Fallen police sergeant gets ‘long overdue’ honor

The Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Project Committee held a sign dedication for Spokane’s Fallen Officers Memorial Project to honor SPD Sgt. Robbin B. Best, who died from a heart attack during a SWAT training exercise on Feb. 13, 1987. The plaque reveal ceremony was held Thursday on the indoor running track at Spokane Community College.

SPOKANE — About three dozen people packed shoulder to shoulder Thursday into a small section of the indoor track at Spokane Community College to honor a fallen Spokane police officer.

The track is where Sgt. Robbin B. Best, a 19-year department veteran and hostage negotiator, suffered a fatal heart attack while training with the SWAT team in 1987. Spokane’s Fallen Officers Memorial Project remembered him 33 years to the day of his death by unveiling a sign in his honor outside the entrance to the track at Walter S. Johnson Sports Center.

“This is long overdue,” Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl said to the group that included Best’s family, SWAT team members, people from his police academy class and Mayor Nadine Woodward.

Meidl said Best was known for bringing modern hostage negotiation tactics to the Spokane Police Department. Before that, the Lewis and Clark High School graduate drove tanks in the U.S. Army.

He is the most recent Spokane police officer to have died while on duty.

“He was well loved by everyone who worked for him,” said Meidl, who heard stories about Best when he joined the police department in 1994. “He achieved the epitome of what you want from your followers … they do not want to disappoint you.”

For years, the Spokane police SWAT team wore patches that said “Give it R. Best” in the former sergeant’s honor. A depiction of the patch remains in the armory today, and SWAT instructors grill recruits during training about knowing his story.

Mike Fortney was working as a lifeguard at the community college when Best suffered his heart attack. Best had become his friend while working security at Playfair Race Course. Best began training with the SWAT team at the community college while he was a student.

When he heard Best was in distress, Fortney rushed to the track, having just climbed out of the pool.

“I could tell it was affecting the officers,” said Fortney, who stepped in to perform CPR.

Fortney was the last one to touch Best before medical personnel arrived.

“We had a lot of good laughs,” Fortney said. “He’ll always have a place in my heart.”

Bob Walker, who served in one of the original Spokane police honor guards with Best, said the sergeant was “like a mother” watching over people in the department.

Best’s cousin, Donna Newman, who works at the community college, said Best was “the life of the party.”

“He was the oldest. He was the favorite. He was the coolest,” Newman said.

Best’s memorial sign was the first for a Spokane police officer and the second unveiled by the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Project Committee. The first was Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy James Slater, who died in a car crash south of Spokane in 2003. Each year, the memorial project will honor two to three local law enforcement officers who died on the job.

After the ceremony at the community college, some went to Fairmount Memorial Cemetery to dedicate a historical marker flag at Best’s grave. Sue Walker, of the Spokane Regional Law Enforcement Museum, said the flag is the first of 19 that will be placed in local cemeteries at the gravesites of local law enforcement who died while working.

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