A gardener tilling a flower bed at a strip mall in Downey has unearthed the stolen badge of the only Downey police officer to die in the line of duty, officials said.
The officer, 37-year-old Wayne Presley, was killed in April 1981, when his motorcycle was struck by a speeding drunk driver. His badge had been put on display in the Downey Police Department lobby.
On Dec. 3, 1996, a surveillance camera in the lobby captured the image of a man stealing the display case containing the badge.
Officers recognized the man, a "disgruntled citizen" who was arrested, convicted of theft and sentenced to probation, said Lt. Jim Heckel, a department spokesman. "We didn't find the badge, and he wouldn't tell us what he'd done with it."
On Saturday, gardener Manuel Perez was tending the strip mall flower bed when he dug up the badge -- scratched, tarnished, encrusted with dirt but in surprisingly good condition, officers said.
"It's an important symbol to us," Heckel said Wednesday. "It has a lot of sentimental value. We're glad to get it back."
Heckel said a replacement badge has been on display, under Presley's picture, but attempts will be made to restore the original.