Remembering the Fallen: Officer Michael Deno

For those in law enforcement the danger never leaves and sometimes the pain always lingers. Grief and sorrow have gripped the communities of Gary, Ind. and Indianapolis after two officers were fatally shot in the line of duty. A small Tri-State police department knows the feeling all too well after losing one of it's own in 2000.
Officer Michael Deno of the Oakland City Police Department is laid to rest in March 2000.
Officer Michael Deno of the Oakland City Police Department is laid to rest in March 2000.
Officer Michael Deno is laid to rest in March 2000 after being fatally shot in the line of duty.
Officer Michael Deno is laid to rest in March 2000 after being fatally shot in the line of duty.

For those in law enforcement and the danger never leaves and sometimes the pain continues to linger. Grief and sorrow have gripped the communities of Gary, Ind. and Indianapolis after two officers were fatally shot in the line of duty. A small Tri-State police department knows the feeling all too well after losing one of it's own in 2000.

Officer Michael Deno of the Oakland City Police Department was the most recent Tri-State officer killed in the line of duty. Even today, Deno's death still prompts a flood of emotion from those who knew him best.

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The loss never leaves. The hurt never ceases. For Patrolman Mike Nichols, however, life persists.

"It was definitely the worst day of my life both in my law enforcement career and as a person actually," Nichols said.

It was February 28th, 2000. Oakland City Police Officer Michael Deno initiated a traffic stop on a man he knew was driving on a suspended license.

During the traffic stop, the suspect pulled out a small-caliber handgun from his back pocket and shot Officer Deno in the head. Deno was taken to a local hospital.

Nichols had only been police chief for a little more than a month. He was off-duty at the time Deno was shot, he said. After hearing the call over dispatch, Nichols rushed to the hospital.

"It was rough with the family down there," Nichols said. "Everyone was there. We came to find out that there wasn't anything [the doctors] could do," Nichols said as he fought back tears. "That was the hardest part. I just didn't have time to say goodbye."

There was nothing Deno could do to avoid the shooting either, Nichols said. The suspect ambushed Deno but was caught a short time later. He is now serving a life sentence.
 
Even though Deno had only been on the force for a year, his funeral drew thousands. Troopers, deputies, officers and perfect strangers came to pay their respects. Thousands of law enforcement officers from all over the country attended Deno's funeral, Nichols said. There were countless images Nichols will never forget but perhaps it's the police dog climbing into Deno's casket, tail wagging, that sticks with him the most.

The sorry that Nichols felt that day is the same sorrow he feels on this one.

"It's pretty tough. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it," Nichols said as he fought back tears. "I've got to drive down the street where it happened. I visit the cemetery quite often. I'll drive out there and visit his grave. Yea, it's tough."

The rain fell and there was a bite in the air on the day Deno was buried. Perhaps, in a way, it was fitting because the Tri-State was mourning that day.

Even though it's been 14 years, Nichols said it feels like it happened yesterday; the pain lingers.

Life persists and so do Nichols' memories of his fallen friend.

"Nothing like that goes away. You always think about it every day of the job," Nichols said. "You take that with you. It haunts you."

The entire Oakland City Police Department offers it's condolences to those in Gary and Indianapolis, Nichols said.

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