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Officer Robert J. Cote, Sr.
(April 24, 1946 – July 31, 1969)

Shortly after 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 31, 1969, LAPD Officer Robert J. Cote, Sr., 23, working alone in his patrol car, received a call of a robbery in progress, triggered by a silent alarm at the Woolworth’s Department Store at 1637 N. Vermont Ave., at the intersection with Hollywood Boulevard. When he arrived at the scene, a store security guard, David Gaunt, told Cote that there were two burglars inside the store, and both were armed. Gaunt had unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend one of them before leaving the store.

Cote, an LAPD officer for only 15 months, drew his service revolver and entered the store. Moments later, Gaunt heard gunshots, and Cote staggered back out of the store. “Call an ambulance, I’ve been shot,” Cote told Gaunt.

By this time, other police officers had arrived at the scene, and Cote was able to give them a description of the burglars.

One of the burglars surrendered without incident to LAPD Officer Ernesto F. “Ernie” Basset, but the other took a stock boy as a hostage, and attempt to escape through a rear door, armed with a .32-caliber automatic pistol.

The two would-be burglars gained access to the store from the roof the night before, and had been waiting inside for employees to open the store in the morning. They forced the store’s assistant manager, Richard Fields, and another employee to open the store’s safe in an upstairs office, took the money from the safe, ripped a telephone off the wall, and were attempting their getaway when Cote arrived at the scene.

Cote entered the store just at the two burglars were coming down the stairs from the second-floor office. One of the burglars exchanged gunfire with Cote, hitting the officer twice, in the leg and the side, then ran back up the stairs and attempted to take a female employee hostage. She begged him not to, and the store’s 18-year-old stock boy, Edward Wilhelm, volunteered that he had a key to the back door and would open it for the burglar.

Meanwhile, LAPD Officers Bert Graves and Tony Diaz arrived at the scene, and were waiting in the alley outside the store’s back door.

When the armed suspect and the stock boy came out of the store, the officers ordered the suspect to drop his gun and release his hostage. Instead, he fired a shot at the officers, released the stock boy, and started to run. Officer Graves returned fire with his shotgun, hitting the suspect. The stock boy was hit by one of the shotgun pellets, but was not seriously injured.

The burglary suspect was taken to County-USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about three hours later.

Meanwhile, Officer Cote was taken to Central Receiving Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour after arrival. The gunshot had severed his femoral artery, the main artery in the leg, and the officer bled to death.

Officers Cote and Basset were both awarded the LAPD’s Medal of Valor, the department’s highest honor, for bravery and actions above and beyond the call of duty.

Robert J. Cote, Sr., was born April 24, 1946, in Leominster, Massachusetts, about 50 miles northwest of Boston. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Ford Ord in Monterey, California, where he met and married Patricia Ann Wagner, on May 30, 1965.

After serving in Vietnam, Cote returned to California and joined the LAPD on April 21, 1968. The Cotes’ son, Robert Jr., was born the same year, on Dec. 19, 1968. Robert Jr., who was only 7 months old when his father was killed, followed him into a law enforcement career, and served with the police department in Cypress, California, southeast of Los Angeles, in Orange County.

While his father's police career lasted only 15 months before he was killed, Robert Cote Jr. retired as a police sergeant in December 2018, after a career of more than 26 years in law enforcement.

After Officer Cote’s death, the Los Angeles City Council ordered an investigation into the emergency procedures at Central Receiving Hospital, to determine if they contributed to the officer’s death.

City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, who requested the investigation, asked why Cote was taken to the hospital at 1401 W. 6th St., “transported four miles through heavily congested city streets,” instead of being taken to any of the five private hospitals with emergency medical facilities within three blocks of the shooting scene.

According to Snyder, injured police officers and firefighters are required to be taken to the nearest hospital.

In response, Dr. M.X. Anderson, superintendent of Central Receiving Hospital, said during a City Council hearing that five doctors and eight or nine nurses were waiting to treat Officer Cote when an ambulance crew and two motorcycle officers arrived with the injured officer.

Dr. Anderson noted that Officer Cote’s femoral artery had been severed, and “I don’t think anyone on God’s earth could have saved him.” Anderson said that, even if Cote had been shot in the lobby of the hospital, it’s unlikely that he would have survived. Dr. Anderson also noted that, had Officer Cote been taken to one of the other nearby hospitals, he would have waited for up to 45 minutes for treatment.

Other City Council members accused Snyder of attempting to make “political hay” over Cote’s death.

L.A. Councilman Gilbert W. Lindsay, chairman of the council’s Public Health and Welfare Committee, said to Snyder, “This is the cheapest political trick I have ever seen.”

While the debate in the City Council continued, funeral services for Officer Cote were held at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, in Canoga Park, with burial at San Fernando Mission Cemetery. On his grave marker are messages from his widow: "Darling, my love will be forever, my devotion unending. Always yours, Pat" -- and his young son: "Daddy, From heaven guide my 1st step, and give me courage for the rest. Love, Bobby."

Officer Cote’s memorial sign is located on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard, west of Vermont Avenue.

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