Nineteen Officers Receive 2006 VACP/VPCF Awards for Valor
August 8, 2006 | VACP
The Award for Valor recognizes a law enforcement officer who, in the line of duty, performs an act of extraordinary heroism while engaged with an adversary at imminent personal risk. The awards are presented annually at the Valor Awards Banquet at the annual conference of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, held this year at the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Virginia. The awards program is a joint effort of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation.
For additional information, please contact VACP Executive Director Dana Schrad.
Photos of the awards presentations are available at http://photos.vachiefs.org/gallery/2399265
2006 Recipients of the VACP/VPCF Awards for Valor:
Alexandria Police Department
Detective Martin A. Hoffmaster
Officer Patrick M. Lennon
Officer Anton D. Keith
Officer Terri D. Mucci
Shortly after 8 a.m. on January 11, a man reported he had been carjacked on North Henry Street. He told police that as he unlocked his car, a black Cadillac DeVille, a man came up to him, knocked his coffee from his hand and grabbed his car keys. The suspect threatened to shoot the man if he didn’t move. The suspect got into the car and drove away.
Police broadcast a description of the suspect and the stolen vehicle and, within minutes, Detective Marty Hoffmaster saw the car on Wythe Street and began to follow it into Del Ray. Once Detective Hoffmaster confirmed that a carjacking had occurred, he initiated a pursuit.
Other officers responded to assist and when the suspect didn’t stop, officers pursued the car from Alexandria into south Arlington and then onto northbound I-395. Rush hour traffic slowed near the Pentagon and in the congestion, the suspect moved to the far right lane. Officers believed they might be able to box him in but before they were able to the suspect suddenly turned and rammed Detective Hoffmaster’s cruiser. The impact was so great that the air bags activated, filling the cruiser with powdery air and forcing Detective Hoffmaster’s arms from the steering wheel.
The suspect continued turning and then drove the wrong way down an on-ramp to the Pentagon service road. Detective Hoffmaster didn’t hesitate. He had to stop the carjacker before anyone was hurt. He pushed down the air bags, lowered his windows to get the cloudy air out of the cruiser and went after the Cadillac. The suspect was driving the wrong way on the service road and two Pentagon officers at their duty post could see the Cadillac approaching. Pentagon Officer James M. Feltis attempted to stop the car and his partner turned to alert oncoming traffic. But the suspect refused to stop. He struck Officer Feltis and kept on going. Detective Hoffmaster could see the Cadillac traveling the wrong way onto the Washington Boulevard off ramp and saw his chance to stop it. He chased after the suspect and then drove his cruiser toward the Cadillac and pinned it against the guardrail. The pursuit was over.
Other officers had arrived at the same time. Some stayed to aid Officer Feltis and others — including Pentagon and Virginia State Police — joined Detective Hoffmaster on the ramp. Officers Patrick Lennon, Anton Keith, and Terri Mucci moved quickly to try to apprehend the suspect, ordering him to get out of the car. When he didn’t follow their commands, Officer Lennon approached the passenger side door and tried to break the glass with his retractable baton. When it didn’t work, an officer from another agency broke out the driver side window with his baton and Officer Lennon then pulled the suspect from the car.
The suspect struggled with the officers and as one prepared to use pepper spray, the suspect turned and grabbed Detective Hoffmaster’s gun from its holster. Almost immediately shots rang out and the officers tried valiantly to restrain the suspect. As they all went to the ground, Officer Lennon could see the suspect was still holding the gun and had it pointed toward traffic on I-395. He reached to control the suspect’s arm and another officer fought to get the weapon away. Within seconds, the gun was secured and officers were able to handcuff the suspect. He was bleeding and officers soon realized that he had shot himself, but no one else.
Still, the violence the suspect had already inflicted left Pentagon Officer Feltis critically injured. For five weeks, Officer Feltis fought for his life before succumbing to his injuries on February 14. The suspect was later charged by federal authorities with murder.
