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2009 Medal of Valor Recipients
To be awarded the Medal of Valor, an officer shall have performed an act displaying extreme courage while consciously facing imminent peril.
It is awarded by the Police Commissioners and is presented by the Chief of Police, in the name of the Los Angeles Police Department at the annual Medal of Valor awards ceremony.
In was early in the morning on August 16, 2006. Sergeant Christopher Gomez assigned to Newton Patrol, was driving south on the 110 Freeway from Vernon Avenue, when he saw a black Nissan Sentra get on the freeway going about 100 miles an hour. As the car neared Imperial Highway, it swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle and spun out of control, colliding with the center divider.
Sergeant Gomez raced to the car, which was now on fire. The driver’s door was pinned against the center divider, making it impossible to open. Sergeant Gomez saw that the driver was the only person in the car, and realized the man was now trapped inside the burning vehicle. Sergeant Gomez tried to open the passenger side door, but it was jammed. Without hesitating, Sergeant Gomez smashed the passenger window with his police baton. That’s when the car’s dash- board caught on fire. Sergeant Gomez could hear loud popping noises, could see the flames and feel the heat of the fire. With the passenger compartment burning and with total disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Gomez used tremendous strength and pulled the driver out of the car through the flames and out the passenger door window. After pulling the man from the car, Sergeant Gomez dragged him to safety.
Moments later a news photographer arrived at the scene and began videotaping the car, which was now completely engulfed in flames. The video is proof that if Sergeant Gomez had not risked his own safety to pull the driver out of the car, he would not have survived.
The driver was taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for a broken collar bone and smoke inhalation. He said if it were not for Sergeant Gomez’ quick action he would not have been able to get out of the car on his own. The driver said Sergeant Gomez saved his life, and did it without thinking of his own safety.
Sergeant Gomez is commended for his heroic actions, courage, and for sacrificing his own safety in an effort to save a life, the most generous and courageous offering one can make. Sergeant Gomez’ brave and decisive actions demonstrated the noble and gallant efforts that epitomize the selfless professionalism expected of a Los Angeles Police officer. The daring and selfless rescue of the driver of the burning vehicle is admirable and demonstrates the highest regard for public safety.
In the highest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department, the Medal of Valor is awarded to:
Sergeant Christopher Gomez
It was the evening of September 3, 2006. Officer Jesus Carrillo of 77th Street Area, Gang Enforcement Detail, and his partner were on their regular patrol in South Los Angeles. While driving in the area of 83rd Street and Stanford Avenue, the two officers saw a Cadillac SUV with a female driver and male passenger run a stop sign. As the officers followed the vehicle, they requested information to see if the car had been reported stolen. It had not.
Officer Carrillo and his partner decided to pull the vehicle over for the traffic violation, but the driver of the SUV wouldn’t pull over. While following the vehicle, the officers saw what looked like the male passenger reaching under his seat. Relying on their training and experience, the officers knew that the passenger could be hiding contraband or reaching for a weapon.
While the SUV continued slowly down the street, the male passenger suddenly jumped out of the car and ran down a driveway. Officer Carrillo and his partner chased the suspect. They saw him running with his right hand over what looked like a gun. Both officers took cover and positioned themselves so they could see the suspect from a safe distance. The man, while trying to jump over a wrought iron gate, caught his clothing on the metal spikes at the top of the gate. With both of his hands clenched on the gate’s horizontal support bar, he tried to free his clothing from the gate.
Officer Carrillo and his partner cautiously approached the suspect, telling him to jump down to their side of the fence. The suspect began using his body weight to free his clothing from the gate. Officer Carrillo approached the suspect and tried to pull the suspect to his side of the gate. That’s when the suspect’s gun fell onto the ground. At this point, the suspect’s clothing began to tear and he reached for his gun. Officer Carrillo thinking quickly, reached through the gate to grab the gun before the suspect could. It was at this moment the suspect’s clothing ripped, freeing him from the gate.
