ANTRIM COUNTY SGT. TRAVIS CHELLIS AND DEPUTY KAHL SMITH
No one ever knows what a new year will bring, but two Antrim County Sheriff’s Department law enforcement officers didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Not even two full days into 2010, at about 5 p.m. Jan. 2, Sgt. Travis Chellis and Deputy Kahl Smith set out for Star Township. Two hundred miles away, in Livingston County, a man had kidnapped his former girl- friend, who was the mother of his child, from the parking lot of an Olive Garden restaurant where she worked.
Police thought the abductor’s family might own property in heavily rural Star Township and suspected he might be heading that way. Unfortunately, they could not pinpoint exactly where in the township’s 34-square miles the property might be.
Relentlessly and methodically, Sgt. Chellis and Deputy Smith combed every back and side road seeking the suspect’s four-door, gray-and-red Buick. But it wasn’t until several dark and frustrating hours later that their efforts paid off.
The empty car sat on a wooded two-track road on a gas well site. Large amounts of blood on the passenger seat and floorboard told them they had no time to lose.
Two sets of footprints led from the vehicle through the snowy woods. The temperature was below zero, and neither Chellis nor Smith was prop- erly dressed for long exposure. Undeterred, they tracked through the woods for five hours throughout the frigid night, hoping to save the woman from an almost certain death.
Suddenly, the footsteps stopped at a small travel trailer. A large blue tarp covered the trailer’s door, blocking the only entry.
Deputy Smith loudly identified the police presence. As Sgt. Chellis be- gan cutting the tarp from the door, a man inside the trailer shouted that he was coming out.
Not knowing what to expect, Smith forced the door open -and the suspect surrendered without incident.
Turning the abductor over to an officer who just arrived on a snowmo- bile, Smith and Chellis then entered the trailer to find the woman. She told them that her former boyfriend had abducted her at knifepoint, forced her into his car and handcuffed her for the drive. When she tried to fight back, he slashed her.
Every time they had passed a police car on the way up North, he made her duck out of sight. Several times during the ride, he vowed to rape and kill her when he was done with her. She remembered falling in and out of consciousness throughout the ordeal.
EMS personnel, now on the scene, found that she was in shock and suf- fering hypothermia from the cold. She had several cuts, including an ugly 7-inch gash on her right leg.
Miraculously, the woman recovered from her physical injuries, but the trauma would always be with her.
Antrim County Sgt. Travis Chellis and Deputy Kahl Smith demonstrat- ed matchless dedication during several hours in sub-zero temperatures that would have discouraged even the most dedicated officers. They bravely approached the trailer knowing they might face a volatile fugitive. They subjected themselves to life-threatening conditions to successfully save an innocent woman’s life and bring a dangerous man to justice.
The Police Officer’s Association of Michigan congratulates and thanks Sgt. Chellis and Deputy Smith. They truly earned the proud designation of 2010 POAM Police Officers of the Year.
CALHOUN COUNTY DEPUTY LUIS RIVERA
Iron Man depends on a high-tech metal suit to protect him in perilous situations. But Calhoun County Deputy Luis Rivera had only his own nerves of steel to fall back upon when a disturbed gunman threatened his life.
As often happens, Deputy Rivera’s life-and-death confrontation began with a seemingly simple nighttime traffic stop last Jan. 25. It was well into the third shift when he pulled over a car he just spotted abruptly change lanes and then turn without signaling.
The driver told Rivera that his license had been suspended because of prior convictions.
As they talked, Rivera detected marijuana’s distinctive scent. He ques- tioned the driver, who admitted he had smoked some pot just before he’d been pulled over and then had tossed it from the car when he realized he was about to be stopped.
At Rivera’s request, the driver stepped out of his car for a field sobriety test. But it was Rivera -and not the driver -about to be tested as the driver promptly pulled a handgun on Rivera.
Rivera shoved the driver, hoping to gain distance and distract him. But he lost his footing on the uneven gravel and fell to the ground. Immediately, sharp pains radiated through Rivera’s right knee and wrist.
Despite the pain, Deputy Rivera stood up -and found himself facing the barrel of the driver’s gun pointed directly at him, less than four feet away.