Chesapeake Police Department
Officer Michael K. Saffran (Honored Posthumously)
First Sergeant Michael S. Mayo
On October 8, 2005, Chesapeake Police Officer Michael K. Saffran was dispatched to a bank robbery alarm at the Bank of Hampton Roads. On his arrival, a vehicle was pulling out of the parking lot with four people inside. Officer Saffran pursued the vehicle as it traveled south on Old George Washington Highway where it lost control in a sharp curve and struck a guard rail. The bank robber, who was a passenger in the vehicle, came out of the driver’s side and began to run from the scene. He quickly returned to the wrecked vehicle and took a female hostage at gunpoint in his bid to escape.
Officer Saffran drew his service weapon and ordered the robber to drop his weapon. The robber began to walk towards Officer Saffran while holding his gun to the head of the hostage. The bank robber then began to shoot at Officer Saffran, who stood his ground as the robber, protected by a human shield, approached him. Officer Saffran struck the robber several times, but he refused to surrender and continued to approach and fire upon Officer Saffran. During this exchange of gunfire, Officer Saffran was shot in his abdomen, with the bullet entering under his protective vest.
First Sergeant Michael Mayo arrived on the scene as Officer Saffran was confronting the suspect. First Sergeant Mayo continued the gun battle with the suspect after Officer Saffran was shot, killing the gunman. In the end, only one hostage sustained minor gunshot wounds to the leg, and was treated and released the same day.
Using his many years of experience and training, First Sergeant Mayo remained calm under fire. He quickly went to the suspect to make sure he was no longer a danger, provided direction for protecting the crime scene, and went to his downed officer to render aid until medics could arrive.
Officer Saffran died as a result of injuries he received during his violent encounter with the bank robber. He took a courageous stand and gave his life in the protection of innocent citizens. He demonstrated unquestionable bravery and strength of character in performing his duties.
Chesterfield County Police Department
Officer Gary J. Buro (Honored Posthumously)
Officer Joseph G. Diman
On May 4, 2006, the Chesterfield Emergency Communications Center received a call transferred from the State Police for an assault on Totty Street. Kelly Ann Mitchell stated that her boyfriend used a key to enter her house and assaulted her. She stated that she was, at that time, upstairs and the boyfriend was downstairs. She further stated that his name was Willy Anderson, he was a corrections officer, and he had been drinking heavily. She also said there was a gun in the house but she had not seen it.
Communication Officer Vanessa Johnson dispatched the call to Unit 364 to respond and see the caller in reference to her boyfriend coming into her house and attacking her. Officer Diman stated that he was in the area and would take the call. Officer Buro advised to send him the call as well. Both officers were at the front door and asked dispatch to have the caller let them in. Both officers met Kelly Mitchell at the front door. She told the officers that Anderson had a gun, that he was on the phone in the bedroom, and that he was a corrections officer.
As the officers entered the house, a hallway leading to the rear of the home was directly in front of them. A stairway leading to the second floor ran along the right side of the hallway. The stairs were open to and overlooked the hall. Willie Mitchell Anderson was in a bedroom which was located immediately to the right of the front door entrance. He was approximately eight to ten feet from the officers.
Both officers entered the room where Willie Anderson was sitting on the bed talking on a cell phone. Officer Buro entered the room and asked Anderson if he had a gun. The recording from the open dispatch phone line then sounded as if Officer Buro asked Anderson, “Where’s it at?” This statement is immediately followed by the sounds of gunfire.
The investigation revealed that Willie Anderson was on the phone with his wife, Jessica, when Officer Buro entered the room. Jessica Anderson later told investigators that she heard a gunshot over the phone, and that prior to hearing the gunshot, Willie Anderson told her that he had a gun and that he had two clips. He said he knew the police were on the way and told her, “The first person who comes through the door is gonna get it.” She stated that she heard an officer ask him if he had a gun and Anderson replied, “Yeah, I have a gun.” She said that she heard the gunshot immediately after that.
Upon entering the bedroom, Officer Buro was shot once in the upper forehead by Willie Anderson. Officer Buro died at the scene.
