Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris Honor Eight Public Safety Officials with Medal of Valor Awards


9-12-2016

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SACRAMENTO - Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. joined Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today to present the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to eight public safety officials from the California Highway Patrol, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, San Bernardino Police Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and the Redlands Police Department, who went above and beyond the call of duty.

"The men we are honoring today exemplify something beyond the ordinary, beyond duty," said Governor Brown at today's ceremony. "That is to see something that somebody else needs and to respond, even at the risk of your own life."

The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act of 2003 gives the Governor the authority to award a Medal of Valor to public safety officers who are cited by the Attorney General for extraordinary valor above and beyond the call of duty. The Attorney General's Office receives nominations from public safety agencies. These nominations are reviewed by the Medal of Valor Review Board, which makes a recommendation to the Attorney General.

"These heroes demonstrated unparalleled valor and courage, risking their own safety and well-being, in incredibly difficult and dangerous circumstances," said Attorney General Harris. "Their bravery embodies the spirit of public service and exemplifies the best of these noble professions."

The following individuals were awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor today:

California Highway Patrol Officer Brett Peters

On February 21, 2015, Officer Peters responded to a call of a stalled vehicle blocking a lane on westbound Interstate 580 to westbound Interstate 980, directly over State Route 24 in the City of Oakland. Unbeknownst to Officer Peters, the adult male driver had been experiencing paranoia and schizophrenia thoughts. The driver exited his vehicle as Officer Peters exited his patrol unit. The subject stepped toward the concrete railing and began to climb over it, in an attempt to jump and commit suicide. Officer Peters recognized the danger, and without hesitation, quickly ran toward the subject. He grabbed the subject and a violent struggle ensued as the subject attempted to break free from Officer Peters' grasp.

It appeared that the subject was going over the railing, taking Officer Peters with him. Officer Peters released the subject and deployed his Electronic Control Device, resulting in the subject stepping back. The subject again stepped toward the railing and climbed over it as Officer Peters grabbed hold of his left wrist and clothing. While Officer Peters held the subject tightly, he dropped to the ground to maintain leverage and control of the subject. Officer Peters was on one side of the railing, while the subject's entire body dangled midair over traffic traveling on State Route 24.

Officers from the California Highway Patrol (Oakland Area), Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office arrived on scene to assist Officer Peters. They pulled the still combative subject back over the railing and he was safely placed in custody and taken by ambulance to a mental health facility. The subject's life was saved as a result of Officer Peters' act of heroism in which he risked his own personal safety. Officer Peters held the subject for over two minutes, to the point of exhaustion and muscle fatigue, before the subject was moved to a safe location. For extraordinary bravery, heroism and courage in the face of imminent and personal life-threatening peril, Officer Peters' actions were above and beyond the call of duty, and exemplify the highest standards of a California public safety officer.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Firefighter Alexander Wallbrett

On June 24, 2015, the unarmed crew of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department was providing medical treatment to a sick and intoxicated male patient at a downtown trolley station. A bystander, who refused orders to back away from the patient, began swinging a knife at firefighters Ben Vernon and Alex Wallbrett. The suspect, a 34-year old male, stabbed Firefighter Vernon twice in the torso. Without hesitation and regard for his own safety, Firefighter Wallbrett jumped a metal fence and rushed to Firefighter Vernon's aid, placing himself between his partner and the knife wielding suspect.

As Firefighter Wallbrett wrestled with the attacker, preventing further injury to his partner, he was stabbed three times, including a stab wound close to his spine. The suspect was eventually subdued by other fire department personnel and officers from the Metropolitan Transit System. Firefighter Vernon suffered a broken rib and collapsed lung. Both Firefighter Vernon and Firefighter Wallbrett have made full recoveries and returned to duty. The suspect was convicted of multiple felony charges and sentenced to 23 years, 8 months in prison. For extraordinary bravery, heroism and courage in the face of imminent and personal life-threatening peril, Firefighter Wallbrett's actions were above and beyond the call of duty, and exemplify the highest standards of a California public safety officer.

Redlands Police Department Officer Joseph Aguilar; San Bernardino Police Department Officer Nicholas Koahou; San Bernardino Police Department Officer Brian Olvera; San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Rafael Ixco; San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Deputy Bruce Southworth and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Chad Johnson

On December 2, 2015, gunfire erupted at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino in which the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health was holding a holiday banquet. A county employee and his wife killed 14 people and wounded 21 others before fleeing in a rented black SUV. Hundreds of law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies were involved in the immediate response.

The outstanding investigative work of the San Bernardino Police Department led to the identification of the suspects and their residence. At 3:20 p.m., police spotted the SUV near a home in Redlands. Redlands police officers followed the SUV and after a brief pursuit the vehicle stopped. The two suspects began firing assault rifles at the officers stopped behind their vehicle. The ensuing exchange of gunfire lasted more than five minutes. San Bernardino Police Department Officer Koahou saw that a deputy was pinned down and in need of rescue. Officer Koahou neutralized one of the suspects who exited the SUV. The second suspect, still inside the SUV, focused attention on the pinned down deputy. As Officer Koahou moved towards the deputy, he was shot in his left leg and fell. Officer Koahou continued to return fire at the remaining suspect.

Law enforcement personnel quickly devised a plan to use a patrol vehicle as a moving cover to rescue Officer Koahou and the pinned down deputy. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Chad Johnson drove a patrol vehicle, with San Bernardino Police Department Officer Brian Olvera, Redlands Police Department Officer Joseph Aguilar and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Deputy Bruce Southworth on foot, taking cover behind the vehicle. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Rafael Ixco drove another vehicle and followed Johnson's vehicle to create additional cover.

As both vehicles and the officers on foot moved forward, the remaining suspect inside the SUV shot at them, with Officers Olvera and Aguilar and Deputy Southworth returning fire. Officer Koahou and the pinned down deputy were successfully removed by the team and taken to a safe area. Both suspects were killed at the scene. Inside the suspects' vehicle, two handguns, 200 rounds of handgun ammunition and 1400 rounds of assault rifle ammunition were found. Officer Koahou was transported to a local hospital where he received medical treatment for the gunshot wound to his leg.

For extraordinary bravery, heroism and courage in the face of imminent and personal life-threatening peril, Redlands Police Officer Aguilar, San Bernardino Police Officers Koahou and Olvera, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Corporals Ixco and Johnson and Deputy Southworth's actions were above and beyond the call of duty, and exemplify the highest standards of a California public safety officer.

Photo captions can be found below:

1.) Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris with California Highway Patrol Officer Brett Peters.
2.) Left to right: San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Rafael Ixco; San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Deputy Bruce Southworth; San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Corporal Chad Johnson; San Bernardino Police Department Officer Brian Olvera; Attorney General Harris; Governor Brown; San Bernardino Police Department Officer Nicholas Koahou; Redlands Police Department Officer Joseph Aguilar.
3.) Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris with San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Firefighter Alexander Wallbrett.

Photo Credit: Dionne Grubbs, California Department of Justice. For high resolution copies of these photos, please contact Danella Debel, Office of the Governor at Danella.Debel@gov.ca.gov.

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