7 local Mass. officers honored for valor
By HILLARY CHABOT, Sun Statehouse Bureau
BOSTON- Tewksbury Police Officer Brian O'Neill, still recovering from a gunshot to the thigh last March, stood tall as he accepted a Medal of Valor from Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey yesterday.
His partner, Douglas Pratt, was next to him in the House chambers of the Statehouse. Both stared straight ahead as Healey draped a red, white and blue ribbon holding the medal around their necks.
"I'm very honored and humbled to be here," said O'Neill, who returned to work in June but has remained on light duty. "Everyone on the scene did an excellent job."
The two were honored at the 23rd Annual Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Awards for bravery for their actions during an arrest last spring. It is the highest medal a Massachusetts police officer can receive.
The officers chased Joseph Croteau into Billerica after he allegedly held up a gas station in Tewksbury and stole a car. Croteau crashed into a utility poll and ran away.
O'Neill tackled Croteau, but during the struggle Croteau allegedly grabbed O'Neill's gun and shot him in the thigh. Pratt wrestled the gun away, and they were able to place Croteau under arrest.
Pratt, 34, said he was a little nervous before the ceremony, but very humbled.
"It's great to get an honor like this for a job we're supposed to do," Pratt said.
O'Neill has not been able to work with his partner since the incident, but said he's been going to physical therapy and working so that he can be back on the street.
Tewksbury Police Chief Al Donovan and other officers gave O'Neill and Pratt a standing ovation when they received their awards. He said he's very proud of the officers.
"It was a very traumatic event and they did what they had to do -- they took a bad guy off the streets," Donovan said.
Donovan said desk duty has been frustrating for O'Neill, but they're supporting him.
"He's a very athletic and energetic person. It's been tough for him not to get more involved, but we don't want to push (his recovery)," Donovan said.
Other police officers honored yesterday were Burlington Officer Timothy McDonough, Chelmsford Sgt. Paul Cooper, Dracut Lt. Stephen Chaput, Lowell Officer James Fay and Concord Sgt. Roy Mulcahy for their work with the Northeast Law Enforcement Council SWAT team.
On Aug. 14, 2005, the officers stormed the Pepperell home of Nicholas Litchfield as he held his mother and his girlfriend at gunpoint. Litchfield, then 20, repeatedly shot at police during the five-hour standoff, and officers finally shot tear gas into the home and arrested him without injuring the women.
Healey commended the police officers for their bravery.
"We thank you for the sacrifices you make on our behalf," she said. "You are the very cornerstone on which our society is built."
The awards are named after State Trooper George L. Hanna, who died after he was shot in the line of duty in 1983.
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