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Witness to History: Sirhan Sirhan and the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

On June 5, the National Law Enforcement Museum’s fourth Witness to History event commemorated the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Attendees were taken back to that night at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel in 1968 as they listened to the panel of speakers:

  • author Evan Thomas, who wrote Robert Kennedy: His Life (2000);
  • Arturo Placencia, the now-retired LAPD officer who arrested Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan; and
  • Steven Hughes, head of the Dignitary Protective Division of the U.S. Secret Service.

Sponsored by Target® and held at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, the event offered historical context, a riveting eye-witness account of that tumultuous night, and a modern outlook on presidential candidate protection as each speaker brought a unique perspective to a discussion that transfixed the audience.

Arturo Placencia was one of the first LAPD officers that responded to the scene after shots were fired. He described the frenzied mood and throngs of panic-stricken people rushing around, yelling, and obstructing his path as he and his partner, Travis White, arrested Sirhan. “I was a 21-year old rookie cop, only three weeks out of the academy when we got the call,” Placencia said. Placencia noted that due to the crowds and confusion, he did not know who had been shot when he took Sirhan Sirhan into custody.

Steven Hughes explained that at the time, law did not require the U.S. Secret Service to protect presidential candidates as it does today. That changed as a result of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.

The Witness to History series focuses on significant events in law enforcement history that shaped regional and national identity told through narratives and accounts from the law enforcement officers who were involved with them. Events may involve a lecture or panel discussion followed by question and answer opportunities for the audience. The first three events  focused on the 1963 shooting of President John F. Kennedy’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; and the 1982 Air Florida Flight 90 crash in Washington, DC. Stay tuned for more events to come this fall.