1991 Medal of Valor RecipientsDetective Russell Kuster
Officer Yvette Eggleston
Officer Robert James
Officer Stacy F. Lim
Officer Arthur Wagner
Officer Kevin Jotz
Officer Floro Pinzon
Officer Tanza Smalls
Officer Gary Howe
Officer Charles (Randy) Champe
Officer Gary Griffin
Officer Daniel Drulias
Officer Joseph Hernandez
Officers Arthur Wagner, Kevin Jotz, Robert James,
Yvette Eggleston, Floro Pinzon, and Tanza Smalls
On December 16, 1990, three Southeast Patrol units responded to a radio call, "Citizen reports house on fire with children trapped inside." It was about 20 minutes past 5 in the afternoon, when the units arrived at the burning apartment in the "Jordan Downs" housing project. On the west side, Officers Wagner and Smalls were ready to enter the building. On the east side, where Officers Jotz and James found citizens trying to put out the fire with ineffective garden hoses, and they heard citizens shouting that a child was trapped inside.
Due to the intensity of the flames and smoke, the officers were unable to immediately enter the building on either side. Something had to be improvised so that they could gain access. Officer Jotz decided to try the second floor since he couldn’t get through the flames on the first. His partner, Officer James, boosted him to a second-story overhand, where Jotz could climb through a window.
Meanwhile, downstairs, on the west side, Officer Smalls and a citizen turned a hose on Officer Wagner. When soaking wet, Wagner entered the inferno and made his way upstairs, where he met Officer Jotz. They began the search for the missing child. Downstairs, Officer James, now working with Officer Smalls, using a garden hose, beat down the flames enough to enter the building. Officer Yvette Eggleston also entered with them. Eggleston and Smalls used the hose to wet down Officer James, who then joined in the upstairs search. Eggleston and Smalls stayed by the smoldering stairway, keeping the flames from renewing, and continually spraying that area. The officers upstairs came to be wetted down again, because the intense heat had dried their uniforms. Officer Eggleston’s partner, Officer Floro Pinzon, also entered the inferno, stood in front of Eggleston’s hose and joined the others upstairs in the search for the child. The only relief from the choking smoke up there was an occasional breath of air through a broken window.
All six officers were in continuing peril from the inferno, yet they continued searching until Fire Department Personnel, with safety equipment and breathing apparatuses arrived and assumed the search. They found the 6 year-old, badly burned girl on the second floor. Officers Wagner, Jotz, James, Eggleston, Pinzon, and Smalls were commended for their quick action and bravery by Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Engineer, Donald O. Manning, in a letter to chief of Police Daryl F. Gates. All the officers suffered from smoke inhalation. Officers Jotz and Pinzon were singed by the flames, while Officer Wagner suffered first-degree burns on his face and right ear. All the officers received hospital treatment for their injuries.
The Los Angeles Police Department found that these officers had disregarded their own safety and well-being in an attempt to save the life of a child trapped in a flame and smoke engulfed building. Their actions upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and are acknowledged by awarding them the Medal of Valor.
Officers Gary Griffin and Daniel Drulias
At about 1:45 p.m., as they walked their Hollywood Boulevard beat on December 17, 1991, Officers Gary Griffin and Daniel Drulias observed a large group of people standing outside the JJ Newberry Store. As they approached, they could see clouds of smoke pouring from the first and second floors. They then heard shouts coming from inside the building. Upon entering, they were engulfed in clouds of thick, black smoke.
Inside, the officers separated so that they could cover more area. They soon had to drop to their knees to escape the acrid fumes. The heat was incredibly intense. It was only by shouting to each other that the officers could communicate as they searched the aisles. They quickly found ten people who were lost, disoriented and frightened. As Officer Griffin guided them from the store, Officer Drulias remained inside to continue the search.
