09/06/2013

Calif. officer awarded valor medal in deadly confrontation

Officer Mary Godfrey was forced to shoot, kill mentally ill man who allegedly lunged at her with a box cutter

By Vivian Ho
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco police awarded a silver medal of valor to an officer Wednesday night for her role in shooting and killing a mentally ill man who was allegedly lunging at her with a box cutter.

The department gave her the prestigious award before the investigation into the shooting was deemed closed - and though at least one official says that was rushing to praise, Police Chief Greg Suhr contends the officer's honor is well-deserved.

Officer Mary Godfrey received the honor for her conduct during a confrontation with Pralith Pralourng, 32, whom she encountered on July 18, 2012.

Investigators said Pralourng had a mental breakdown and slashed a co-worker at the TCHO chocolate factory, and that Godfrey, cornered against her patrol car, was forced to shoot him twice after he charged at her with a blade at Washington and Davis streets.

As with any officer-involved shooting, the Firearms Discharge Review Board and the district attorney's office began an investigation into any possible wrongdoing right after the shooting.

The investigation was still open when the department's top brass nominated Godfrey for the award in May, when the police commission voted to approve the nomination in June - and officially, when Godfrey got her award Wednesday.

Internal affairs investigators are still waiting for a "declination letter" from the district attorney's office that clears Godfrey of any potential for criminal charges in Pralourng's death.

Investigations can take months to complete, and the department has proceeded before with honoring officers before the official all-clear, said Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco.

"In the past, the Police Department has determined that some of these officers had waited too long for their awards because of this process," he said. "We have full faith and confidence in what the Police Department is presenting to us."

Mazzucco said even if the investigation is not officially complete, the officers, and incidents they're nominated for, go through a vigorous vetting process. The award list is then approved by the Office of Citizen Complaints and the police commission.

The only commissioner to vote no in June was Angela Chan, who declined to say why she did. However, Chan said she had concerns with awards being given out before investigations had wrapped up.

"It undercuts the integrity of the process to grant the highest honor in the department when the investigation hasn't yet reached the conclusion," she said.

Suhr said although the investigation into the shooting is not officially closed, he considers it complete and that "everything we have indicates it was self-defense."

Godfrey was honored along with six other officers with the silver medal of valor, and dozens more received the bronze medal and various other awards.

"When officers could well have been seriously injured or killed in the performance of their duties, the department has always held - appropriately so, in my opinion - that special recognition is appropriate," Suhr said.

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Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: vho@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @VivianHo

Copyright 2013 San Francisco Chronicle


McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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