SPRINGFIELD, IL - Eighteen Illinois law enforcement officers received the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor today during a ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Springfield. The annual awards ceremony honors law enforcement officers who have distinguished themselves by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty. This year’s ceremony recognized officers for their acts of heroism for the years 2002 and 2003.
“These officers risk their lives to protect the citizens of Illinois and they deserve recognition for their heroic actions,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “They are to be commended for their unselfish acts of bravery."
“Our citizens owe a debt of gratitude to the brave officers working throughout the state of Illinois,” said Committee Chairman Larry G. Trent. “These 18 honorees indeed exemplify the very best of the 35,000 police officers who risk their lives each day in order to ensure the safety of our citizens.”
During the ceremony, four Chicago Police Department (CPD) Officers, an Illinois State Police Trooper, and a Homewood Police Officer were recognized as the recipients of the Medal of Honor for their heroic acts in 2002. For 2003, six CPD Officers, one Illinois State Police Trooper, and officers from the Peru Police Department, Rockford Police Department, and Springfield Police Department were recognized for their acts of bravery.
2002 Medal of Honor Recipients
· Chicago Police Officer Randal L. King, while off duty, noticed a suspicious vehicle parked in a Burbank liquor store parking lot with its motor running when three subjects exited the liquor store and sped away. While following the subjects in his personal vehicle, they began firing at him. Without regard for his own personal safety, King continued the pursuit to the Ford City Shopping Mall. Meanwhile, fellow officer Sergeant Dennis P. Walsh, who was working security while off duty, was monitoring radio traffic and observed the suspects running through the mall. Walsh pursued one offender on foot who then ran into a store and attempted to hide between the coat racks. While attempting to subdue the suspect, a struggle ensued, and Sergeant Walsh noticed the offender was concealing a fully automatic weapon underneath his sweatshirt. The offender broke loose from Sergeant Walsh and ran for the exit door when he noticed responding security units outside the door. After ordering the subject to drop his weapon, the offender turned toward Walsh and pointed his weapon at him. Walsh then shot the offender and gained control of the suspect and the weapon.
· While off duty, Illinois State Police Master Sergeant Todd A. Rohlwing, came upon a two-vehicle crash in which flames were coming from under the hood of one of the vehicles and the driver was unable to exit the car due to his foot being stuck. After unsuccessfully pulling the victim from the vehicle, Rohlwing tried extinguishing the fire. After entering the smoke-filled vehicle to determine what was blocking the victim’s foot, Rohlwing was unable to move any of the wreckage trapping the driver’s foot. He was, however, able to untie the driver’s boot and free his foot allowing him and an unidentified motorist to pull the victim from the vehicle to safety. Prior to the arrival of the fire department, the vehicle’s floorboard and driver’s area were engulfed in flames.
· Responding to a call of a person shot, Chicago Police Officer Joseph Stefanec found a woman unconscious with what appeared to be numerous gunshot wounds. After obtaining information from witnesses, Stefanec was led to the suspect who was walking away from the scene. After ordering the man to stop, the suspect turned and fired at the officer who then returned fire. Further investigation revealed the victim and suspect were husband and wife and had an on-going domestic dispute. The subject was arrested for homicide and aggravated battery.
· While off duty and shopping for Christmas gifts for needy families in his district, Chicago Police Officer Emmett McClendon was told a robbery was taking place. The offender had entered the store armed with a fully-loaded handgun and wearing body armor with the intention of robbing an armored car employee. The subject approached the armored car employee, disarmed him, and took a bag containing over $73,000 and began running toward the front of the store. As the subject approached the front door of the store, he turned toward his pursuers and fired a shot in the direction of Officer McClendon and a store employee. Officer McClendon returned fire, striking the offender once in the side where he was unprotected by his body armor. The subject was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
· Responding to a call at a bank located inside a food store, Homewood Police Officer David L. Tobin and a fellow officer found an armed male who had forced a teller into the vault. The officers approached the bank counter area when the offender started to exit the vault with the bank teller. After being ordered to drop his weapon and release the teller, the offender returned to the vault room with the hostage. After a hostage negotiator began negotiations with the offender, he stepped out of the vault with the hostage and a handgun. Officer Tobin attempted to disarm the offender by grabbing the handgun and a struggle ensued resulting in the handgun discharging and hitting Tobin in the finger. The bullet continued and struck the left upper arm of the offender, who was subsequently taken into custody.
2003 Medal of Honor Recipients
· While working an undercover narcotics detail, CPD Officers Federico Andaverde and Andrew J. Dakuras, heard gunshots emanating close to West Belden School. Responding to the location and positioning themselves between two offenders and numerous elementary school children in a playground, the officers ordered the men to drop their weapons. Both suspects immediately fired on the officers who were still in their vehicle, with a bullet striking Officer Andaverde in the upper right leg. After returning fire, one subject fell to the ground, with the second subject fleeing. As Andaverde approached the wounded offender he realized his weapon was empty and in the slide lock position. He quickly placed his thumb on the lever and released the upper slide giving the impression he had reloaded his weapon and pointed it at the suspect while disarming him. Meanwhile, Officer Dakuras, while pursuing the second offender, was fired upon and returned fire striking the subject who fell to the ground in the middle of the intersection. Both suspects were subsequently arrested.
