By James Hohmann and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 3, 2008
He was a cop's cop, steely enough to be assigned to an elite enforcement squad, yet compassionate enough to spend $1,500 of his own money to buy an air-conditioning and heating system for a needy family he hardly knew.
Cpl. Richard Scott Findley, 39, was the boy who grew up playing flashlight tag, kickball and marbles in the streets of his Calverton neighborhood in northern Prince George's County. He was the jokester who joined the Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department at 19 and often had his fellow firefighters in stitches, even on 3 a.m. calls.
Many of those firefighters attended a viewing at a Beltsville funeral home yesterday for Findley, a county police officer who was slain in the line of duty last week. The viewing drew about 3,000 people, officers said. Some wept as they waited for more than two hours to pay their respects at Findley's closed coffin.
In the funeral home, roses, lilies and other flowers lined the walls, mourners said. Findley's widow, Kelly, also a Beltsville fire department volunteer, stood near a family portrait.
Mourners will gather again today for Findley's funeral, at which he will be remembered as a selfless servant and devoted family man.
Tobi Suarez, a property manager at a Laurel townhouse community, attended the viewing.
"This explains it all," said Suarez, pointing at the slow-moving lines of people. "He was just an outstanding human being. A real fine guy."
Findley died June 27 in Laurel when he was run down by what police described as two men driving a stolen pickup truck. Ronnie L. White, the 19-year-old charged with driving the truck, was found dead in his jail cell Sunday. His death was ruled a homicide, and federal and state officials are investigating.
At the funeral home yesterday, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) met with Findley's widow.
"He gave all his time to Prince George's County and actually gave his life to Prince George's County," Johnson said afterward.
Two weeks before he died, Findley carried out a drug bust that netted more than 400 grams of marijuana worth more than $8,000, said his supervisor, Lt. Eric Wooleyhand. Findley was so excited that at 2 a.m., he sent Wooleyhand a cellphone picture of himself holding the contraband.
"You couldn't ask for a better employee or a better police officer," Wooleyhand said, displaying the picture.
Findley's death inspired an outpouring of remembrances -- from the quiet Calverton neighborhood where he was raised in a modest 1960s-era brick house on Dunnington Road, to the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Upper Marlboro where retired officers rehearsed on bagpipes and drums for the funeral procession.
"There are multiple ways that people can volunteer, but he chose a path that not only gives to the community, but a path that he was willing to put his life on the line for the community every time he went out," said Karen Coakley, president of the Beltsville Citizens Association.
People who knew Findley said he was as committed to his family and work as he was to having fun. He was a wiry athlete who, at 5-foot-7, was one of the shorter players on the volleyball court, but he made up for it with an impressive vertical jump. The only recreational league games he missed were on Saturdays in the spring, when he volunteered as an emergency medical technician or helped at his daughters' gymnastics meets.
"He was like sunshine," said Diane Young, a longtime friend. "It was all about having a good time and being upbeat."
"He was a caring, helpful, citizen-oriented police officer," said Debbie Gallup, a police desk clerk. "He was out there to do what he could to help the community, and he was in here to make us laugh."
At the 6th District police station in Beltsville yesterday, Findley's Chevy Impala cruiser sat as a memorial. The rooftop light bar and hood of squad car No. 4474 were draped in black bunting. A bicycle helmet rested on the back window ledge.
At the funeral home on Powder Mill Road, the thoroughfare where Findley once directed traffic, a fire engine sat decorated with black bunting, its ladder extended into the sky and adorned with an American flag.
Growing up, Findley, who went by Rich, was funny and made friends easily, spending summer nights playing outdoors. As a Cub Scout, he displayed a competitive streak, racing ahead of the other scouts, said Jeanie Pope, his den mother.
"When you gave most of the kids one project, you'd have to give Richard two, because he was so quick," she said.
In the summers, Findley hung out at the community pool. "All the kids did. We used to call them pool rats," said Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's). "They just grew up there."
In 1987, Findley graduated from High Point High School. A year later, he joined the fire department. He worked as an EMT and a security guard before joining the Prince George's police department as a patrol officer June 22, 1998. Law enforcement runs in his blood -- his older sister, Debora A. Findley, is a Montgomery County police officer.
Working as an EMT, Findley met Suzanne L. Williams, whom he married. The couple divorced in 1996 after less than two years of marriage, but Findley remained close to her family.
"He was one of these guys you just can't throw away," said her father, Denis Frazier. "My wife and I kind of adopted him as our son."
Findley later married Kelly, and they moved to Carroll County to raise their daughters, Nicole, 9, and Lauren, 6. But he nurtured his roots, staying close to his childhood friends and returning to the Calverton pool every summer.
On the Prince George's police force, Findley became a "go-to guy," said Percy Alston, a retired officer and former president of the county police union. "I don't think he ever got in trouble."
Lt. Thomas Keiline said Findley would put in long hours. "He was a hard-working street guy," he said.
Findley was promoted to the 6th District's special enforcement unit, composed of five officers who often worked undercover investigating car thefts, drug trading and other crimes.
"Every time you had a tough assignment, you turned to Richard, and he did a phenomenal job with no complaining," said Capt. Scott Haines, a supervisor.
Findley became close friends with his training officer, Cpl. Steven Gaughan, the last county officer to be killed in the line of duty. He died in a shootout in 2005.
Findley had a tattoo on his leg of Gaughan's badge number. On his other leg was a tattoo of the Tazmanian Devil.
"He was a comedian," said Al Schwartz, the Beltsville fire department chief. "There wasn't anyone who didn't like Rich Findley."
A few nights ago, longtime friend Doug Young was yearning to hear Findley's voice. So he called his cellphone. Kelly Findley answered.
"She started crying," Young said. "She said she lets her little girls listen to the voice greeting message four or five times a day."
Staff writers Aaron C. Davis, Rosalind S. Helderman and Ovetta Wiggins and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.