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Old 04-01-2007, 01:45 PM
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GySgt Joseph E. LeClaire, Jr., USMC, (Ret.), 53, Philadelphia, PA

Arlington National Cemetery

Joseph E. LeClaire, Jr.
Sergeant, United States Marine Corps

Warrant officer's killing sparks nationwide drive for protective gear
Monday, June 14, 2004
By Stephanie Daye
Journal staff writer

Since the age of 17, former Hudson County resident Joseph E. LeClaire Jr. had served his country.

A U.S. Marine who saw action from Vietnam to Desert Storm, LeClaire, who grew up in Jersey City and Union City, became a warrant officer in Philadelphia in 1995. Three months ago, authorities said LeClaire became the first Philadelphia warrant officer to die in the line of duty after he was killed in a gun battle with a wanted man.

But even after his death, LeClaire continues to serve the public - as the inspiration for a nationwide effort to adopt better protective gear for court officers.

LeClaire, 53, who grew up in Jersey City and attended Emerson High School in Union City, was a warrant unit field supervisor with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. On March 19, he was fatally shot in the head and stomach while he and two other officers attempted to serve a bench warrant on a fugitive - who had a lengthy criminal record, including prison time for convictions on aggravated assault and robbery - wanted for failing to appear in court to answer drug and rape charges.

LeClaire's nephew, John Conklin, said that throughout his life, he looked up to his uncle.

"He was my dad, mentor and friend," Conklin said. "I took him for granted. He was my uncle, and when I realized how many lives he touched, I realized he wasn't just my uncle."

Now LeClaire's death has inspired Conklin to take action. Conklin, a resident of Bergen County, said he was shocked to learn that his uncle and other domestic officers aren't required to wear full body armor, even while serving warrants to dangerous fugitives.

"There is no funding for the domestic police officers fighting a war here every day in the United States," Conklin said. "Their vests are not designed properly. If there was a law that said they would have to wear it, these boys would wear it."

Conklin, who has never been a political activist, is now turning to the public for support in creating new federal legislation that will require the use of better protective gear for domestic officers.

LeClaire and two other officers had knocked on the door of an apartment in the Germantown section of Philadelphia during a search for Darien Houser, 40, at about 2 a.m. on March 19, said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. A woman opened the door and the officers, who were armed and wearing uniforms, identified themselves as court officers, Johnson said.

"As soon as the door was open, and they took their first steps in, shots started ringing out," he said.

LeClaire was wearing a bullet-proof vest, but it only covered his chest, so it did not stop the bullet to his abdomen. Warrant Investigator Carlo Delborrello, 29, also was hit in the abdomen below his vest, but survived. The third officer, Senior Warrant Investigator Vincent DiSandro, 37, was shot in the hand.

Houser, who was shot in the back and leg, tried to flee but was captured a short time later, authorities said. He will face a charge of murder in connection to LeClaire's slaying.

Investigators refused to release more details about the circumstances of LeClaire's death.

In an effort to prevent a similar tragedy, Conklin is aiming to get a federal law passed, through petitioning, that would require warrant officers to wear better body armor, including helmets, for enhanced protection.

"They say it's a state issue," Conklin said. "I don't think it's a state issue, it's a national issue."

Conklin said he plans to do whatever it takes to influence change. He said he's especially hoping to find support in Hudson County - at malls, supermarkets, homes, and other places - because this is where his uncle grew up.

"Hopefully, I can get people behind me," he said.

LeClaire was born on Feb. 23, 1951, at a Newark hospital. He was one of the middle of six children. His siblings include William, Jackie, Peggy, Edward, and Danny. LeClaire attended School 37 as a boy in Jersey City, where he lived on Ninth Street.

He was active at Emerson High School, playing drums in the band for three years, and on the baseball team as a junior.

"He loved growing up here," Conklin said. "We went to the Loew's Theatre. We used to go clamming along the waterfront . He taught me how to skip rocks in Hudson County Park."

Although LeClaire enjoyed his time as a high school student, he wanted more. In 1968, with just a year and 22 credits remaining to graduate, he left school to pursue his dream: to serve his country.

In the middle of the polarizing Vietnam War, when many young Americans were dodging the draft, 17-year-old LeClaire eagerly enlisted in the Marine Corps.

He would have graduated with Daniel Frezzo, now the assistant principal of Emerson High School, had he stayed in school.

Although Frezzo doesn't remember LeClaire, he said it's easy to tell from his records that he possessed strong character.

"He must have been driven by citizenship," Frezzo said. "He gave part of his youth to his country."

Frezzo also said that, according to school records, LeClaire had a strong academic record and was well on his way to attending college.

Instead, he would spend most of his adult life in the military, from two tours in Vietnam to working with military police during Operation Desert Storm. He also served as a drill instructor and a recruiting officer.

He retired in 1995, with the rank of gunnery sergeant, and joined Philadelphia's warrant unit.

Deputy Court Administrator David Wasson said LeClaire's colleagues were devastated by the unit's first fatality since its founding in 1972.

"He was a gentleman. He was well liked. . His first priority was the safety of his unit," Wasson said.

After serving his country for 22 years, LeClaire was buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery in April.
March 24, 2004
Hundreds mourn slain court officer
He was shot to death serving a warrant

Joseph E. LeClaire Jr. lived proudly during his 22 years as a Marine.

LeClaire, a court warrant officer killed in the line of duty on Friday, was remembered fondly last night by friends, family and colleagues.

At his viewing, held at the Christian Life Center in Bensalem, a table was covered with memorabilia and photos from LeClaire's long career.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham, one of about 300 who paid respects to his family, said LeClaire "loved his men and women in the service.

"And in this service," she said, referring to his years as a member of the warrant unit.

Co-workers and police from Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery counties also attended the service for LeClaire, 53, the first warrant officer killed in the line of duty.

LeClaire and two other officers were shot as they tried to serve fugitive warrants on Darien Houser at his home in East Germantown early Friday, police said. Houser was wanted for failing to appear at a court proceeding.

As the officers stepped inside the house, they were showered with bullets. LeClaire, of Greenacres Road near Templeton Drive in Northeast Philadelphia, was shot in the head. Also wounded in the melee were Vincent A. DiSandro, 37, and Carlo Delborrello, 29.

Houser will be charged with murder and related offenses once he is released from Temple University Hospital, the D.A.'s office said. He is recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg.

Last night, LeClaire's friends and colleagues recalled the last time they saw their buddy played golf. He had a hole in one in February at the John F. Bryne course when spring seemed to be in the air.

Fellow golfing buddy Tom Faro remembers LeClaire as a "quiet and focused" golfer who spoke to himself when he played.

"He'd say 'Joe, what are you doing? Why did you play this guy?' " Faro said. "I'll miss him, seeing him on the weekends playing golf. I'll never play with him again."

LeClaire, a Vietnam veteran, will be buried April 1 with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia.
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 10/30/1960 - 10/30/2000
DATE OF BIRTH: 02/23/1951
DATE OF DEATH: 03/19/2004
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