LAPD lore, Kesterson was never decorated for the action that killed him. Later this year, the department hopes to give Kesterson his due and award him the Medal of Valor. The commendation by the department must be approved by the ultra-liberal Los Angeles Police Commission, but it is expected to make the cut. Kesterson's 78-year-old nephew plans to attend the ceremony.
"There is no statute of limitation on heroism," Capt. Scott Kroeber of the Metro Division told the Los Angeles Times. Kroeber decided to take up Kesterson's case when he read accounts of the shooting two years ago in a Los Angeles Police Historical Society article. The article noted that Kesterson did not receive a commendation. "He's part of the legend and lore of Metro. We don't glorify violence, but we do honor courage," Kroeber said to the Times.