His life at stake and adrenalin racing, Rivera knew his only hope was to somehow connect on a human level with the gunman. His mind raced to figure just the right thing to persuade his captor to drop his gun despite his obvious advantage over the deputy.
Futilely ordering the gunman to drop his weapon, Rivera opened what he hoped would be a fruitful conversation. He told him he had a wife and kids who needed him.
“I’m not going back to prison,” replied the driver, unmoved by Rivera’s plea but cluing the deputy into what his captor most feared. “If you drop your gun, we can talk about that,” Rivera responded, ap- pealing to the gunman’s fear of returning to prison.
He could tell the man was listening, so Rivera then offered him a deal he hoped he couldn’t refuse: The gunman could just get into his car and drive away -and there would be no arrest.
But the driver had his doubts, countering that he knew Rivera had his ID. That meant the SWAT team could come after him and remove him from his house.
Rivera, encouraged that he at least had the gunman’s ear, ventured on. This time he told him that he thought he’d dropped the driver’s ID during the traffic stop -and again unsuccessfully urged the man to drop his gun. The man was listening, but, at this point, Rivera remembered that he’d clipped the man’s ID under his pen onto his shirt when he’d first received it -and that the gunman might notice it there.
Hoping to maintain the little trust he’d build between them, he grabbed the ID and held it out toward the driver, repeatedly telling him that he didn’t know who he was and that he should just go ahead and leave.
Although dispatch had been trying to check Rivera’s status through his earpiece, Rivera had no way to respond as long as his captor’s gun pointed at him. He surreptitiously tried to locate the emergency button on his radio but was unable to do so. He remained out of contact.
Meanwhile, the man was still considering Rivera’s offer to grant him freedom, but he was not quite convinced. His concern, he said, was about the videotape on the patrol car, and Rivera truthfully told him he couldn’t help with that.
The driver grew visibly more desperate. Struggling to maintain his com- posure, Rivera sought yet another way to convince the man to drop his gun. But, before he could do so, the gunman presented a new and surprising option: “I’m just going to go home and kill myself,” he unexpectedly told Rivera. “Let’s just do that.”
Now Rivera shifted all the fear for his own life to concerns for the des- perate driver, who stood before him.
“Just drop the gun, we can talk about it,” Rivera repeated. Instead, the man raised the gun to his own head.
While repeatedly urging the man to drop his gun, Rivera pulled his weapon, ran back several feet and called for reinforcements to help with an armed man trying to kill himself.
Twice the gunman pulled the trigger with the pistol at his own head. Twice the gun failed to fire.
The now totally distraught man fired a third time. A shot rang out and the gunman crumpled to the ground, a fatal self-inflicted bullet in his head. Rivera quickly grabbed the gun, secured the suspect and called for an am- bulance.
Calhoun County Deputy Luis Rivera, who fully recovered from his knee and wrist injuries, lived up to law enforcement’s highest expectations. Making split-second decisions under extraordinary stressful conditions, he calmly talked down a man who could easily have murdered him. His ex- emplary actions provide a practical model for fellow officers throughout the state.
Deputy Luis Rivera, we salute you with our highest honor, the 2010 POAM Police Officer of the Year Award.
DEARBORN HEIGHTS POLICE OFFICER NICHOLAS SZOPKO
The Inkster police 911 phone lines started ringing non-stop just before 7:45 a.m. on February 6 last year.
Frantic parents were calling to report a reckless driver, swerving from curb to curb, and whizzing up to 70 miles per hour through stop signs, school bus stops and school crossing zones filled with students.
Inkster police began -but then quickly ended -their pursuit, rightly fearing a high-speed chase would endanger the lives of youngsters heading to school.
But when the driver, minutes after leaving Inkster, nearly struck several students near a Dearborn Heights high school, police realized further inac- tion could easily result in multiple deaths and serious injuries. Three miles from where the Inkster police had abandoned the pursuit, Dearborn Heights Sgt. Alfred Nason and Officer Nicholas Szopko, in separate cars, began following the errant vehicle east along Van Born Road, one of the city’s major highways.
About two miles into the pursuit, the officers realized the car was headed for the Southfield Freeway.