Immediately after Officer Buro was shot, there was an exchange of gunfire that lasted no more than five seconds. Willie Anderson fired the handgun eight more times at Officer Diman. The report from VCU Medical Center indicated that Officer Diman sustained five gunshot wounds. One of the wounds was an entry and exit to Officer Diman’s right upper thigh. One was an entry and exit in Officer Diman’s right wrist. He also suffered wounds from gunshots to the left side of his chest and right side midline area of his back. Both of these wounds were clearly visible but penetration did not occur due to the protective vest he was wearing at the time. Finally, he suffered a grazing wound to the lower left leg. Additionally, there were entry and exit bullet holes in the right knee area of his pants.
Officer Diman fired his issued .40 caliber Sig Sauer two times, striking Willie Anderson once in the lower right leg and once in the upper chest. Anderson died at the scene.
Fairfax County Police Department
PFC Lance T. Guckenberger
On January 14, 2005, Police Officer First Class Lance T. Guckenberger arrived on-scene to a dispatched call for a silent hold-up alarm. Behind the locked glass door of the Ace Cash Express Store on Columbia Pike was a violent suspect in the process of committing an armed robbery. The suspect displayed a weapon, which turned out to be a .40-caliber pistol, and approached the check-cashing store shortly before the business opened. The suspect aggressively forced the manager inside the store. The store manager stated, “As I walked inside with Jordan (the suspect), I left one of the doors open, for either my rescuers or my escape. I was already thinking that I was dead!”
While the suspect was demanding cash from the store manager, she had to unlock the store’s safe. Hurried and in fear for her life, she incorrectly entered the safe’s code, knowing it would send an immediate silent alert to the security/alarm company. The alarm company contacted the Fairfax County 911 Dispatch Center. PFC Guckenberger received the dispatched call and quickly responded to the store.
On arrival, PFC Guckenberger remained calm and made a critical decision. He utilized his advanced tactical training (Supplemental Tactical Team) and his strong policing skills to place his police cruiser in a calculated and advantageous position.
As PFC Guckenberger approached the business, unaware that the suspect was inside the store, the suspect observed his arrival. Surprised by this, the suspect became even more agitated at the manager and told her to take care of the police. The manager convinced the suspect that she would tell the police that everything was fine and that he should hide in a bathroom until they left. The suspect agreed and as soon as he entered the bathroom, the manager fled screaming from the store. The manager’s actions alerted the suspect that something went wrong and he promptly exited the bathroom. PFC Guckenberger observed the fear and scared expression on the manager’s face as she exited the front door. He swiftly led her to safety behind his unmarked police car. This single action most definitely saved the life of the manager and probably the officer.
From behind the safety of the cruiser, PFC Guckenberger kept a constant watch on the front door and attempted to gain the needed intelligence from the store’s manager. As this was occurring, the suspect surprisingly walked out of the store with his gun drawn and violently confronted the officer. Without hesitation or regard for his own safety, PFC Guckenberger pushed the store manager underneath the trunk of his patrol car to keep her protected while continually maintaining his attention on the suspect. PFC Guckenberger repeatedly yelled, “Police! Drop your weapon.” But the suspect refused to follow any commands and fired his weapon at the officer. Without delay, PFC Guckenberger identified his background and the suspect’s position and appropriately returned fire. PFC Guckenberger and the suspect exchanged gunfire for several minutes while he assessed the situation. Not only was PFC Guckenberger exchanging rounds with the suspect, but he repeatedly comforted the store manager and made certain she was safe. As PFC Guckenberger fired at the suspect, he remained calm and attempted to update the dispatcher of the fierce situation. In addition, he was composed enough to request that the backup units needed to respond quickly.
PFC Guckenberger stayed behind the cover of his police cruiser and tried to fire through the rear window of the car that was providing protection for the suspect. Due to the vehicle’s design and the angle at which PFC Guckenberger was firing, this caused the rounds to ricochet away from the suspect. PFC Guckenberger quickly recognized the ineffectiveness of his rounds and that they were not penetrating the vehicle’s window. As he was changing firing positions, he observed the suspect attempting to sneak away from the scene by crouching behind a vehicle and slowly walking/crawling from the area. Once again, PFC Guckenberger gave the suspect a chance to surrender by giving loud and clear commands, but the suspect refused and continued his escape.
