SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday (Sept. 28) awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, California’s highest public safety award, to 10 law enforcement officers for their outstanding commitment to the people of California. The award was given to Officers Rodney Richards and Jason Smith, California Highway Patrol (CHP); Sheriff Tom Allman, Mendocino County; Detective Eric Bradley, Lodi Police Department; Deputy Ken Skogen, Placer County Sheriff Department; Captain Kevin Raffaelli and Officers Rick Apecechea, Jeff Dellinges and Roberto Gonzalez, San Mateo Police Department; and Officer Kelley Merritt, Susanville Police Department.
“Hollywood can’t dream up heroes as amazing as those we are honoring here today,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “These public safety officers are our real-life action heroes who have shown extraordinary strength and character in the line of duty. On behalf of all Californians, I thank them for their service and dedication to the people of this great state.”
Effective since 2003, the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act gives the Governor the authority to award a Medal of Valor to one or more public safety officers who are cited by the Attorney General for extraordinary valor above and beyond the call of duty. The Medal of Valor is the highest state award to a public safety officer. The Attorney General’s Office receives nominations from public safety agencies which are then reviewed by the Medal of Valor Review Board which makes a recommendation to the Attorney General.
Today’s award recipients were unanimously recommended to the Attorney General by the Medal of Valor Review Board and recommended by the Attorney General to the Governor.
“The 10 peace officers awarded the Medal of Valor today showed tremendous bravery in risking their lives for others,” Attorney General Jerry Brown said. “Today, we have the opportunity to thank them for their extraordinary courage. It’s inspiring to read their stories.”
The following individuals are being awarded with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor:
Officers Rodney Richards and Jason Smith, CHP:
On September 24, 2009, CHP Officers Rodney Richards and Jason Smith responded to a commercial vehicle accident to find a tractor trailer rig crashed alongside the road and fully engulfed in flames. The driver of the vehicle was entangled in the wreckage and screaming that he was on fire. Officer Richards used his fire extinguisher to try and protect the driver and extinguish his legs, but the extinguisher soon went dry. At this time Officer Smith arrived and together with Officer Richards and passing motorists battled the flames and tried desperately to open the crushed cab of the truck. After desperate efforts and using extraordinary strength, the officers finally were able to open the truck and free the driver. Once the driver was on the ground, Officer Smith used his bare hands to extinguish the drivers’ burning clothing. The driver was subsequently flown to a hospital with third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. Officers Richards and Smith were transported to the hospital where they were treated for severe smoke inhalation. Officer Smith also had minor burns on both hands.
Sheriff Tom Allman, Mendocino County:
On August 11, 2009, rescue personnel were dispatched to the scene of a vehicle accident and fire on Highway 101 in Redwood Valley. Upon arrival, they observed a wrecked vehicle in the center divider that was fully engulfed in flames. The fire was leaping some 20 feet into the air. At the same time, rescue personnel observed Sheriff Tom Allman, already on the scene, reaching into the burning vehicle and trying to free the vehicle’s occupant. Sheriff Allman was successful in removing the occupant from the burning vehicle, but not before receiving second-degree burns to his hands and arms. Once the driver was out of the vehicle, the Sheriff had to assist in moving them a second time as the flames and heat from the fire intensified. Unfortunately, the driver did not survive the injuries from the fire.
Detective Eric Bradley, Lodi Police Department:
On March 4, 2009, Detective Eric Bradley was in court as the lead investigator in the case of David Paradiso who had brutally murdered his girlfriend by slashing her throat. Paradiso was on the witness stand testifying when he began making derogatory comments about the victim which caused a commotion in the courtroom. As bailiffs were attempting to restore order to the courtroom, Paradiso grabbed a shank he had concealed in a leg brace, stood up and, after moving toward the judge, grabbed her from behind and stabbed her in the neck and arm. Detective Bradley, seated at the prosecution’s table, drew his sidearm and approached the bench, firing twice as he did so. One round struck Paradiso in the chest. As this happened, Judge Fox fell forward in an attempt to break Paradiso’s grip on her. Paradiso was preparing to stab Judge Fox again when Detective Bradley placed his hand on the back of her head as to protect her from being in the line of fire as she lay on the bench. Detective Bradley then fired once more striking Paradiso in the head. Paradiso fell to the ground, mortally wounded. Judge Fox was transported to a local hospital where she was treated and released. The entire event took approximately six seconds.
