Governor Brown Awards Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to 13 Officers


SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, California’s highest public safety award, to 13 public safety officers for their bravery and commitment to the people of California. Attorney General Kamala D. Harris joined Governor Brown in presenting the awards.

This year’s recipients are Sergeant Leo Lopez, Detective Mark Chapman, Detective Mark Eaton, Detective Robert McEwen, Detective Sergio Toscano and Deputy Mark Harris, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office; Officer Sean Haller and Officer Rafael Rivera, California Highway Patrol; Fire Engineer/Paramedic Dave Manzeck, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District; Corporal Shane Scott, Inyo County Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Scott Bligh and Deputy Gary Kneeshaw, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department; and Firefighter Charles Hakopian, Long Beach Fire Department.

“These officers embody bravery and selflessness and we thank them for their courageous acts in the face of tremendous danger,” said Governor Brown. “Their actions set an example for all Californians.”

The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act of 2003 gives the Governor the authority to award a Medal of Valor to public safety officers who are cited by the Attorney General for extraordinary valor above and beyond the call of duty. The Attorney General’s Office receives nominations from public safety agencies. These nominations are reviewed by the Medal of Valor Review Board, which makes a recommendation to the Attorney General.

“Every public safety officer that wears a uniform shows remarkable strength, courage and sacrifice,” Attorney General Harris said. “The 13 heroes we honor with the Medal of Valor have gone above and beyond their call of duty and all Californians are thankful for their extraordinary bravery.”

The following individuals are being awarded with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor:

Sergeant Leo Lopez, Detective Robert McEwen, Detective Mark Chapman, Detective Mark Eaton, Deputy Mark Harris, Detective Sergio Toscano; Fresno County Sheriff’s Office
On February 25, 2010 homicide detectives from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, including safety personnel from allied agencies in the town of Minkler, attempted to serve a search warrant. The search warrant team, comprised of Detectives Mark Chapman, Mark Eaton, Joel Wahlenmaier and Robert McEwen, approached the house. The other personnel surrounded the perimeter of the home. The team knocked and announced their presence, and demanded entry several times. The team then broke down an exterior porch door to gain entry, however, they discovered another locked door. Detectives again announced their presence and demanded entry, yet the suspect refused. As Detective Wahlenmaier hit the door with a ram, the suspect, who was lying-in-wait, began shooting through the closed door. Detective Wahlenmaier was shot and immediately collapsed. Detective McEwen instinctively covered Detective Wahlenmaier with his own body, to protect him from further harm. As the gun battle ensued, Sergeant Lopez and Detective Toscano attempted for several minutes to pull Detective Wahlenmaier from the porch, however, his equipment caught on the door frame. Deputy Harris returned cover fire, allowing other deputies to free Detective Wahlenmaier while the gunfire continued. Deputy Harris sustained an injury to his right eye and the right side of his face from a fragmented bullet fired by the suspect. Deputy Harris continued to return cover fire. As the gun battle continued, it was learned that Fresno County Sheriff’s Detective Wahlenmaier was mortally wounded. An additional tragedy was the loss of Reedley Police Officer Javier Bejar who was shot and killed by the suspect while aiding sheriff deputies, as you will read in the next citation. The standoff ultimately ended when the suspect took his own life.

Officer Sean Haller, Officer Rafael Rivera; California Highway Patrol
On February 25, 2010 Officer Rafael Rivera and Officer Sean Haller of the California Highway Patrol responded to a distress call of “officer needs assistance,” involving an active shooter and wounded sheriff’s deputy. They arrived on the scene and immediately became involved in a gunfight, along with other allied agency and CHP officers. Officer Rivera heard someone yell “officer down” and located wounded Reedly Police Officer Javier Bejar. Officer Rivera started to extract Officer Bejar, risking his personal safety by putting himself directly into the line of fire. Officer Haller realized that Officer Rivera needed help and increased his rifle fire toward the suspect. By increasing his suppression fire, and placing himself in great danger, Officer Haller was able to provide the needed help for Officer Rivera to continue his extraction of Officer Bejar. Although Officer Bejar was successfully removed from the area and transported from the scene, he subsequently died from his injuries.