At this point, PFC Guckenberger recognized that the suspect was trying to elude capture; that he still maintained control of his weapon; and that he was an immediate risk to public safety. PFC Guckenberger gained a tactically sound position, fired at the suspect and struck him in the leg. The suspect immediately fell to the ground with the weapon still in his hand. PFC Guckenberger then told the suspect to toss the weapon away from his person and to get into a prone position with his hand away from his body. Quickly, PFC Guckenberger gained access to his police cruiser’s trunk and retrieved his assault rifle. This gave him a decisive tactical advantage in case the suspect attempted to gain control of his weapon again. Although the suspect complied with all further commands by PFC Guckenberger, the weapon was still perilously close to the injured suspect. He used specific verbal commands to keep the suspect separated from his weapon as he maintained cover with his rifle until additional officers arrived on the scene. Once adequate backup arrived, the suspect was handcuffed and was immediately treated for his injuries. Overall the suspect fired eight shots at PFC Guckenberger and neither he nor the store manager was injured by the suspect.
In court the jury convicted the suspect, Roderick Jordan, of attempted capital murder of a police officer and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Newport News Police Department
Officer John D. Farrow
Officer Eddward L. Jones
Officer Bradley N. Nielsen
On May 31, 2005, Officers Farrow, Jones, and Nielsen were on foot patrol in the area of 33rd Street and Roanoke Avenue. While in the area, they observed subjects standing in the area of the corner and assumed a position where they could observe any criminal activities. Regardless of their efforts to conceal their location, persons began to yell taunts and obscenities at the officers. As the officers continued to move southbound, the officers observed a suspect who then fired five rounds at them.
In response, the officers took appropriate cover, drew their weapons and moved to a position that allowed them a better view of the shooter. The officers’ actions were immediately and appropriately communicated over the radio. The officers continued to observe the shooter as he ran and clearly observed the shooter reach towards his waistband. The suspect’s actions, combined with the recent shots fired in their direction, led the officers to believe they were in fear for their lives. The officers then fired at the suspect. Officers chased the suspect, who had fallen once, but ultimately fled the scene on foot. One officer fired a single round and one officer fired five rounds, while the third officer did not fire.
The officers returned to the scene and began to secure the crime scene until backup officers arrived and the investigative portion of events commenced. The actions taken by the officers were appropriate and prudent. First, their initial actions were proactive and self-initiated where they identified an area known for criminal activity and distribution of narcotics as an area of interest. Secondly, they demonstrated a high level of initiative to be in the area, on foot, attempting to identify criminals and criminal activities in an effort to actively prosecute these activities. Thirdly, once faced with extreme peril and danger, the three officers took appropriate cover, then actively moved into harm’s way to engage the offender.
Prince William County Police Department
Officer Steven L. Bennett
Officer Ronald Knapczyk
Officer Bryan Nevitt
Officer Eric Toto
Officer Heather Younce
On Friday, June 18th, 2004, the last day of school, a student at Bull Run Middle School in Prince William County, Virginia, dressed in Army fatigues and wearing a red bandanna, loaded a rifle in a school bathroom. For a period of time, the seventh grader terrorized school personnel and students at gunpoint, setting the stage for another possible Columbine.
Just after 8:30 a.m., the school’s assistant principal heard the sounds of a rifle being loaded in a staff bathroom. He immediately called 911, and the school was placed in immediate lockdown. Even so, the student was able to make his way to the main office and threatened to shoot several people, including a staff worker who was under her desk talking to the police on the telephone.
Upon hearing the call, Sergeant Hal Litton directed the first five officers who arrived to assemble into an entry/rescue team and enter the building in accordance with the Police Department’s School Violence Response Plan. As trained, Officers Steven Bennett, Ronald Knapczyk, Bryan Nevitt, Eric Toto, and Heather Younce formed a cohesive unit and staged at the entrance to the school. From their vantage point, the team could observe that the armed student (holding a rifle) had confronted a teacher in the school’s front hallway. Without hesitation, the five officers working in concert and with quick precision entered the school, taking the student by surprise. The seventh grader was immediately taken into custody without incident. After an extensive search of the school by the police, the scene was rendered safe.