Officer Griffin returned to his partner. Both officers again searched through the intense heat and boiling smoke. Their problems compounded when portions of the ceiling fell toward them, and the packaged goods on the shelves started exploding around them. Still, they penetrated another 100 feet into the store. By this time it was so black with smoke, that even their flashlights couldn’t penetrate the darkness. Though unable to see anything, they continued their search by calling loudly for others who might be inside. Upon hearing no responses to their repeated calls, only then did they conclude the search. Once outside, they assisted arriving units with tactical coordination and the evacuation of adjoining businesses. Then the officers were taken to a hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.
Officers Gary Griffin and Daniel Drulias, undeterred by heat, smoke, fumes, falling ceiling, and numerous explosions from packaged goods, were responsible for saving the lives of ten people. Their actions earned the officers numerous accolades from community members and store personnel. They had disregarded their personal safety to protect the lives of others. Their actions upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and are hereby acknowledged by awarding them the Medal of Valor.
Officer Joseph Hernandez
At about 5:30 on the afternoon of December 14, 1990, Harbor Patrol Unit 5A85 received a radio call: "415, Man with a machete!" Officer Joseph Hernandez was familiar with the address, as he had been involved in previous encounters there and had arrested a male resident on an assault charge.
Before approaching the house, the officer and his partner, Officer Gregory Wojcik, met with the suspect’s mother, who told of being chased from her home by her son, who was wielding a machete. She wanted him arrested.
Officer Hernandez, a 20 year veteran, requested a supervisor with a taser. Further information from communications showed that the suspect also had an outstanding "Felony/No Bail" arrest warrant, for assault with a deadly weapon.
When the sergeant arrived, a plan was developed that would first permit the suspect to surrender. If this failed, it would produce the best way to enter the house in order to affect his arrest. Repeated demands for his surrender were ignored. Officer Hernandez, because he knew the lay-out of the house from previous visits, took the lead. He would be followed by the Sergeant, while the officer’s partner would secure the outside, then follow them in. The suspect was located in the kitchen, but something didn’t feel "right" to the officer. With his weapon drawn, he ordered the suspect to place his hands on his head. As the suspect turned, Hernandez noted something unidentifiable in his right hand – a roll of insulation tape that masked a pistol. The suspect fired, hitting the officer in the left side of the neck. The officer yelled to the sergeant that he had been hit; then, returning fire, moved in on the suspect. Again the gunman fired, and missed; but the officer’s bullets found their mark in the close-range gun battle, and the suspect fell to the floor.
Officer Joseph Hernandez was rushed to a hospital for treatment. Though wounded, he had made a conscious decision to protect his fellow officers from harm, to disregard his own safety in order to end the perilous confrontation.
His actions upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and are hereby recognized by awarding him the Medal of Valor.
Officer Stacy Lim
After a softball game and a stop-over at the Northeast Station to check her work assignment, Officer Stacy Lim arrived home in Canyon Country at about 1 a.m., Saturday, June 9, 1990. She didn’t know that the car behind her had followed her from Los Angeles, or that it carried four hardcore gang members, intent on stealing her truck. One of the young bandits was armed with a .357-Magnum revolver. Now, because she believed that she had been followed for some unknown reason, she carried her 9-millimeter service weapon in her hand. When she saw the large pistol in the hand of the advancing figure, she was ready to defend herself.
Officer Lim did a humane thing – instead of immediately firing at the shadowy figure with a gun, she purposely advised him that she was a police officer. From a distance of about 5 feet, the young gunman, without warning, responded to Officer Lim’s unselfish act by firing his weapon directly into her chest. The bullet struck her with an impact equal to being hit by an 18-wheeled truck doing 60 miles-an-hour. The bullet ravaged her upper body when it nicked the lower portion of her heart, damaged her liver, destroyed her spleen, and exited through the center of her back, still with enough energy to penetrate her vehicle door, where it was later found. Critically wounded, the officer brought up her weapon and fired one round which struck her assailant. He then turned and ran, but the officer followed him and fired three more rounds, which hit and fatally wounded the gunman. He had fired all six of his bullets at Officer Lim, who now returned to the front of her vehicle to fight off any further attackers, unaware that the others had driven away in panic. They were all taken into custody the same day.
Now realizing her danger from her massive wound, she tried to reach her doorway, but collapsed. Her roommates, alerted by the shooting, found her and called for medical aid. The officer had already lost so much blood, that that alone made her condition critical.