Fire Engineer/Paramedic Dave Manzeck; Contra Costa Fire Protection District
On April 11, 2010 a 9-1-1 caller reported a vehicle upside down in the Walnut Creek flood channel with victims trapped inside and other victims possibly floating downstream. The Incident Commander immediately called additional units to positions along the canal; these units spotted two victims in the swift current. A California Highway Patrol helicopter and utility van arrived with two rescue swimmers. While the helicopter crew began setting up their winch operation, a victim went over a low head dam. Rescuers breached the fence and tossed several throw bags to the victim who was now caught in the boil line. The helicopter attempted to lower a rescue ring to the victim without success. The helicopter then lowered Fire Engineer/Paramedic Manzeck on a hoist to an area between the face of the dam and the boil line where he was able to reach the victim under water. He then pushed the victim downstream in order to get her out of the boil. The helicopter hoisted Fire Engineer/Paramedic Manzeck out of the water and re-lowered him just upstream of the victim who was now unconscious. He lifted the victim out of the water with one arm, dislocating his shoulder, and took her to shore. The 74-year-old victim was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. She eventually regained consciousness, and went home a few days later.

Corporal Shane Scott; Inyo County Sheriff’s Office
On August 9, 2010 Corporal Shane Scott witnessed a fiery collision of three vehicles that occurred on U.S. Highway 395, south of the City of Bishop. It involved a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and passenger van that were engulfed in flames, and a partially burning third vehicle from which a female driver escaped. Corporal Scott arrived on the scene and heard trapped victims screaming from the inside of the SUV, which was lying on its roof. He attempted to extinguish the flames with a fire extinguisher, and saw a passenger, whose legs were on fire, desperately struggling to crawl out of the SUV. Corporal Scott entered the rear of the vehicle and grabbed the passenger. The heat was so intense that the victim’s skin was peeling off, causing Corporal Scott to momentarily lose his grip. Corporal Scott then grasped the torso of the victim, pulled him from the burning vehicle and dragged him to a safe location. By this time, the SUV was fully engulfed in flames and the other passengers had perished. Corporal Scott then ran to the burning van and determined that further rescue attempts were not possible. In total, six people perished that day, three in the SUV and three in the van. The female victim in the car suffered serious burns, other survivors suffered major injuries.

Deputy Scott Bligh, Deputy Gary Kneeshaw; San Diego Sheriff’s Department
On August 21, 2010 the Sheriff’s Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies Copters 10 and 12 were en route to the Monte Fire, in an unincorporated area of Lakeside. The Sheriff’s Communication Center advised the patrol aircraft that two rock climbers, Meg Rippy and Andre Doria, were stranded on the side of a cliff with a fast moving fire approaching them. Deputy Scott Bligh and Deputy Gary Kneeshaw immediately lifted off in a helicopter from base to assist in rescuing the climbers. With clearance from Cal Fire to fly at a low level, the deputies were guided by Deputy Walden to Rippy and Doria. The crew rescued Rippy, but had to abort its rescue of Doria because of a steep drop off and winds. Deputy Kneeshaw stayed behind with Doria until the helicopter could return. Deputy Bligh returned and Deputy Kneeshaw, loading Doria into the front seat, realized that the flames were only 10 feet from the tail rotor. Deputy Kneeshaw immediately climbed onto the right skid and yelled to Deputy Bligh to lift off. Deputy Bligh flew the helicopter through and eventually out of the smoke and down to the valley floor with Deputy Kneeshaw standing unsecured on the skid for the entire flight.

Firefighter Charles Hakopian, Long Beach Fire Department
On December 6, 2010 the Long Beach Fire Department responded to a two-story fire in North Long Beach. Upon arrival, the fire crew observed an upstairs apartment heavily engulfed in fire and smoke. Onlookers reported that a two-year-old boy was still inside. Firefighters Hakopian and Sorenson ran inside the burning building to the second floor and began an aggressive attack on the fire. Firefighter Hakopian was searching the premises when he unexpectedly fell through the floor. He caught himself with his arms and pulled himself out of the hole, avoiding a fall to the first floor. He continued his search while Firefighter Sorenson sought to seat the fire. Firefighter Hakopian found the limp body of the small child in a closet. The boy had succumbed to the effects of smoke inhalation and was in respiratory arrest. Firefighter Hakopian grabbed the child and made his way past the collapsed floor to waiting paramedics. The boy sustained second degree burns on his legs and was listed in critical condition. He has since recovered.

**NOTE: Photos from the event can be seen here. A video of the event can be viewed here.