SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. was joined by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today to present the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to 14 law enforcement officials who went above and beyond the call of duty.
This year’s recipients of California’s highest public safety award included 4 individuals from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, one from the Santa Monica College Police Department, two from the Santa Monica Police Department, one from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and six from the Los Angeles International Airport Police Department.
“It’s always an honor to be here as we award the Medal of Valor,” said Governor Brown at today’s ceremony. “It’s really about recognizing the absolute human necessity of duty, of courage and of solidarity so that our community, from the bottom up, gets stronger and stronger.”
The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act of 2003 gives the Governor the authority to award a Medal of Valor to public safety officers who are cited by the Attorney General for extraordinary valor above and beyond the call of duty. The Attorney General’s Office receives nominations from public safety agencies. These nominations are reviewed by the Medal of Valor Review Board, which makes a recommendation to the Attorney General.
“Today’s recipients of the Governor’s Medal of Valor Awards represent the very best of California’s public safety officers. Each showed extraordinary bravery in the face of grave danger, and each did so without any expectation of reward or recognition,” said Attorney General Harris. “I thank them – and all of California’s public safety officers – for the sacrifices they and their families make every day to keep our great state safe.”
The following individuals were awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor today:
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department: Detective Larry Lopez; Detective Justin Musella and Deputy Daniel Rosa
On February 12, 2013, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a home invasion robbery in the Big Bear area reportedly committed by fugitive Christopher Dorner, who had shot at several police throughout the course of the week, killing Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain. A team of deputies tracked the suspect through the snowy Angelus Oaks terrain to a cabin where the suspect had barricaded himself. As Detective Jeremiah MacKay and Deputy Alex Collins approached the cabin, Dorner shot at them by automatic gunfire.
Deputies shot suppressing fire in an attempt to prevent Dorner from continuing to shoot at Detective MacKay and Deputy Collins, who were down, lying in the roadway and in critical need of life-saving medical attention.
After a few seconds, Detective Justin Musella took a tactical position and threw smoke canisters to conceal Detective MacKay and Deputy Collins from Dorner’s sight. Without hesitation and risking his life, Detective Musella ran 50 yards, in the open, to a nearby building.
Deputy Danny Rosa also deployed a smoke canister to help conceal the downed deputies. While other deputies on the scene provided cover fire, Detective Lopez ran to Detective MacKay and dragged him to safety behind cover. Deputy Rosa ran to Deputy Collins and dragged him to safety, as well.
These three San Bernardino County deputy sheriffs acted selflessly and heroically as they risked their own lives to rescue Big Bear Deputy Alex Collins and Detective Jeremiah MacKay during the shootout with Dorner. Tragically, Detective MacKay succumbed to his injuries. Deputy Collins was transported to Loma Linda Medical Center where he underwent several surgeries, and has since fully recovered and returned to work.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department: Deputy Arturo Ramirez
On June 15, 2013, at 2:00 a.m., Sheriff’s dispatch received a 911 call to an apartment fire in the 14000 block of Rodeo Drive in the City of Victorville. Deputy Arturo Ramirez was dispatched to the scene, and upon arriving, saw multiple apartments on fire, and requested the fire department expedite its response and that additional deputies assist in evacuating residents.
Several residents on the second floor reported people trapped in an apartment that was fully engulfed in flames and smoke. Deputy Ramirez observed the fire spreading and decided he could no longer wait for the firefighters to arrive. He ran up the stairs within seconds to a thick smoke filled apartment. Although he could hardly see, Deputy Ramirez observed feet and ankles near the corner of the room. Taking a deep breath, he rushed inside the apartment and grabbed a woman who was holding a five-month old baby. Next to the woman was an 11-year-old girl, who was clutching a toddler. Deputy Ramirez guided all of the victims out of the apartment and down the stairs through extreme smoke conditions.
The victims explained that they were having a sleepover party and another little girl was still trapped inside. Deputy Ramirez, who was experiencing burning eyes and labored breathing, didn’t know if he could go back in. All doubt was removed when he observed tiny hands pounding on the on the second floor window. He took a deep breath, ran back into the smoke filled apartment and found the little girl. They cradled each other in a bear hug and ran down the stairs. Both were covered in soot, and the girl was treated on the scene by fire and paramedic personnel and later reunited with her family.
Deputy Ramirez suffered smoke inhalation from his rescue efforts. Deputy Ramirez’s decision to set aside his own safety not once, but twice, saved the lives of one adult and four children.
Santa Monica College Police Department: Sergeant Raymond Bottenfield
Santa Monica Police Department: Officer Jason Salas and Officer Robert Sparks
On June 7, 2013 at 11:52 a.m., a lone gunman, age 23, began a murderous rampage in the City of Santa Monica. The horrific incident lasted approximately thirteen minutes. In that brief time, the gunman shot and killed his 55-year-old father and 25-year-old brother in their home, and set fire to the structure. He left the burning residence, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a .44 caliber handgun and 1500 rounds of rifle ammunition. He shot at a passerby and next carjacked a passing motorist, forcing her at gunpoint to drive to Santa Monica College. Along the way, he fired at other vehicles, including a municipal city bus and a sport utility vehicle carrying a 68-year-old male, who was an off-duty groundskeeper employed at the college, and the groundskeeper’s 26-year-old daughter. Tragically, the father and daughter were fatally wounded.
