By John Koopman
The San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The police medal of valor is an expensive little decoration. At a minimum, it represents months of hard work, or moments of sheer terror. In some cases, it represents violent death.
The San Francisco Police Department awarded its medals of valor Thursday night. Three officers received the department's highest award: the gold medal of valor. Those three medals resulted from actions on the street that resulted in one dead police officer and two dead suspects.
The department also awarded five silver medals and eight bronze. The medals are awarded for significant acts of bravery or service performed under extreme circumstances. Typically, the incidents involved some kind of gunplay.
Officer Fabian Fowler was awarded a gold medal for his actions on Aug. 27, 2006, when he and his partner shot it out with a suspect who had just slain two people.
"To be honest, I could care less" about the medal ceremony, Fowler said. "It's not something I want to keep remembering."
Fowler and his partner, Derrick Lew, spotted a suspicious man around midnight and tried to stop him. The man opened fire on the officers as they were inside their patrol car. Lew was driving, and the man fired directly at him from the driver side of the car. As Lew scrambled for cover, Fowler got out of the car on the passenger side and engaged the shooter in a gun battle. The fight ended when the suspect was shot and killed.
Fowler said he had time only to react at the moment, and never had time to be scared. But that sort of trauma can affect anyone, and a year later Fowler started therapy to help him deal with the memories of that night.
"I just woke up one day and realized I needed some help," he said before the ceremony.
The officers who were awarded the silver medal are: Lew, Matthew Goodin, Gerald Newbeck, Michael Kawaguchi and John Leong.
Bronze medal winners are: Jason Sawyer, Samuel Christ, Thomas Smith, Patrick Zaponi, Sgt. James Miller, Kimberly Koltzoff, Mary Godfrey and Richard Castillo.
A gold medal went to Officer Jose Guardado, for his Dec. 22 shootout with a suspect who had killed his partner, Officer Bryan Tuvera. The officers were part of a team who were looking for a fugitive. The man had run into the garage of a home, and when the officers went in after him, he fired at them and hit Tuvera in the head. Guardado shot back and fatally hit the man, later identified as Marlon Ruff.
Tuvera was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where he later died.
The other gold medal went to Officer Andrew Meehan for his actions along with Goodin and Newbeck on Sept. 9, 2005. They had received a report of two armed men in a car in the Bayview.
They found the men and tried to stop them, only to have the suspects run. A lights-and-siren chase ensued, and at one point, one of the suspects apparently aimed an M1 carbine rifle at the officers, but it appeared to have jammed. The officers fired at the man, who ran and kept trying to fire his rifle at the officers. The man dropped the weapon and ran into an apartment building. The officers followed, and in the dark room, not knowing who was inside or whether the other man who had been in the car was waiting for them, Meehan found the man and wrestled him to the ground, handcuffing him.
"The threat was immediate, in close quarters and with the subject having tactical advantage and superior firepower," the initial citation read.
Capt. John Goldberg, commander of Mission Station, said officers don't talk much about their medals or why they got them.
"For a lot of police officers, the things they do day-to-day are heroic," he said. "Sometimes, though, something rises to the top and they get recognition for it. But they're a little sheepish about it because they see it as just doing their job. They're doing what they were trained to do."
Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle
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