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NAPO's 2010 Top Cops: Heroic acts and sacrifices honored in D.C. ceremony

For the seventeenth consecutive year, the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) presented its TOP COPS Awards during National Police Week at a ceremony on May 14, 2010 at the Warner Theater in Washington, D. C. Known as the “Oscars for Cops,” NAPO, which has numerous corporate and law enforcement sponsors, distributes these awards as a means to educate the public concerning the heroic acts and sacrifices of law enforcement officers nationwide.

Hundreds of nominations are solicited from each state annually. Both the nominators as well as the nominees must be sworn law enforcement officers. The best cases are collected and reviewed from every state, U. S. Territory, and the District of Columbia by a committee comprised of national law enforcement organizations and respected leaders in the law enforcement field. The top ten case selections from that group are chosen for the TOP COPS awards, and the remaining are selected as Honorable Mention award winners. The award winners are paid tribute for their outstanding service to their communities throughout the preceding year.

The ceremony began with entrance of the United States Park Police Honor Guard and the Washington, D. C. Regional Pipe Band. The Master of Ceremonies was John Walsh, the host of FOX’s America’s Most Wanted. Prior to each award presentation, a short video was shown that provided a reenactment of the events depicting the heroic acts of the officers being honored. Actors and other celebrities who have portrayed police officers on television or in the movies volunteered their time to serve as presenters. Steve Zirnkilton, Jeremy Ratchford, Felice Schachter, Chris Meloni, David McCallen, Pailey Perrette, Carlo Rota, Kathryn Erbe, Seamus Dever, and Beth Karas were those who participated this year.

The first awards were presented to Detective Richard Curran and Detective Edward Falkowski of the Syracuse New York Police Department. On April 8, 2009, these detectives located a parolee, James Tyson, who was in possession of a handgun. The officers conducted a traffic stop at which time the suspect became combative and resisted arrest. Det. Falkowski deployed his TASER, but the suspect broke free and shot at the detective in the face. He missed his exact mark but the detective’s eardrum was ruptured, and the blast knocked him to the ground. Tyson also shot at Det. Curran and hit him in the upper back and shoulder.

He then ran.

Despite their injuries, both detectives pursued the suspect who continued to shoot at them. The detectives returned fire. Tyson collapsed and subsequently died.

Det. Falkowski required surgery for his ruptured eardrum. The vest Det. Curran was wearing saved his life, but the bullet penetrated approximately one inch into his back and another wound grazed his shoulder. These TOP COPS were relentless in protecting each other and stopped an armed criminal. Seventy-three officers from Syracuse attended to support their colleagues. After receiving his award, Det. Curran said it was “pretty cool.”

Officer Douglas Hipple of the Warren Police Department is lucky to be alive and grateful to be a TOP COP. Alerted to a house fire on April 27, 2009 where some mentally challenged women resided, he immediately kicked in the door and rushed upstairs though thick smoke.

“I had to make a split second decision. The heat was stifling. It was literally so hot it would knock you to your knees,” Officer Hipple said. There was an immediate flashover, and the house was rapidly burning and embraced with intense heat and smoke. Despite this extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation, he was able to move the women to a safer part of the first floor that was engulfed in flames. Officer Hipple and the three women all became unconscious and were rescued by firefighters upon their arrival.

Officer Hipple suffered third degree burns over 14 percent of his body, and he was given a 10 percent chance of survival. He was in a medically induced coma for one month while his wife and three young children worried about him and prayed for his survival. He beat the odds and lived to tell the story.

“My last statement on the radio was to inform my wife and children that I love them. I pray to God you never have to make this statement,” said Officer Hipple, after receiving his award and addressing the audience.

Officer Todd Koster of the South Holland Illinois Police Department was in pursuit of a school bus in which the driver was acting erratically and threatening to harm a fellow employee who was on the bus. The driver refused to obey commands to stop. Multiple patrol units gave chase at speeds as high as seventy miles per hour. The bus was finally forced to stop when it was confronted with heavy road construction equipment.

Officer Koster and other officers surrounded the bus with weapons drawn, but the bus driver refused to obey commands and rammed the bus into police cruisers, civilian cars, and accelerated towards an officer. Officer Koster fired at the suspect and bullets hit him twice. The bus crashed into a private home and finally stopped. No one was in the home at the time, and the innocent employee on the bus was removed through the rear emergency door. Officer Koster ended the rampage that fortunately resulted in no one being injured during the chase.

When he arrived home, his son said to him, “You’re not the average dad, are you”?

Lt. Marcos Martinez, Deputy Sheriff Peter Tapia, and Corporal Chris Wolfe of the Palm Beach County Florida Sheriff’s Office are TOP COPS for their involvement and successful outcome involving a domestic violence incident. Twenty-one-year old Alice DuPont had broken up with her boyfriend, Gleen Gomez, who subsequently terrorized her in the months that followed the break-up.

On May 15, 2009, Mr. Gomez arrived at her home and threatened her mother with a knife demanding to know where Alice was. Hearing the commotion, Alice locked herself in a bedroom but exited upon hearing that her mother was in potential danger. When her mother tried to call 911, Mr. Gomez forced Alice to drive off with him.

After a subsequent 911 call, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputies were in pursuit. They boxed in the car forcing it to halt. The deputies surrounded the car noting that Mr. Gomez was becoming more agitated. He pulled the victim into his lap and held a knife to her neck pressing the blade into the flesh of her throat. The deputies realized he was going to kill her and, on an order by the lieutenant, they fired simultaneously and saved Alice Du Pont’s life. These officers are TOP COPS for their outstanding work under extreme pressure, their ability to make a tough decision, and for saving the life of an innocent victim.

