70 Chicago officers honored for heroic efforts

"These are courageous men and women that put their lives on the line to protect the city of Chicago."

By Mary Owen, Tribune staff reporter
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO, Ill. — He was off-duty and going to pick up his son, but when Chicago Police Officer Eric O'Suoji heard gunshots in a Rogers Park train station in April 2006 he ran in that direction.

"I was called to serve and protect," said O'Suoji, an eight-year veteran. "Being off-duty didn't change anything."

He called 911, drew his weapon and chased the gunman from the station. O'Suoji stopped short of going into the apartment building where officers found the man hiding in a closet.

On Wednesday, O'Suoji was one of 70 police officers honored for their courage at the Police Department's 46th annual recognition ceremony. Sixty-five officers were given the Award of Valor. Others received the Blue Star Award or Blue Shield Award, which recognizes officers hurt or killed in the line of duty. The most prestigious medal was given to Officer Felipe Nunez, the sharpshooter who took down a man who had shot four people in a downtown law firm on March 8, 2006.

"We honor every police officer when we honor one," Mayor Richard Daley told an audience of about 700 people at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. "These are courageous men and women that put their lives on the line to protect the city of Chicago."

The event also honored all police officers who had died in the last year, including Eric Solorio. Solorio, 26, was a member of the anti-gang unit when his squad car went out of control during a chase Jan. 17, 2006, and smashed into a building. He died nearly a month later from injuries.

Retired Assistant Deputy Supt. Frank Radke also was honored Wednesday with the William Powers Leadership Award.

The Richard J. Daley Police Medal of Honor was presented to James Sarallo, retired senior vice president of Motorola, which contributed $750,000 toward the construction of Gold Star Families Memorial and Park. The memorial honors 520 officers who have died while serving the department.

During the ceremony, there were stories of chasing gunmen, dodging bullets and wrestling suspects -- all in a day's work, many police officers said.

"If you're smart, you'll think about the danger all the time," said Shakespeare District Police Officer Lee Trevino, who was honored with a Blue Star Award.

Trevino was shot in the left forearm in December while breaking up a gang-related fight near Clemente High School. As he tried to disperse a crowd of about 200 people, he looked for his partner and heard gunfire.

He said, "Shots fired," into his radio and then realized he had been struck.

Trevino has yet to return to work. He hasn't regained mobility in his left arm.

Quick thinking earned Officer Craig Burton an Award of Valor. He was in an unmarked car posing as a drug buyer on Jan. 13, 2006, when a dealer pointed a gun at him and attempted to rob him.

Burton handed him a $20 bill and cleverly told him that he had more money in his car trunk. The drug dealer stepped aside and allowed Burton to get out of his car, giving the officer enough time to draw his weapon and take the man into custody.

"I was fortunate it worked out for me," Burton said after receiving his award. "But there are people out there doing it every day and nobody realizes they're doing it."
Copyright 2007 Chicago Tribune

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