Honoring our Heroes

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

In observation of National Police Week, the Tulalip Police Department hosted the second annual Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremony. The gathering brought together the families of TPD officers William Williams Sr. and Charlie Cortez, who both died in the line of duty while serving the Tulalip community. 

The ceremony took place at the Gathering Hall on the afternoon of May 15, and though it was only one-hour long, the event provided a space for the families and community to heal while paying tribute to those two brave tribal members who paid the ultimate sacrifice while defending their treaty rights and homelands.

Said Tulalip Chief of Police, Chris Sutter, “At this ceremony, we honored William Williams Sr. who died in the line of duty on July 15, 1965. He was a fisheries patrol officer. We also honored officer Charlie Joe Cortez, who also was taken in the line of duty on November 17, 2020. It is really important that we, as a police department and a community, gather each Police Officer Memorial Day. Our two fallen officers represent the dedication and commitment to this profession, and their loyalty and their service to their community. And we plan to continue this tradition, to always remember their sacrifice in the line of service.”

Taken too soon, at the age of 29, TPD Fish and Wildlife Officer Charlie Cortez’s End of Watch date in November of 2020 came while on duty, after assisting a distressed boater in rough and stormy conditions. Charlie’s fisheries vessel capsized in the Salish Sea. After a two-day search and recovery mission, Officer Cortez was pronounced lost at sea and his body has yet to be recovered and returned home to his family. 

On the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website dedicated to the memory of all of the fallen officers across the nation, Williams’ dedication states that he drowned while patrolling Quil Ceda Creek in July of 1965. He was reported missing after his boat was found unoccupied. His body was recovered along the creek in the days following, just west of the I-5 overpass in Marysville. 

Young drummers and dancers from Quil Ceda Elementary attended the Peace Officers Memorial Day gathering to offer medicine through song and dance. In addition to the traditional songs by the young culture bearers, there were live performances of the National Anthem and a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace. There was also a streamer ceremony held for Officer Williams. 

A special moment took place for Dominic and Peyton Cortez during the ceremony. A couple of years ago, a non-profit motorcycle run called Beyond the Call of Duty, paid tribute to Charlie by customizing a bike in his honor and sharing his story while riding all throughout the country. Allison McCarter, who rode Charlie’s motorcycle during the run, attended this year’s ceremony to present a shroud to Charlie’s children. 

Several guest speakers, including TPD’s own Angela Davis and Chris Gobin, as well as a handful of Tulalip BOD members, shared words to uplift the families, while taking time to reflect on the lives of Officer Williams and Officer Cortez. Both of the families found comfort in the showing of support from the community.  

“For me, it’s heartwarming. It touches my heart to see people take time out of their day to show their respects and let us know they care,” expressed Charlie’s mom, Paula Cortez. “I think it’s important for the community to take some time to pause and recognize our fallen officers. When the department puts on events for the families, it’s important for the survivors to see that recognition. It provides healing, and it feels good to stand together in unity with the other family as well.”

As Chief Sutter mentioned, the Tulalip Police Department plans to hold the Honoring Our Heroes event every year on Peace Officers Memorial Day to bring healing to the community and recognize fallen officers who died in the line of duty while protecting Tulalip.

“We had a really lovely experience at the Gathering Hall,” said Chief Sutter. “As a police department, we’re striving to give exceptional police services to our community. I have high confidence in the men and women of the Tulalip tribal police department, and I really stress the importance of our core operating value – that as we go out to serve, that we’re peacemakers and problem solvers, and that we’re going the extra mile to help our Tulalip tribal members. And oftentimes our interactions are not criminal in nature, it’s more helping people and finding resources for people. I’m just very proud of the great work that we do.”


Family of Officer Cortez unveils headstone memorial

Photo courtesy of Teri Nelson

This coming November will mark the fourth year since Tulalip tribal member and Fish and Wildlife Officer, Charlie Cortez, was pronounced lost at sea. And ever since that stormy night when Charlie’s vessel was capsized, his presence has been greatly missed by his loved ones, his fellow TPD officers, and the community who watched him grow up on the reservation and on the local motorcross circuit. 

Through the initial period of shock and grief, the Cortez family found comfort in the support from both the Tulalip and law enforcement community, who ensured that Charlie’s memory will live on through the passage of time. Charlie’s name can be found etched on memorial walls in Olympia, Spokane, and Washington D.C. And the Tribe also dedicated the new Marina building in his honor.

This past weekend, on May 18, Charlie’s loved ones, Tulalip board members, and several TPD officers, gathered at the Mission Beach Cemetery as the family unveiled a beautiful memorial headstone for Officer Cortez. 

Prior to the unveiling, Paula got the first glimpse of the memorial stone, and she admitted that she was initially upset because the headstone was facing the wrong direction. However, she decided to leave it as is after her mom pointed out that Charlie’s photo is facing Salish Sea and that ‘he’s keeping an eye out on the water to make sure everybody stays safe’.  

The headstone shares the message, ‘you will always be remembered’ as well as his End of Watch date, November 17, 2020. The memorial also features an image of an elk, as Charlie enjoyed exercising his treaty rights and hunting with his dad. The unveiling included a blessing from tribal drummers, as well as some encouraging words from Tulalip BOD members and TPD officers. 

Said Paula, “I just want to thank everybody who has been there to support us all along the way. It really touched my heart this last weekend to see those who came forward to support us. I felt like placing the stone at the cemetery would provide the kids a more private place for them to visit. It gives them the opportunity to be alone with him and place a little trinket on his stone. I just felt we needed a place for the family, and any of his friends or the community, and I wanted it to be placed by our family.”

Tulalip hero, Charlie Cortez, continues to live on in spirit – in the hearts of his loved ones and in the memories of his fellow brothers and sisters in blue. As mentioned before, in addition to the new memorial stone, Charlie’s name is forever displayed on memorial walls throughout the entire nation. And therefore, his legacy and story of valor will be shared for generations into the future, from Tulalip all the way to Washington D.C.