Deputy Ken Skogen, Placer County Sheriff Department:
On August 30, 2009, Placer County deputies responded to the area of Rock Creek Road and Highway 49 for reports of an uncontrolled fire. While evacuating a burning residential neighborhood, Deputy Ken Skogen was approached by a frantic male adult with a report that a woman was trapped in her burning home. The residence was fully engulfed in flames. As he came to a bedroom window, Deputy Skogen looked in and saw an elderly woman standing with her walker and staring back out at him. The woman was confused and in a state of shock. Deputy Skogen broke the window and pleaded with the woman to come to him. She wouldn’t walk forward and it was too high to pull her out. Knowing time was reducing his options, Deputy Skogen ran to the rear door and kicked it open. Realizing he had but a few seconds to save the woman’s life, Deputy Skogen pried the woman’s hands from the walker. He lifted her into his arms and carried her out of the smoke filled house and down the street to safety. The house completely burned to the ground moments later.
Captain Kevin Raffaelli and Officers Rick Apecechea, Jeff Dellinges and Roberto Gonzalez, San Mateo Police Department:
On August 24, 2009, officers responded to Hillsdale High School on reports shots fired and a possible explosion. Officer Rick Apecechea arrived on scene and rushed to the aid of school staff members who were holding a male juvenile down on the ground. As he tried to handcuff the suspect, Officer Apecechea realized that the suspect was wearing a tactical vest over his clothing that contained numerous pipe bombs. Officer Apecechea ordered school staff to get away to ensure their safety, and broadcast his location and the fact that the suspect was armed with bombs, despite a continuing struggle with the suspect. He was able to handcuff the suspect just as Captain Kevin Raffaelli arrived to assist. Officers Jeff Dellinges and Roberto Gonzalez also arrived at about the same time. Captain Raffaelli, Officer Dellinges, and Officer Gonzalez immediately assisted Officer Apecechea in controlling the suspect. Captain Raffaelli held on to the suspect and at the same time called out for the three officers to get away from the suspect in case the bombs exploded. All three officers remained with Captain Raffaelli and did not leave his side. Captain Raffaelli cut the tactical vest containing the bombs off of the suspect’s body. Officers Apecechea, Dellinges, and Gonzalez then lifted the suspect away and out of the vest and escorted him to a nearby patrol car and to safety. Captain Raffaelli secured the tactical vest and bombs and directed other officers as they arrived on scene. Subsequent investigation revealed that all ten of the bombs were live and each capable of causing lethal injuries.
Officer Kelley Merritt, Susanville Police Department:
On June 16, 2009, Susanville Police Officer Kelley Merritt, part of a county-wide narcotics task force, was part of a team of officers from multiple agencies who were conducting a reconnaissance operation on a suspected marijuana garden in a remote area of Lassen County. During the operation, the officers discovered a large marijuana plot and three adult males who had set up a makeshift camp near the garden. As the officers approached the suspects in the camp area, a gunfight erupted. Two suspects had complied with officer’s orders, but an individual inside a tent chose not to. The suspect in the tent began firing an AK-47 at the officers from approximately seven to ten feet away. During the gun fight, Lassen County Sheriff’s Sergeant David Martin and Lassen County Sheriff’s Deputy David Woginrich were struck. Deputy Woginrich received a minor grazing flesh would. Sergeant Martin was not as fortunate and received serious injuries to his right hand, forearm and shoulder and was unable to assist the officers any further. As the gunfight continued around him, Officer Merritt disengaged and ran toward Sergeant Martin’s location, putting himself in peril while moving. Once he arrived at Sergeant Martin’s side, he quickly shielded Sergeant Martin from further gunfire and began applying first aid to Sergeant Martin’s severely injured hand and forearm. As he was applying life saving first aid to Sergeant Martin’s wounds, the firefight with the suspect in the tent continued. Officer Merritt was able to clean and bandage the open wounds and sling Sergeant Martin’s arm to prevent further bleeding. At this point, Sergeant Martin was moved to a location that was suitable for an airlift.
Our congratulations and thanks for your service to all the officers — editors, California Newswire.