Police and Medical personnel at the scene estimated that she had no chance for recovery, and doctors at the hospital gave her only an hour to live. Her family was summoned.
However, she refused to die and survived three full cardiac arrests. By responding to a 90-minute heart massage, she showed her will to live. Her sense of duty and personal courage were equaled only by her reverence for the life of another, because she had placed herself at dire risk by giving a warning to an armed attacker. She had given him an opportunity to surrender and live. Her action upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and is hereby recognized by awarding her with the Medal of Valor.
Detective Russell Lee Kuster
At the conclusion of his workday, Detective Russell Kuster, the Hollywood Detective Division Homicide Coordinator, was preparing to dine at a local Hollywood restaurant. The date was October 9, 1990.
Present at the bar was a convicted felon, a career criminal with an arrest record for murder, who was known as an "enforcer" for the Hungarian Mafia. He was now drinking heavily, and described as obnoxious and threatening to other customers. A waitress had requested the man to leave and in doing so, pointed out Detective Kuster as a police officer. The man left the restaurant.
However, within minutes he was back, this time armed with a laser-sighted, 9-millimeter automatic handgun, which with the laser activated, he began to aim at patrons and employees. The detective, in order to defuse this potentially lethal situation, concealed his own weapon and, speaking calmly to the gunman, tried to get him to put his weapon down. The gunman answered by turning the gun on the detective and activating the laser sight while pointing it at Detective Kuster’s forehead. The detective dropped down behind the bar just as the suspect opened fire on him. Detective Kuster, not hit, controlled his returned burst of fire in order that innocent patrons would not be hurt. The suspect, apparently surprised by the return fire, ducked out of a side door, which is what the detective wanted him to do (get away from bystanders). Now, the detective left his cover and moved along the wall toward the door, but the gunman suddenly reappeared in the doorway, caught the detective without cover, and opened fire. His first round hit Detective Kuster in the chest. As he fell to his knees, the detective fired one last round which was fatal to the gunman.
With the highest degree of courage and presence of mind, the detective had attempted to drive the felon from the restaurant so that innocent victims would not be hurt. With dedication above and beyond the call of duty, he paid the ultimate price "to protect and serve" defenseless citizens from a cruel and vicious killer.
The actions of Detective Kuster upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and are hereby recognized by awarding him the Medal of Valor.
Officers Gary A. Howe and Charles R. Champe
On June 13, 1991, Air Support Division Officers Gary Howe and Charles "Randy" Champe were flying over South-Central Los Angeles. "Air 12", their ship, had a sudden engine failure. The time was now 11:22 a.m. These officers, experienced airmen, sought the nearest open space into which they could auto rotate down to a safe landing. That nearest open space was a schoolyard; all other nearby spaces decreased their chances for a safe landing. However, there were children playing in that yard; and unwilling to risk young lives, the officers now guided their dropping aircraft to a secondary – and risky – intersection at Raymond and Vernon Avenues.
Here, they were able to maneuver their craft between power-pole lines beneath them. With time spinning away, they suddenly found their secondary landing site imperiled, due to the fact that a crossing guard and a small child were crossing the street, right in the path of the crippled ship.
Too many obstacles to overcome; too many obstacles that proved insurmountable. Still the officers, an investigation determined, were able to maneuver their heavy machine to avoid hitting the crossing guard and the child. Instead, the falling ship struck a light standard and crashed nose first to the ground. The two airmen perished.
Experienced aviators, Officers Howe and Champe gave their own lives out of devotion to the lives of children on the ground. "In this way," it was written in an official report, "Officer Gary Howe and Officer Charles ‘Randy’ Champe continued their life-long commitment to safeguard the citizens of our community – even in the fact of a life-threatening moment."
Witnesses glowed in their praise of the officers, noting from a personal viewing, how the officers did what they had to do. These officers displayed their ultimate dedication to duty by sacrificing their very lives so that others would survive. Their actions upheld the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department and are hereby recognized by awarding them the Medal of Valor.