The suspect landed on his feet and lunged for the gun, grabbing it just as Officer Carrillo did. Now the officer and the suspect were in a life and death struggle.
During the fight, the suspect turned the barrel of the gun toward Officer Carrillo’s neck. Unable to reach for his service pistol, Officer Carrillo wrestled the gun into a position where the barrel of the weapon was now pointed at the suspect. He ordered the suspect to drop the handgun or he would be shot. The suspect continued to fight, forcing Officer Carrillo to fire the weapon in self defense.
Officer Carrillo is commended for his courage, heroic actions, and his mental and physical preparation to handle an armed suspect in a life threatening situation. His level of preparedness epitomizes and exemplifies the highest traditions of heroism, and maintains the standard of excellence which the Los Angeles Police Department is known for worldwide. For this, the Medal of Valor is awarded to:
Officer Jesus Carrillo
On the morning of May 5, 2008, Officers Heriberto Salazar and Laura Gonzalez assigned to Devonshire Division, and Officers Hayley Smith and Vincent Rojas working Mission Division, had just been released from a Command Post in West Valley Division. Both patrol units were driving back to their respective areas when they saw smoke coming from a fire at an apartment complex at Parthenia Street and Owensmouth Avenue. All four officers, without hesitation, rushed to the building. The Fire Department had not yet arrived. Officers Salazar, Gonzalez, Smith and Rojas saw several residents running from the burning complex and realized they needed to get everyone out quickly. They knew that waiting for the Fire Department to arrive wasn’t an option, so the four officers risked their own lives and entered the burning building so they could rescue and coordinate evacuation for the residents. Working as a team, Officers Salazar, Gonzalez, Smith and Rojas moved through the apartment complex and as safely as possible, got the residents out of the building. Officer Rojas ran to the rear of the apartment building so he could direct people out.
While there, Officer Rojas saw a resident using a fire extinguisher on a burning car. The extinguisher was having little effect and the area quickly became an inferno. The flames spread through to the apartment complex as well as other vehicles parked in the carport. Officer Rojas told the resident to leave, but he refused. With the whole carport now in flames, Officer Rojas grabbed the man and dragged him to safety. Officer Rojas pushed him behind the building and away from the carport. Without warning, the vehicle suddenly exploded. Officer Rojas threw himself to the ground to avoid the flying debris. Unfazed, Officer Rojas stood up and ran back to the front of the apartment complex to help Officers Salazar, Gonzalez and Smith with the evacuation efforts.
With the fire raging in the carport, Officers Rojas and Salazar knew any residents in the apartments above the carport would need to be evacuated immediately. Officers Rojas and Salazar ran into the burning building again toward the apartments above the carport. Despite the flames, heat and thick black smoke, Officers Rojas and Salazar went into those two units to search for residents and found them empty. But to their surprise, there were still people inside other units of the building who were unaware of the fire. Officer Salazar found a woman with her two children and told her she needed to get out. The woman was skeptical until she saw smoke coming into her apartment. Then there was an explosion. The woman and her children began to panic and frantically ran around the apartment. Under immense pressure, Officer Rojas talked to the woman, assuring her that she and
her children would be safe. Officer Salazar escorted them all to safety.
Meanwhile, Officer Gonzalez and Officer Smith were finding other residents who were not aware that the building was on fire. They worked quickly and efficiently to evacuate everyone. Although it felt like an eternity, within minutes Officers Gonzalez and Smith cleared the complex and relocated the residents to a safe place across the street. As the last residents from the burning building were placed out of harm’s way, the Fire Department arrived and assumed command. All of the officers suffered smoke inhalation and were transported to a nearby hospital for treatment. They were all later released without serious injury. Had it not been for the quick actions of the four officers, the residents of the burning building may not have escaped without harm or serious injury.