The subsequent criminal investigation into the events that occurred on this day revealed that the armed student had made extensive plans to overtake the school and kill some of his fellow students. The student had smuggled several rifles, a large quantity of ammunition and camouflaged clothing into the school.
If not for the five officers’ school violence training, quick response and decisive action, the events at Bull Run Middle School may well have turned into another tragic Columbine. However, on this particular day, no students, staff or others were injured and everyone went home to their families.
It is important to note that the inherent danger for these officers was significant, and they acted in accordance with the Department’s School Violence Response Plan. The policy was developed specifically to address emergency situations in schools, and directs the first five officers arriving at a school-based violence incident to enter the school with no cover, no specialized SWAT team outfitting and no time to secure a perimeter. This training model is based on lessons learned from the mass murders at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Richmond Police Department
Detective Chester W. Roberts
During November and December of 2005, several armed robberies were committed in the Church Hill area of First Precinct by an individual fitting a similar description. Two of these robberies involved citizens leaving church functions.
In January, 2006, the Dollar General Stores at 1830 Creighton Road and 1220 N. 25th Street were each robbed twice by an armed individual with a similar description, and fitting the suspect description in the November and December robberies.
On February 6, 2006, officers of the First Precinct and Canine Unit conducted an operation to apprehend the individual committing these robberies and terrorizing citizens. Two officers were placed strategically in each store, while the remaining officers were stationed several blocks away awaiting directions from the officers in the stores that a robbery was in progress.
Detective Chester Roberts and Officer Clyde Lindsey were in the Creighton Road store. As they and three store employees were leaving the business, the robber entered the store with a handgun pointed at them and forced them back inside. Detective Roberts responded immediately by pulling his service firearm and verbally confronting the robber.
When the robber pointed his firearm at Detective Roberts, Detective Roberts fired at the robber striking him several times. The robber ran from the store with Detective Roberts and Officer Lindsey in pursuit. He was caught by the officers a short distance from the store and arrested on numerous felonies. He had recently been released from prison after serving nine years for robbery.
Detective Roberts’ quick actions resulted in getting a dangerous individual off the street and reducing the robbery problem in the First Precinct.
Virginia State Police
Trooper Robert S. Bowers, Jr.
In the early morning hours July 1, 2005, Trooper Robert Bowers attempted to stop a vehicle on Interstate 64, in the area of Hampton Roads Center Parkway, for a reckless driving violation. The vehicle attempted to elude Trooper Bowers at a high rate of speed. The vehicle pursuit traveled for approximately three miles and eventually ended when the suspect vehicle crashed into a dwelling and the driver fled on foot.
Trooper Bowers pursued the suspect on foot for over a quarter mile. After overtaking the suspect on foot, Trooper Bowers attempted to apprehend him. A physical confrontation ensued. During the physical confrontation, the suspect fired a handgun at Trooper Bowers at point blank range. As a result of the gunfire, Trooper Bowers was struck twice by the gunfire. He was struck once in the neck, resulting in a collapsed right lung, and once in his leg. Despite his injuries, Trooper Bowers was able to return fire and subdued the suspect by striking him twice.
Trooper Bowers found himself in grave, imminent danger during the course of this event. At no time did his actions waiver. Trooper Bowers did everything in his power to apprehend the suspect despite facing life threatening consequences. Through his actions, and as a direct result of his courage and determination, Trooper Bowers was able to remove a dangerous criminal from the community.
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is a statewide organization of federal, state and local police chiefs and law enforcement executives dedicated to improving the professionalism of police agencies in Virginia. The Association was founded in 1926 and has more than 600 members. The Association provides annual training programs for law enforcement executives, directs a statewide traffic safety program for law enforcement, produces Freedom of Information Act guidelines for law enforcement and lobbies for law enforcement interests at the state and federal level.
The Virginia Police Chiefs Foundation is a charitable educational foundation created by the VACP to provide training and education programs, an awards program, youth scholarships and a youth leadership camp for high school students.