OCEANSIDE: Bridge dedicated in honor of slain policeman

(CNS) – City officials Friday will dedicate a beach-area bridge
honoring an Oceanside police officer who was gunned down in the line of duty
by gang members more than six years ago.

The span over the San Luis Rey River on North Pacific Street just south
of Oceanside Harbor will be christened during the late-afternoon ceremony in
honor of Dan Bessant, who was felled by a sniper in a crime-ridden neighborhood
on Dec. 20, 2006.

About 6:30 that evening, Bessant, 25, was assisting a fellow officer
with a traffic stop at Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive when 17-year-old gang
member Meki Gaono shot him with a .22-caliber rifle from behind a brick mailbox
in front of a cohort's home about a half-block away. Bessant, a married father
of a 2-year-old son, died at a hospital a short time later.

Two gang associates with Gaono also opened fire in the direction of the
officers, but the shots from their pistols did not hit anyone, according to
police and prosecutors.

Gaono was convicted of first-degree murder in 2009 and sentenced to life
in prison without parole, plus 61 years. Co-defendant Penifoti Taeotui, who
was 16 at the time of the slaying, also was convicted of murder and ordered to
spend the rest of his life in prison, though he did not fire the fatal shot.

Citing insufficient evidence, a judge in 2008 dismissed all charges
against 17-year-old Jose Compre, the third gang member accused of taking part
in the shooting.

In a 2007 court filing, a prosecutor stated that the defendants had
targeted Bessant because he was serving as a neighborhood policing officer in
charge of instituting tougher enforcement in an area rife with gang violence.

In a grim coincidence, the victim's educator father, Steve Bessant, had
mentored his son's future killer when Gaono attended El Camino High School and
a continuation school.

Categories: KUSI