The Santa Monica Police Department’s 911 Call Center received many emergency calls from frightened students and citizens. After entering the college campus, the gunman shot and killed a 68-year-old female.
Santa Monica College Police Sergeant Raymond Bottenfield, who was in plain clothes, and not wearing any body armor, was racing to the area of the shootings when he heard a SMC police officer broadcast that the shooter was headed toward the campus library. The shooter entered the library and began firing at a group of employees who were barricaded in a storage room. Santa Monica Police Officers Robert Sparks and Jason Salas arrived on scene, and along with Sergeant Bottenfield, quickly formulated a plan. Without delay or hesitation these officers entered the library, knowing that the suspect was armed with an assault rifle.
The officers knew they needed to immediately confront the active shooter to save lives. Without regard for their personal safety, Officer Salas, Officer Sparks and Sergeant Bottenfield quickly closed the distance between themselves and the shooter. They found themselves in a position of grave danger within several feet of the shooter and his high powered rifle. The officers commanded the shooter drop his weapon. As the shooter turned toward the officers, he aimed his assault rifle at them. The three officers fired, killing the shooter and ending the deadly violent rampage.
Shasta County Sheriff’s Office: Correctional Officer John Zufall
On September 8, 2013, Officer John Zufall was positioned as a “Safety Diver” during a recovery operation at Lake Shasta. Officer Zufall took his position at the 100 foot mark to monitor the safety and progress of another diver below.
After the critical time table for the diver below had passed, Officer Zufall decided to descend to greater depths. Disregarding his personal safety and fully aware of the life threatening danger that lie below, he descended to a staggering depth of 172 feet and located the injured diver.
Upon recovering the downed diver, Officer Zufall made a brave decision to quickly bring him to the surface in order to save the diver’s life despite the life threatening danger of a rapid ascent from that great depth.
Officer Zufall is a highly-valued, senior member of the Shasta County Sherriff’s Office Dive Team and has responded to hundreds of dive team callouts, trainings, and rescues during his career. He proudly served our nation in the United States Navy. With his training and experience as a Navy Diver, Officer Zufall brings an unparalleled level of expertise and experience to the Sheriff’s Office Dive Team.
Los Angeles International Airport Police Department: Sergeant Steve Zouzounis; Officer David Lalicker; Officer Brian Lopez; Officer Robert Pedregon; Officer Raymond Woods and Officer Daniel Yu
In November 2013, a lone gunman, age 23, walked into Terminal 3 of the Los Angeles International Airport and opened fire. LAX is the one of the largest airports in the United States, employing over 54,000 employees and servicing 66 million passengers.
The primary law enforcement agency at LAX is the Los Angeles Airport Police, which became a full-fledged law enforcement agency in 1984, and has a staff of 1,100, including 525 sworn personnel, 400 security officers and 175 administrative and support staff.
On November 1, 2013, at 9:20 a.m., the gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic assault rifle that he had concealed in a roller bag. Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez, age 39, was shot and killed. Officer Hernandez is the first TSA officer, in its 12-year history, to be killed while on duty. There were seven victims that survived the violent and chaotic incident. Two TSA Screening Officers and a 29-year-old male school teacher were wounded by gunfire. Four other victims received injuries while fleeing the area of danger, and were treated at hospitals. The alleged motive was detailed in a note found in the shooter’s duffle bag, revealing his intended targets were TSA agents and criticizing TSA searches as unconstitutional.
The initial call to Airport Police dispatch was received within 60 seconds of the shooting of Officer Hernandez. Los Angeles Airport Police Sergeant Steve Zouzounis acknowledged the call and was on scene just 30 seconds later, and joined immediately by five Airport Police officers – David Lalicker, Brian Lopez, Robert Pedregon, Raymond Woods and Daniel Yu.
Without hesitation, the six responding officers went into “active-shooter formation” and moved quickly towards the ongoing threat. The six officers tactically organized a diamond formation, moving down the concourse into the danger zone, trying to distinguish possible accomplices among hundreds of passengers. The officers split into two groups of three and entered from opposite sides into the area where the shooter was located. The shooter was more than two-thirds down the concourse, next to the boarding gates. The officers confronted him and exchanged gun fire. Due to the six officers quick and decisive actions, the shooter was neutralized and taken into custody within four minutes after the initial “shots fired” radio call. Paramedics transported the perpetrator to a local hospital where he was treated for his injuries. The actions of these officers prevented the shooter from further injuring or fatally wounding hundreds of airport personnel and travelers.