Despite considerable stress and only seconds for decision-making, the two used their radios to formulate their plan: They would attempt to box the offender in between their cars on the freeway entry ramp. The “on” ramp, they felt, would provide the safest confrontation location. It would move the danger away from area residents and prevent the driver from crashing into innocent rush-hour commuters now filling the freeway.
As they all entered the single-lane service ramp, Officer Szopko quickly overtook the offender, as Sgt. Nason positioned his car directly behind the suspect. The driver was now boxed in with nowhere to go -or so they hoped.
Leaving his vehicle, Officer Szopko approached the driver to take him into custody. But the minute the driver saw Szopko walking toward him, he threw his car into reverse, ramming Nason’s vehicle hard enough to push it backward -and giving his car enough room to escape the formerly tight box.
Szopko, still approaching, was the only obstacle between the driver and escape.
The determined driver threw his car into forward, accelerated and drove straight at Szopko, making no attempt to slow down or avoid hitting him. With the car coming at him from one side and the steep embankment on the other, Szopko had nowhere to go.
With only a split second to decide and no reasonable alternative, Szopko fired four rapid shots through the oncoming car’s windshield. Two shots hit, one of them fatally striking the driver’s head. But there was more to come. The driver’s foot jammed down on the gas pedal, sending the car down the embankment, across three traffic lanes and into the center wall. Even after the car smashed to a halt, the dead weight continued to depress the ac- celerator, spinning the wheels until they blew up. Amazingly, no one on the freeway was injured.
Toxicology tests showed both cocaine and alcohol in the driver’s blood. Police later learned that the deceased man had just been in court the week before for trying to run over a police officer in a neighboring city. Driving his car over police officers had apparently been his weapon of choice. Officer Szopko demonstrated outstanding professional skill and instincts in orchestrating a pursuit through heavy traffic. With nothing between him and a drug- and alcohol- fueled maniac, he stopped a wild rampage that could easily have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. The Police Officers Association of Michigan proudly awards it coveted 2010 Police Officer of the Year Award to Dearborn Heights Police Officer Nicholas Szopko.
EASTPOINTE POLICE OFFICER TODD MURDOCK
It was that much-awaited time in the afternoon when students file out of school, leaving teachers and tests behind them for the day. Little did Eastpointe Police Officer Todd Murdock know he was soon to face a test far more crucial than any the school had to offer.
It was April 28 last year. Officer Murdock was en route to a fight in progress at an Eastpointe middle school when dispatch rerouted him to a more urgent situation.
A huge rumble had broken out at a Papa Romano’s restaurant just west of the middle school. An older teen involved in the fight reportedly was car- rying a handgun and had run northward across Nine Mile Rd. near Gratiot, away from the restaurant.
Murdock was stopped for a red light at that very spot. He observed the subject, who was standing in the middle of the westbound lanes, peering back at the confrontation scene.
Pulling ahead of the westbound traffic, Murdock drove toward the teen. He then positioned his car between the teen and the oncoming westbound traffic to protect motorists from potential gunfire.
Leaving his patrol car, Murdock approached the young man, who re- sponded by yanking a handgun from his waistband. When Murdock or- dered him to drop his weapon, the gunman yelled back -and then pointed his gun directly at Murdock.
By now, students were streaming from the nearby high school and mid- dle school. Murdock knew a stray bullet could have found its way into any of them.
Fearing for the lives of these innocent students, motorists driving on the heavily traveled mile road and nearby pedestrians, Murdock drew his weapon and fired, striking the gunman twice in the abdomen. He then se- cured the weapon and the young man, an 18-year-old whose injuries proved non-fatal.
Officer Murdock’s quick reactions subdued a dangerous gunman and averted possible death or injury to countless innocent bystanders ¾many of them students -and to himself.
The Police Officer’s Association of Michigan recognizes his cool and decisive professional skill. He has truly distinguished himself and earned a cherished honor as a 2010 POAM Police Officer of the Year.
HARPER WOODS DEPUTY CHIEF JAMES BURKE AND OFFICER JASON SAKOWSKI
Harper Woods Deputy Chief James Burke and Officer Jason Sakowski added a whole new dimension to Thanksgiving last year for a motorist who survived of their selfless heroism.
Just after noon on November 16, only ten days before Thanksgiving, the two rushed in separate vehicles to a single-car rollover accident on I-94 in neighboring St. Clair Shores.
