WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama honored 11 police officers Monday who have performed extraordinary acts of bravery, awarding the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to men and women who had suffered stab wounds and burn wounds and had defused tense hostage situations to protect members of their communities.
The honorees hailed from large and small police departments across the country, from Florida’s Miami-Dade County to Midwest City, Oklahoma. The incidents involved a mass shooting on the campus of Santa Monica College as well as the captivity of a 2-year-old girl, and in the case of Philadelphia officer Robert Wilson III, the loss of his life.
“It it were not for their bravery, we likely would have lost a lot of people,” Obama said, adding that the definition of valor is “doing without witnesses what you would do if the whole world was watching.”
“They did it instinctively. This is an award that none of them sought,” the president said, adding that all of the officers involved would have opted to forego the honor if it meant avoiding the confrontation they ended up facing. “If they had their way, none of them would have to be here.”
Obama also made a point of thanking the families of these officers, including in the case of Wilson, who was off duty in a video game store buying his son a present in March 2015 when two men held up the store. He was shot multiple times as he kept others out of the store, and the two suspects were ultimately apprehended.
Other honorees included Miami-Dade Officer Mario Gutierrez, who suffered several stab wounds as he subdued a knife-wielding assailant attempting to set off a gas explosion; Santa Monica police officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks and Capt. Raymond Bottenfield, a member of the campus police force, who intervened during a campus shooting; Midwest City, Oklahoma, Maj. David Huff, who defused a hostage situation; and Los Angeles Police Department officer Donald Thompson, who pulled an unconscious man to safety from a car that then burst into flames.
New York state boasted two honorees, including Johnson City patrolman Louis Cioci, who pursued and apprehended a suspect in a crowded hospital after the assailant had killed a fellow officer; and deputy Joey Tortorella in Niagra County, who subdued a gunman after he had shot and wounded his parents, thereby preventing a potential shooting at a nearby elementary school.
Officer Gregory Stevens, from Garland, Texas, prevented a mass shooting by exchanging gunfire with two assailants at close range, while Omaha Police Department officer Coral Walker single-handedly incapacitated a man who had killed others on a shooting spree in Nebraska. North Miami Police Department officer Niel Johnson managed to end a violent crime spree by a man who had shot a Miami police officer and two other innocent bystanders.
And one Federal Bureau of Investigation officer made the list: Special Agent Tyler Call, who was off duty with his family, when helped rescue a woman who was being held at gunpoint by her ex-husband.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that while the natural instinct would be to take shelter during these violent confrontations, “They ran toward the sounds of gunfire that were in the air.”
Obama noted he had just signed multiple pieces of legislation in honor of National Police Week, including one that would provide additional funds so police departments across the U.S. could buy more bulletproof vests.
And he noted that all police officers should be honored for the “daily grind” they experience on the job.
“While the moments you’re being honored for are remarkable, we also know that every day you go out there, you’ve got a tough job,” he said.