Thursday, May 29, 2008

Officers awarded for valor


They are considered the cream of the crop — local law enforcement officers who went beyond the normal call of duty.
During a ceremony yesterday, eight men received what is considered the most prestigious honor for local law enforcement: the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor.

Given in honor of a Santa Barbara police officer who died at age 29 in an exchange of gunfire with two armed robbery suspects on Jan. 3, 1970, the award is presented annually by the Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime to a select few from across Santa Barbara County who went beyond the call of duty.
They are chosen by their superiors for outstanding actions they took during what are often hair-raising and life-threatening incidents. The 2008 recipients are:

Officers Michael Claytor and Kenneth Kushner, Santa Barbara Police Department
As hundreds reveled in Fiesta festivities on the night of August 8, 2007, Claytor and Kushner walked along State Street on foot patrol, monitoring the crowds. At 11:30 p.m., a fight broke out among a group of people on the sidewalk.
As the officers stepped in and restrained several of the combatants, an agitated man involved in the fight drew a loaded handgun and advanced on the crowd.
With innocent lives in danger, Claytor and Kushner drew their weapons and shot the gun-wielding man, killing him at the scene.
“It was so instinctual,” Claytor said.
Every month, the duo sets up training scenarios, he said, practicing their response to dangerous and deadly situations.
“It really just falls back on the training we had,” Kushner added.
Both men expressed gratitude for receiving recognition for their actions. Claytor said he first learned of the award about a month ago, when his lieutenant called him with the news.
“It gave me chills,” he said. “It was something I had hoped to accomplish in my career.”
And while admitting it feels good to be recognized, Kushner said his actions during the Fiesta incident is only a “drop in the bucket” of good work done by officers every day.

Sgt. Donald “Marty” Ensign and Officer Keld Hove, SBPD
It seemed like a routine theft investigation as Hove walked toward the Ralphs grocery store on West Carrillo Street on Sept. 28, 2007. But things changed quickly when the officer spotted a transient near the front of the store reach into a bag and pull out a handgun.
As the suspect began waving the gun in the air and making suicidal statements, Hove began speaking with the man, attempting to calm him down as he called for backup. When Sgt. Ensign arrived on the scene and began negotiating with the suspect, Hove managed to take cover and began setting up a perimeter.
While negotiations continued, officers managed to evacuate those in the store through a rear exit as the SWAT team formed a plan. Sgt. Ensign noted the suspect, still behaving irrationally, appeared to be attempting to commit “suicide by cop.”
Keeping him talking for more than an hour, Sgt. Ensign gave the SWAT team enough time to identify the handgun as a possible replica firearm and take down the man with non-lethal beanbag projectiles and a K-9 officer.
“Something unusual was thrown in my direction,” Hove said. “Because of my training and experience, I was able to handle it.”
Due to their “heroic acts of restraint and professionalism,” both men received the prestigious honor.

Senior Dep. Johnny Langehennig, Jr., Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, and Officer Eric Andreasen, Lompoc Police Department
On May 7, 2007, a deputy on bike patrol spotted a man suspected of a carjacking and sexual assault. As he attempted to stop the suspect’s car, the man fled, nearly hitting the officer.
Responding to the broadcast that the vehicle was heading toward Lompoc on Highway 246, Langehennig and others positioned themselves to intercept the vehicle. As the car passed Langehennig, he attempted to stop it again, but the suspect sped off at high speeds. Andreasen joined the pursuit as the vehicle entered Lompoc.
At the intersection of Highway 246 and Union Sugar Avenue, the car began smoking and sending off sparks before skidding off the roadway and flipping several times. As it came to rest on the driver’s side, flames burst to life from the engine.
With weapons drawn, the officers approached the vehicle, finding two men trapped inside. Breaking open the passenger side windows, Andreasen and Langehennig managed to free the intoxicated passenger from his seatbelt and pull him from the car.
With flames moving toward the driver, the two officers made several attempts to pull the man from the burning car. The driver, crawling as far back into the car as he could, said he intended to remain in the car to avoid capture. Andreasen used his Taser to stun the suspect before both officers pulled the man from the vehicle.
“I’m pretty sure anyone in law enforcement would have done what I did,” Andreasen said, shrugging off praise.

Corporals Robert Ortega and Frank Medina, Guadalupe Police Department
On May 3, 2007, the officers arrived at the Amtrak station after spotting smoke pouring from the historic caboose near the front of the station. A local homeless man had started a fire in the stove of the railcar to stay warm.
But as the officers watched the flames grow out of control, they heard coughing from inside the caboose. Ortega quickly jumped through a window and searched through the smoky railcar to find the homeless person, who had lost consciousness. With Medina’s help, Ortega was able to remove the victim from the caboose and began to treat him.
Paramedics ultimately took the victim to Marian Medical Center, where he received treatment for smoke inhalation.
In honor of their quick thinking and lack of regard for their personal safety, both officers received the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor.

Other law enforcement officials also received recognition as the top performers in their respective departments, earning Superior Performance Awards. Those recipients include:
Agent Milt Baldwin, Lompoc Police Department
Officer Daniel Barba, California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara
Dep. D.A. Mary Barron, County District Attorney’s Office
Det. Jose Borrayo, UCSB Police Department
Sr. Juvenile Institutions Officer Erin Cross, County Probation Department
Officer Ryan DeJohn, Santa Barbara Police Department
Officer Steve Fulmer, California Highway Patrol, Buellton
Comm. Thomas Jenkins, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department
Officer Gary Steigler, Santa Maria Police Department

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