Len Knott ended his career this week with proclamations and plaques. There was a ceremony at City Hall. There were testimonials and toasts.
But it was a bittersweet last day on the job Friday for the 41-year-old Redondo Beach police officer. A hero of the department and winner of the Medal of Valor, Knott was wounded last September by a gunshot to the face; despite two attempts to resume his 14-year police career, he has been forced by chronic and debilitating pain to retire.
“I’m going to miss the people,” Knott said last week. “It’s almost a family atmosphere here. This is not your usual run-of-the-mill-type business. People here really pull together, especially when times are tough.”
Knott knows about tough times.
On Sept. 19, he was writing a speeding ticket when word of a shooting in the 300 block of North Francisca Avenue crackled over his police radio. Knott rushed off to the scene, thinking it was a suicide attempt.
Halfway there, he recalled, “I got this funning feeling that I was going to get hurt on this call. But I kind of put it behind me. I thought, ‘I’m not clairvoyant, and I don’t believe in fortunetellers.’ ”
At the house where the shots had been reported, Knott and another officer banged on a garage door, then on the front door and finally kicked in the front door. It opened, but was stopped short by a dead man’s body. As the police stepped into the house, an armed man inside opened fire. He was shot dead by police, but not before Knott had been hit.
“It felt like a cement-filled football had hit me in the face,” he recalled. “It knocked me through the door and right out of the house.”
Face down and bleeding profusely from the mouth, the thoughts that flashed before his eyes were not of his life, but of the principles of first aid.
Knott sensed a fellow officer nearby and asked him to pinch off his carotid artery. He motioned to paramedics that his throat needed to be cleared because he was choking on his own blood. He wiggled his toes and fingers to make sure he could still move his extremities.
“I thought of things that would help me survive,” Knott said.
And, he thought of faith.
“My wife is a ‘born-again’ Christian,” he said. “I was raised a Catholic, but I’ve kind of trailed off over the years. I’ve gone to church, as kind of a husbandly duty. But it felt that day as if somebody was there, carrying me along. It was as if God was there for me, standing by.”
Somehow, he said, he felt sure he would survive.
As paramedics wheeled him into the emergency room at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, he could make out the shapes of colleagues in uniforms. Unable to speak, Knott thought he must reassure them, and raised his hand in a weak “thumbs-up” sign.
For three months, his jaw was wired shut, and his head was immobilized in a brace.
He received the city’s Medal of Valor. In May he returned to the traffic bureau.
But it was too soon. The bullet that had struck his face had shattered a vertebrae and herniated a disk in his neck. Simply sitting at a desk to write a report caused him excruciating pain. He was given more time to recover, returning again July 10 to a temporary desk job.
Today, the pain remains.
“Just driving down the street in my pickup is painful,” he said. “I can’t stand the up-and-down jarring--and I’m a guy who’s used to riding motorcycles.”
On Wednesday, Knott’s colleagues in Redondo Beach and Torrance surprised him with a testimonial at City Hall. Next month, a retirement dinner will honor the veteran officer and father of four.
But perhaps the most telling kudos has already been authorized by the department: Knott’s radio call sign, “Six-Motor-Nine” will never be assigned to another officer.
Traffic Lt. Ken Kauffman said he is the first officer in Redondo Beach history to have his call number retired.