By Paul J. Young
A 27-year-old Riverside County sheriff’s deputy killed in a crash while on patrol in San Jacinto was remembered Wednesday as a man who “wanted to put others before himself,” a dedicated law enforcement officer willing to take on difficult tasks to do the best job possible.
“Never in my worst nightmares did I think I’d be standing in front of another deputy’s family, mourning yet another death in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said during a memorial for Deputy Brett Michael Harris. “Brett was one of the good ones, a true friend and a hero. His passing may be something we’ll never be able to understand. It’s to a greater purpose with the Lord.”
Hundreds assembled in Grove Community Church in south Riverside on Wednesday morning to pay final respects to Harris, who was fatally injured in a collision during the predawn hours of May 12 while responding to a call for backup. Bianco noted that representatives from law enforcement agencies “near and far” were on hand to honor the lawman.
“It wasn’t just a job for Brett; it was a calling,” the sheriff said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. We were lucky to have him.”
Bianco said in a final act of selflessness, Harris had, prior to starting his law enforcement career, opted to be an organ donor. Upon his death on May 13, the peace officer’s heart, lungs, kidneys and liver were harvested “so that others may live,” the sheriff said.
“It was another example of how he wanted to put others before himself,” he said.
Harris’ watch commander Sgt. Jeremy Parsons described the fallen lawman as a “man built for public service.”
“I’m unbelievably proud of the deputy that Brett became,” Parsons said.
He said that in spite of only working in the field for 15 months, Harris committed himself to challenging duties, among them volunteering to spend extra hours investigating domestic violence and child abuse cases.
“When I told him, ‘You don’t have to take on so many tasks,’ his response was, ‘I want to make sure they’re done right,'” Parsons recalled. “His compassion, bravery and devotion will never be forgotten. I want him to know, Brett, you were a damn good deputy sheriff.”
His close friend, Deputy Carlos Mora, said he witnessed Harris “on countless times … go above and beyond.”
He nominated his friend to become a sheriff’s Explorer Scout adviser, at which Harris excelled.
“He was every bit the man we should all strive to be — caring, loving, thoughtful, loyal and dedicated,” Mora said.
Harris’ wife, Myreia Quinones, 28, of Menifee, described him as a “man’s man,” fond of guns, fast cars and tools, but also a fan of musical theater, choirs and comics.
“He was human. He made mistakes,” she said. “But at his core, he believed in justice and honor.”
Harris was gravely injured about 2:15 a.m. May 12 at Esplanade Avenue and State Street while heading to a call to assist a fellow deputy contending with a mentally disturbed San Jacinto resident, according to Bianco.
Harris was traveling westbound on Esplanade, and California Highway Patrol Officer Jason Montez said he entered the intersection at the same time as a Nissan Maxima, which was going north on State.
“The two vehicles crashed in the intersection, which is controlled by traffic lights,” Montez said. “After the collision, the sheriff’s patrol vehicle crashed into a light pole.”
The SUV was hit on the driver’s side.
Montez said the 54-year-old woman at the wheel of the Nissan, identified only as a Hemet resident, suffered minor injuries.
Montez did not specify which motorist was at fault — a determination that’s expected to be made at the end of the CHP’s investigation.
The following day, Harris died from what the sheriff described as a “catastrophic brain injury.”
Along with his wife, the deputy is survived by his parents, David and Lynn Harris, a twin sister, Briana, and an older brother, Dustin.
Harris graduated from the sheriff’s academy in 2019, and began his career in 2020 as a correctional deputy, serving at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta until January 2022, when he was transferred to patrol duty, assigned to the Hemet-San Jacinto station.
The Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Relief Foundation established a Help A Hero fundraiser for the fallen lawman: helpahero.com/campaign/deputy-brett-harris.
His was the third line-of-duty death since the end of last year.
On the afternoon of Dec. 29, 32-year-old Deputy Isaiah Albert Cordero was gunned down after he stopped a felon for a traffic violation in Jurupa Valley. The shooter was killed by pursuing deputies following a nearly two-hour chase that went through multiple cities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, ending on Interstate 15 in Norco.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, 30-year-old Deputy Darnell Calhoun was shot to death while investigating a domestic disturbance at a Lake Elsinore residence.
Jesse Navarro, 42, is charged with murder in that slaying. He was shot several times by a deputy summoned to assist Calhoun but has since recovered.