“The bottom line is this. We’re law enforcement professionals doing our job,” Lt. Martinez said, after receiving his award.

Jimmy Edwards, Chief Deputy of the Union County Sheriff’s Department, is a TOP COP for saving the lives of innocent children who were abused by their parents. Enna Barreto, a two-year-old, was brought to the hospital emergency room under false pretenses by her adoptive parents—they claimed the child had fallen out of a shopping cart. The girl subsequently died from her injuries.

The hospital’s medical personnel deemed the injuries suspicious and contacted law enforcement authorities. A homicide investigation uncovered the fact that a total of seven Guatemalan children who had been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Barretos had been living in a cage-like environment with evidence of torture and abuse. The parents, Janet and Ramone Barreto, were being charged with manslaughter and felony child endangerment. Upon learning of this news, they fled and are still at large.

Chief Deputy Edwards went above and beyond to ensure all of the children were well cared for and later adopted. He saved the lives of innocent children. In addition, he took a personal interest in the case. Deputy Edwards and his wife, Larissa, adopted one of the little boys who is now part of their family. “They were the saddest little children I’ve ever seen. These poor little kids looked starved to death,” Chief Deputy Jimmy Edwards said, after receiving his award. He was given two standing ovations and was emotionally impacted by the tribute.

Sgt. Kimberly Munley and Sgt. Mark Todd, Sr., of the U. S. Army Emergency Services Police, were probably the two most publicly known cops at the ceremony for their efforts at the U. S. Army’s Readiness Center at Fort Hood, Texas, where Major Malik Nada Hassan, an Army psychiatrist, attempted to commit mass murder. On November 5, 2009, within four minutes, Hassan had killed 12 soldiers and seriously wounded 31 additional personnel.

Upon their arrival to the scene, Sgts. Munley and Todd immediately engaged Hassan in an attempt to end the killing spree. Both officers took down Hasan and halted his act of terrorism. Sgt. Munley endured significant injuries resulting from three bullets that struck her, and she currently is striving toward rehabilitation and recovery. They are both TOP COPS for their valiant efforts and for preventing the murders of additional innocent victims in the violent rampage. These officers were also presented the Citizens Choice Award.

Officers Michael Coppola, John Langan, Gregory Lisczcak, Adan Ramirez, and Gary Yurkovich of the New Brunswick Police Department in New Jersey and Detective Steven J. Dunke of the North Brunswick Police Department were also recipients of TOP COPS awards. Det. Dunkel pursued bank robbers and evaded bullets that were fired at him. Officer Adan, also in pursuit, had shots fired at him, too, and he returned fire. Officers Liszczak and Coppola picked up the chase and pursued the suspects on foot. An exchange of gunfire ensued, and one of the suspects was hit. Officer Langan fired while Officer Yurkovic covered him, and the suspect was taken down. Officer Yurkovic secured the fourth suspect’s gun, and he was apprehended by other officers at the scene.

Quickly and effectively, and in a highly-dangerous situation, these TOP COPS pursued the robbers. Their efforts resulted in the arrest of the suspects, retrieval of the money taken from the bank robbery, and seizure of the weapons.

In Montana, TOP COPS received awards for ultimately bringing down a sniper who shot and killed an employee of the Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital in Glasgow, Montana. Officers Peter Glowacki, Robert Weber and Tyler Edwards from the U. S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management were the first ones on the scene to engage the shooter. Valley County Deputy Sheriff William Soper was able to get a clear shot and fired several times wounding the sniper. The sniper shot back at the officers, and a large manhunt ensued. U. S. Customs and Border Protection Patrol Agent Philip Wright followed the sniper’s trail of blood and boot imprints for three hours. Agent Wright was able to close in on the shooter and ordered him to surrender with the assistance of Ranger Alexander Burke of the U. S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, Lt. Brian Erwin of the Wolf Point Police Department, and Deputy Sheriff Daniel McKee of the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office along with his K-9, Sonja. The suspect held a large “boning” knife, refused to obey Wright’s order to drop the weapon, and struck K-9 Sonja with his knife causing the dog to break one of her teeth and disengage. Once again, Sonja latched onto the suspect’s back, and the suspect charged Ranger Burke and Deputy McKee as he raised his knife and yelled at them to shoot him. Ranger Burke did shoot the suspect and killed him. These TOP COPS heroic efforts put an end to a sniper’s violence.

Virginia State Police Trooper Kurt Johnson was on routine patrol when he discovered a crash in which he observed an overturned minivan in flames. Standing outside the burning vehicle was a mother with two young children but her baby, Destiny, was trapped inside the burning vehicle. Trooper Johnson’s portable fire extinguisher could not extinguish the intense flames. Instead of waiting for Fire/EMS to arrive in time, Trooper Johnson crawled into the car through a rear door and into the toxic smoke and flames. He was able to grab the baby, who was wedged under the front dashboard, and he pulled her out. When EMTs arrived, they took the child to the hospital. Moments later, the entire van was engulfed in flames. Trooper Johnson is a TOP COP for his heroic actions in saving the life of this child without regard for his own personal safety.

The officers who received the awards were both humble and gracious. They all selflessly shared the honor and stressed the point that every law enforcement officer around the nation who wears a uniform of whatever color is a top cop that performs an important job.

Echoing that sentiment was U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter addressed to NAPO President, Mr. Thomas Nee: “Each of you is truly a Top Cop, and by honoring you we also honor all of the nation’s law enforcement officers who protect us, our families, and our way of life,” Holder stated.

For those who shared the TOP COPS award ceremony and participated, it was a proud moment and an inspiring event.

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