Officers Salazar, Gonzalez, Smith and Rojas are commended for their heroic actions, courage, and for sacrificing their own safety in an effort to save lives. Without the decisive actions of these four officers, many of the residents of the apartment complex could have died. Officers Salazar, Gonzalez, Smith and Rojas exemplify team work, an unselfish response to the needs of the community and dedication to public service.
For their valiant actions in the highest tradition of law enforcement and the Los Angeles Police Department, the Medal of Valor is awarded to:
Police Officer Heriberto Salazar Police Officer Laura Gonzalez Sergeant Hayley Smith Police Officer Vincent Rojas
On Sunday, July 10, 2005, a 911 call from a desperate 16-year-old girl who told a dispatcher her stepfather had threatened her life, brought LAPD officers rushing to a used car lot in Southeast Los Angeles.
Southeast Division patrol officers found the teenage girl locked behind a chain link fence. Her stepfather came out of the car lot office carrying his 19-month-old daughter in his arms. After talking to the officers, the stepfather retreated to his office and returned carrying the infant and a semi-automatic gun and began shooting at officers and his stepdaughter. The officers broadcasted a “help call”.
Officer Gina Holmstrom, assigned to Metropolitan Division, heard the help call, responded and took tactical control of the incident. Officers from several divisions responded. Among them were Officer Maura Tercero, Officer Sean Kinchla, Officer Jeffrey Ennis, Officer Lyman Doster and Officer Benjamin Santero.
While the suspect continued shooting at his stepdaughter and the officers, Santero, Ennis and Doster geared up with their urban police rifles, and quickly formulated rescue plan. Ennis briefed Santero and delegated to him the responsibility of rear guard high ground. Officers Kinchla, and Tercero, without hesitation, volunteered for the dangerous task of being the rescue officers.
With help from the LAPD Airship, Holmstrom devised a plan to safely approach the girl.
Working as a team, the officers moved forward and reached the cover of a police car. There they found several of their fellow officers crouched down, unable to move as they too were under hostile gunfire.
Now close to the teenager, Holmstrom began talking to her, telling her to stay down. The teenager was paralyzed with fear, lying between two parked cars. Realizing a bolt cutter was needed to cut the fence, Kinchla, placed himself at great risk and ran from the safety of cover to retrieve the bolt cutter. After obtaining the bolt cutter, Kinchla, returned to the rescue team.
With the team now ready to rescue the trapped victim, the officers stepped away from their cover and moved toward the gate in a diamond formation. As soon as they left cover, the suspect again opened fire on the advancing team. However, the rescue team was determined to continue their efforts to save the panic stricken teenage girl.
Officer Doster and his partner crawled on their stomachs to the gate and made several attempts to breech the fence with the bolt cutters. However, the suspect fired numerous rounds at them which impacted within a foot of the officers. At that moment, SWAT personnel, including Officer Enrique Anzaldo Officer Daniel Sanchez, Officer Eduardo Perez and Officer Dennis O’Sullivan arrived to help. While Sanchez and Perez provided cover, O’Sullivan exposed himself to gunfire and opened the gate. Anzaldo, then left his position of cover, grabbed the teenage girl and took her outside the suspect’s field of fire.
Soon, additional SWAT personnel arrived including Officer Robert Gallegos, Officer Chester McMillion, Officer David Stambaugh, Officer William Casey, Officer Todd Rheingold and Officer Joseph Rubert.
For the next hour, information about the suspect was obtained and negotiations with the gunman were initiated.
SWAT officers, trained as crisis negotiators, encouraged the suspect to let his daughter go and surrender. Believing the suspect was about to harm his daughter, O’Sullivan fired one round at him. The suspect spun to his left and dropped to the ground out of view.
In their attempts to save the life of the 19-month-old, Perez, Sanchez, Gallegos Casey, McMillion and Stambaugh initiated a rescue plan. As the rescue team approached the office entrance, the suspect ran into the office still holding his daughter and began firing his weapon through the drywall at the approaching officers.
