Laid-back surfer dude.
That’s the impression a Fullerton PD higher-up got when he first set eyes on Matt Malone who, at 24, walked into the PD one day in March 1988 — the saltwater barely washed out of his blonde locks — and told the officer he wanted to become a cop.
“Is this really what you want to do?” the officer asked Malone. “You seem to be a relaxed, chill kind of dude.”
That Malone was – and remains.
But such a demeanor has proven to be a huge asset to Malone who, on Thursday, April 28, donned his uniform for the last time after a 28-year career at the FPD as colleagues past and present, Fullerton firefighters, city officials, and family and friends paid tribute to Malone at a Walk of Honor ceremony.
Launched last year for the retirement of Sgt. Tak Kim, the Walk of Honor — modeled after a similar ceremony at the Chino PD — sends off an honorably retiring officer in style, with a gauntlet-like walk past well-wishers, a presentation of a retirement badge by Chief Dan Hughes, comments from colleagues and cupcakes and other goodies.
“I have a very calming personality –– I’m very low key,” Malone said of his cop persona.
Such a style proved beneficial during one of the most memorable investigations of Malone’s career, which ended with 12 years of detective work, mostly on the Crimes Person Unit, which handles homicides, robberies, assaults and the like.
When Malone briefly served as a detective on the FPD’s Family Crimes Unit, which handles rapes, sexual assaults, domestic violence and child molestations, he got a suspect to confess after hours of low-key questioning.
It was July 2004, and Malone was new to the unit.
The suspect was a 19-year-old who was dating a 44-year-old woman. The woman told the FPD her boyfriend had, over a period of several months, molested her two sons, 6 and 7, and daughters, 9 and 10.
“You have to build a rapport in order to get a suspect to confess,” said Malone, demonstrating how he leaned in close to the suspect and told him things like, “It’s OK man, I know,” as he patted him on the forearm.
“I never yelled and screamed at him,” Malone said. “He finally confessed to it all.”
That confession was key to the man’s conviction, which put him in state prison for 55 years to life.
Malone, 52, had an even higher-profile case at the FPD.
In April 2009, he was assigned as lead investigator in one of the biggest cases in recent Fullerton history: the traffic collision that resulted in the murders of Courtney Stewart, Henry Pearson and Anaheim Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart. The driver was sentenced to 51 years to life in prison.
In the days after the horrific crash, Malone paid a visit to the home of Courtney’s mother.
Courtney was a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton and had been driving when the collision occurred.
Malone delivered to Courtney’s mom her country music-loving daughter’s key chain, which was a small leather boot with a pink key.
“We sat for a while and she cried and told lots of stories about her daughter,” said Malone, whose soft touch endeared him to Courtney’s family and the families of the other victims during the emotionally charged trial.
A thank-you card from Former Cal State Fullerton baseball player Jon Wilhite, who survived the April 2009 crash, sat in Malone’s workstation until he cleaned it out before his last day as a full-time cop (he will return as a reserve in investigations, working 20 hours a month).
Before he was hired full time at the FPD, Malone was going through its reserve academy.
He had a job offer at the Anaheim PD, and when he told his FPD superiors about that, they soon offered him a full-time position.
“It’s like family here,” said Malone, who was raised in a Catholic family of six kids in La Mirada. He attended St. Paul of the Cross High in La Mirada for two years before switching to La Mirada High, from where he graduated in 1982.
Malone became interested in law enforcement after hearing stories from a lieutenant at the LAPD who was a friend of his father, a salesman for Farmer John. The father of Malone’s high school pal also worked for the LAPD — as a motor officer.
After dabbling a bit in junior colleges, Malone soon decided to give law enforcement a try.
And he never looked back.
After spending eight years on patrol, Malone spent seven years as a motor officer.
He then transferred to general investigations in December 2003. During this time, Malone was a member of the Fullerton and North County SWAT teams for 12 years — earning the nickname “Mayhem” for the patterns he left on shooting targets.
In 2004, Malone transferred to the Family Crimes Unit and soon after moved over to Crimes Persons, where he finished his career as a corporal.
In 2014, his peers named him Detective of the Year.
During the Walk of Honor ceremony April 28, City Manager Joe Felz thanked Malone for his service on behalf of the City Council.
Det. Barry Coffman, a close friend, presented Malone with a plaque that honored his 12 years as an investigator.
The plaque read:
No great honor will ever be bestowed on an officer or a more profound duty imposed on him than when he is entrusted with the investigation of the death of a human being
Malone said “it was just time” to retire.
He still surfs some, but an ear problem prevents him from going into the water more often.
Hiking is more his bag these days.
Malone’s wife, Erin, is a well-known child safety guru with a particular expertise in car seats for children. Together she and Malone are raising daughter Madison, 18, who will graduate from high school this spring and son Ryan, 20, who works at Disneyland.
Three of Malone’s FPD colleagues had the following to say about their just-retired peer and friend:
Sgt. Matt Rowe:
During my time supervising Matt, I came to find that he is a top-notch detective. Matt did not cut corners. He took the time to investigate his cases thoroughly and effectively, and did so with a sense of humor that everyone around him appreciated. The Crimes Persons Unit is thankful Matt will return as a reserve and continue to assist with cases. His knowledge and humor will be missed on a daily basis, but at least we’ll get him one day a week. “CHEERS!” as Matt would say.
Det. Barry Coffman:
Matt and I have worked 26 years together. We started out in patrol but he later went off to be a motor officer for a few years. We met back up working in the Crimes Against Persons investigations unit where he is now finishing his career after being a detective for the past 12 years. We’ve worked many cases together including homicides, officer-involved shootings and kidnappings, just to name a few. Matt was always the first one in the office when we’d get called in to work in the middle of the night. We also shared a common interest of being San Diego Charger fans. He and I have gone to every home game over the past 10 years. Matt was always a dependable work partner and a dependable friend.
Lt. Andrew Goodrich:
I’ve known Matt for most of my career. When I was a property crimes detective a decade ago, he was a Crimes Persons detective. As the manager of our Investigation Bureau, I have had a lot of contact with Matt. He has always been straightforward and determined. He is a superior detective and very hard working. Although Matt is returning as a reserve officer for us, we will still be losing a wealth of experience and knowledge when he retires. He will be sorely missed by me, his detective unit and the entire department.
Malone was asked what it takes to be a good detective.
“Listening,” he said. “Just listening.”
Then he added, “patience.”
He forgot one thing:
Having that surfer-vibe thing.