· Chicago Police Sergeant Christopher D. Fletcher, while off duty and with a companion, was entering his personal vehicle when approached by two armed suspects. One subject pressed a handgun to Sergeant Fletcher’s chest and took Fletcher’s personal belongings. While the subject was pointing his weapon at the companion, Fletcher was able to retrieve his weapon and fire at both offenders, resulting in a continuous exchange of gunfire during which Sergeant Fletcher was wounded in the hip. Both suspects were also wounded, one fatally.
· In August 2003, a Windy City Core Supply auto parts ex-employee entered the warehouse with the intent to kill every owner and employee present. For more than an hour he lay in wait, shooting employees as they entered, one at a time. Instead of shooting at one worker, he tied their wrists to a ramp railing enabling the worker to escape and alert citizens who called the police. Chicago P. D. Officer Luis M. Maldonado was the lead member of an emergency entry, assault, and rescue operation assigned to locate, isolate, and neutralize the offender in the warehouse which was approximately 50,000 square feet and contained more than 2,000 crates, bins, boxes, and barrels to provide hiding. While about two-thirds of the way through the warehouse, Officer Maldonado was able to see the suspect with gun in hand, hiding in ambush behind a series of crates and parts bins. Maldonado maneuvered himself in a position to block any escape route and placed himself in the direct path of the gunman, who once again jumped from his ambush position and aimed his weapon at the officer. Consequently, Maldonado fired multiple times at the offender, fatally wounding him.
· Chicago Police Officer David M. Sepulveda, while off duty and in a bank’s back room, was advised by a teller that a robbery was taking place. After Sepulveda exited the back room and announced he was a police officer, the suspect left the bank. Following the suspect from the bank with his gun drawn, the suspect turned and grabbed Sepulveda’s gun and the men fought for control of the weapon. A shot was fired into the air, and while struggling with the suspect, Sepulveda managed to take the magazine out of the weapon. A witness helped the officer contain the suspect while he was handcuffed.
· While driving by a restaurant in an unmarked police car, Officer Wilfredo Torres and his partner were flagged down by a patron who said a man was holding a gun to the head of a waitress. The waitress was later identified as the suspect’s ex-girlfriend. After the woman locked herself in a back office, the suspect kicked down the door and dragged her out. After ordering the offender to drop his weapon, the subject fired at Torres, striking him in the left leg with the bullet passing through into his right leg. Officer Torres pushed a patron out of the way and fired one fatal shot, striking the suspect once in the head.
· While initiating a traffic stop on a vehicle with two occupants, an Illinois State Police District 17 Trooper noticed the driver was behaving abnormally and eventually fled on foot. After pursuing the driver and tackling him to the ground, the driver was able to disarm the Trooper and stated he was going to kill him. Trooper Joseph J. Savitch arrived at the scene and observed the struggle. The Trooper yelled to Savitch that the subject had his gun and for Savitch to shoot him. Trooper Savitch fired his service weapon once, striking the driver. The suspect later died at the hospital as a result of the gunshot wound.
· After responding to a 9-1-1 call concerning a vehicle which had left the roadway and gone into the Illinois River, Peru Police Officer John Atkins found the vehicle almost completely submerged approximately 20 feet from shore. A civilian who had witnessed the accident was in the water attempting to rescue the occupants when Atkins entered the chest high water to attempt to rescue any occupants in the vehicle. Peru Officer Adam Conness also arrived at the scene and entered the water to assist with the rescue. Due to water pressure not allowing the doors to open, the officers broke the driver’s side front window and found an individual in the driver’s seat. A total of three people were located in the vehicle and transferred to the shore where additional officers and rescue workers began performing CPR. None of the recovered victims survived the crash.
· After being dispatched to a house fire, Rockford Police Officers Amado Soria and Juan A. Tapia were advised two elderly people were trapped inside the house. Officer Soria kicked the front door multiple times to force it open, while Officer Tapia attempted to find another entrance to the house. When Soria entered the residence, a bedroom was totally engulfed in flames and visibility was near zero. He was able to see an arm extending from the bedroom into the living room and called for assistance from Tapia. The officers re-entered the building and grabbed the victim’s arm, pulling him from the burning house. The officers then returned to the house in an effort to save the other victim, but were driven back by smoke and flames. The second victim died in the fire. Both officers were treated at the scene for minor smoke inhalation injuries.
· Springfield Police Officer Brian L. Graves, while on routine patrol, observed a residence on fire with two individuals exiting the house covered in ash. When Graves asked if everyone was out of the house, he was advised there were others trapped in the basement. After removing the boards from a basement window, Graves found thick glass blocks and could hear people inside yelling for help. He then proceeded to crawl into the window well and break out six or seven of the window blocks with his flashlight, only to find another piece of wood, which he also removed. After seeing the silhouettes of two adults and hearing them yell, he proceeded to climb halfway into the window when he was handed a small child who he handed to someone outside. He then reached back into the window and assisted the two adults. The victims were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation, while Officer Graves received a minor laceration to his head and was treated for minor smoke inhalation.
The Law Enforcement Medal of Honor committee, created by statute, reviews nominations submitted annually for events occurring during the preceding year. The committee is chaired by the Director of the Illinois State Police. Other committee members consist of the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, the Executive Director of the Illinois Local Governmental Law Enforcement’s Training Board, and the following individuals appointed by the Governor: a sheriff, a chief of police other than Chicago, a representative of a statewide law enforcement officers organization and a retired Illinois law enforcement officer.