Perez was the first to enter the work bay and provided cover for his fellow officers. As Sanchez ran toward the office, he felt a sharp pain in his right shoulder and knew he had been shot. As the remaining officers lined up along the wall, the suspect continued shooting at them through the dry wall, showering the officers with bullets and debris.
One by one, the officers entered the office providing cover for the officer before them. Knowing Sanchez was wounded, Gallegos used his body as a shield to protect him and engaged the suspect.
Officer McMillion, moved toward the door as the gun battle erupted and provided direction. With bullets and debris coming through the drywall, Rubert and Stambaugh entered the office and physically extracted Sanchez. Anzaldo and Rheingold were the last to enter the bay area to assist with the rescue.
The 16 officers had never trained together for this event. They all responded and trusted one another. Each Officer relied on the training they had received. Each performed with exemplary skill, courage and professionalism. They put their own lives on the line to save a 16-year-old teenager and a 19-month-old baby they had never met. They never hesitated, no matter the risk. Each Officer is recognized for their bravery, courage, teamwork, and willingness to place themselves in harm’s way to protect their fellow citizens and brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
For conspicuous gallantry and bravery in action at the risk of their own lives, these men and women went above and beyond the call of duty. These officers have earned the gratitude and respect of every officer in the Department and are given the Department’s highest honor. The Medal of Valor is proudly bestowed upon:
Sergeant Gina Holmstrom Police Officer Maura Tercero Sergeant Sean Kinchla Police Officer Jeffrey Ennis Police Officer Lyman Doster Police Officer Benjamin Santero Police Officer Enrique Anzaldo Police Officer Daniel Sanchez Police Officer Eduardo Perez Police Officer Dennis O’Sullivan Police Officer Robert Gallegos Sergeant Chester McMillion Officer David Stambaugh Officer William Casey Retired Officer Todd Rheingold Police Officer Joseph Rubert
It was Sunday evening September 30, 2001, and it appeared to be business as usual at the Macy’s Department store in Woodland Hills.
Just after 5:00 p.m. two men walked into the department store and up to the fine jewelry counter to look at a ring. Suspect-1 told the sales clerk he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend and wanted to buy a diamond ring to make up with her. The sales clerk noticed both men appeared drunk. She had a “bad” feeling about the men so she asked them to wait and she went into a small office and called security. She told security there were two drunken men in her department and felt uncomfortable waiting on them.
Moments later, the department store manager arrived to wait on the suspects. Suspect-1 told the manager that he wanted to buy a ring and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills. The manager took a diamond ring out of the display case and placed it on the counter. Suddenly, the suspect picked up the ring, pulled a gun out of his pocket and pointed it at the manager shouting, “Give it all to me!”
The manager began removing jewelry items from the display case and handing them to the suspect, who in turn stuffed them into his pocket. He then turned toward the sales clerk, who was standing nearby, and yelled at her to empty out the cash register. Suspect-2, who had been pacing behind Suspect-1, placed a black plastic bag on the counter. Suspect-1 then began to put the jewelry inside the bag.
The sales clerk walked toward the register at the other end of the counter, but as she walked past the door of the office, she slipped inside, closed and locked the door and called 911. Suspect-2 saw the sales clerk slip into the office and he began to pace nervously.
Realizing that the sales clerk had locked herself in the office, Suspect-1 began to grab jewelry with a sense of urgency. He placed the gun on top of the counter so he could use both hands. Realizing a window of opportunity, the store manager grabbed the gun off the counter and stepped back against the rear wall and out of Suspect-1’s reach.
Without warning, Suspect-1 jumped over the counter and began to fight for the gun with the store manager. The suspect and manager exchanged punches as the manager fought to keep control of the weapon. During the struggle, a shot was fired but luckily no one was hit. Suspect-2 then ran out of the department store.
Suspect-1 was able to gain control of the gun and pointed it at the manager’s head demanding that the store manager remove more jewelry from the display case.
LAPD Communications Division broadcast a “robbery in progress” and relayed that one of the suspects was struggling with the manager and shots were fired.
Senior Lead Officer Peter Vanderburgh and Officer Fernando Avila was the first police unit to arrive at the scene. The two officers had never worked together. Officer Avila was one month off his probationary period and Officer Vanderburgh had 33 years of experience with the Department.
Officers Vanderburgh and Avila entered the store and made their way toward the Fine Jewelry Department. They could hear the suspect yelling and saw him pointing the gun at the store manager’s head.
Armed with a 9-millimeter Beretta semiautomatic and a 12-gauge shotgun, Officers Vanderburgh and Avila slowly approached the suspect and the store manager. They identified themselves as police officers and ordered the suspect to drop the gun and raise his hands. The suspect turned and pointed his gun at the two officers.
Fearing for their lives and the lives of the store employees, Officers Vanderburgh and Avila opened fire and hit the suspect. Officer Vanderburgh continued to order the suspect to drop his gun, but he did not.
Officer Vanderburgh fired a second shot at the suspect, forcing him backwards against the wall. Still standing, the suspect was again ordered to drop his weapon. The suspect ignored the commands and again pointed his gun at both officers.
Still fearing for their lives, Officer Vanderburgh fired a third round at the suspect. He fell to the floor behind the counter, still clutching the gun. The two officers went behind the counter where the suspect pointed his weapon again toward the officers. Officer Vanderburgh fired a fourth shot at the suspect, causing him to finally drop the weapon. Officer Avila then approached the suspect and handcuffed him.
Officer Vanderburgh and Officer Avila are commended for their selfless courage and bravery. Their actions in the face of imminent peril are the result of a level of gallantry not seen in your average individual. Their level of heroism and professionalism are second to none and for this the Medal of Valor is awarded to:
Reserve Officer Peter Vanderburgh Officer Fernando Avila
On the night of August 9, 2007, Officer Jeanette Flores and her partner, assigned to Hollenbeck Area, responded to a domestic violence radio call. The victim, who was nine-months pregnant, told the officers that her common-law husband punched her in the face and stomach and had run from their house. After documenting the woman’s injuries, Officer Flores stayed with the victim while her partner went to their squad car to get the reports necessary to document the assault.
While walking back to the victim’s house, Officer Flores’ partner saw a man standing on the sidewalk, who matched the physical description of the suspect. The officer ordered the man to place his hands behind his head and made his approach to handcuff the suspect.
As one handcuff was secured to the suspect’s right wrist, the suspect turned in a clockwise direction and thrust his left arm around the officer’s neck. The suspect now had the officer in a strangle hold. Officer Flores did not hesitate to assist her partner. She jumped on the suspect’s back and wrapped her right arm around his neck in an attempt to restrain him.
The suspect’s attack turned vicious. He used his body weight to drive the officer he was holding head first onto the concrete, knocking him unconscious. Officer Flores was unable to keep her hold on the suspect and tried to distract him with three punches to the head. She heard the unmistakable sound of the unsnapping of the retention strap of her partner’s’ gun holster. As the suspect reached for her partner’s gun, Officer Flores made the split second decision to save their lives and fired one shot to the suspect’s head, ending the deadly threat.
The injured officer was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for a fractured left clavicle, a concussion, and a laceration to the left side of his head. Officer Flores was treated for a sprained right hand.
Officer Flores is commended for her tactics, attention to duty and bravery while engaging a violent suspect who had attacked an officer of the law and was attempting to use a police officer’s firearm against them. If it was not for Officer Flores’ quick reaction, the suspect would have surely shot, and possibly killed both officers.
Officer Jeanette Flores’ tactical skills, teamwork, clear and collected thinking in an exceptionally dangerous situation, and her ability to function under the most stressful, chaotic and perilous conditions embody the finest traditions of the Los Angeles Police Department.For these outstanding efforts, the Medal of Valor is hereby awarded to:
Police Officer Jeanette Flores