There they found a man trapped in his car with a screwdriver lodged far into his chest. The high-impact crash or the rollover itself had appar- ently transformed the screwdriver into a potentially lethal flying weapon that found its mark near the driver’s lungs.
With the car’s engine already aflame, Burke and a St. Clair Shores of- ficer already on the scene tried to reach the driver. But extensive damage made the doors impossible to open.
The engine fire was spreading, rapidly moving into the passenger com- partment where the injured driver lay trapped.
Soon Sakowski arrived, working with Burke to reach the terrified driver who was now screaming that his legs were on fire.
Sakowski smashed the windows with a glass punch from his scout car, allowing Burke to use a fire extinguisher to quell the flames enveloping the driver’s body. One by one in quick succession, the tires exploded from the fire’s heat and force.
As the officers coaxed him, the driver used what little strength remained to dislodge himself from his front seat. Burke and Sakowski then reached into the burning vehicle through the shattered windows and pulled the driv- er to safety.
It was none too soon. Within seconds, flames engulfed the entire vehicle. Using the extinguisher, Deputy Chief Burke put out the flames still on the driver before turning him over for emergency treatment to an off-duty EMT on the scene.
The driver was then whisked off to the hospital where he spent several months being treated for critical injuries to his body and lungs. Both of- ficers were treated for minor cuts and burns, and then released.
Deputy Chief Burke has long been a trusted administrator who ignores outside political pressure to make decisions based only on what is best for officers under his command. He leads by command and has established an admirable benchmark for others.
Officer Sakowski, a senior patrol officers and field training officer re- sponsible for the future direction of his department, consistently delivers superlative performances.
Both of these officers have been previously recognized for saving lives. They selflessly and professionally set the highest standards in law enforce- ment. They have done so once again.
The Police Officers Association of Michigan is proud to honor these fine officers for saving a man from certain death through their courage and un- flinching response.
We therefore name Harper Woods Police Deputy Chief James Burke and Officer Jason Sakowski 2010 POAM Police Officers of the Year.
HOWELL POLICE OFFICER DONALD BANFIELD
An assault rifle, expertise in unconventional warfare tactics and an emotionally disturbed veteran proved a deadly mix last August 12. The siege began about noon when EMS responded to a call for help from family members at a Howell Township home where a man had overdosed. The man, a Gulf War veteran with Special Forces training, had been struggling since he’d taken himself off his medicine for an emotional problem.
As the technicians tended to him, he grew increasingly combative, prompting them to call the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department. Two deputies arrived at the home to ensure the medical responders’ safety. But as soon as the patient spotted the deputies, he became even more agitated -and then drew a handgun. Not wanting to further distress the man, the deputies and the EMS technicians left the house to await help. Howell Police Officer Donald Banfield arrived immediately and soon saw three adults, including the suspect’s wife, escape from the house and run toward a shed in the backyard.
Behind them was the troubled man, pistol in hand. As the three reached the shed, their pursuer veered off to a nearby fifth-wheel trailer -and ex- ited with a military-style assault rifle in hand. He then ducked into an adja- cent pole barn, which officers later learned hid an abundant stash of weap- ons and ammunition.
Nearly a dozen officers now formed a perimeter around the house and its structures as a new complication surfaced: The adults in the shed reported that two children, a baby girl and a very young boy, remained in the house. Officer Banfield, knowing this disturbed-but-skilled marksman could, at any point, fire his deadly assault rifle, risked his own life to enter the home. He discovered the baby girl in an upstairs bedroom, shielded her the best he could and carried her several blocks down the road to safety. A State trooper rescued the little boy.
Banfield returned, searching and securing the house with the trooper, before positioning himself in the kitchen. From there, he could cover his fellow officers outside and the gunman’s family who remained in the shed. Before long, the gunman, carrying his assault rifle, walked from his pole barn shelter. Ignoring repeated orders to drop his weapon, he crossed the lawn, his rifle trained on the officers who attentively followed his move- ments.
A wooden ramp that provided passage over an ongoing home construc- tion project now separated the gunman and the house where Barfield stood guard. The gunman sidled up the ramp toward the house’s rear door. He looked directly at Banfield, who was only about 15 feet away – and ignored Banfield’s order to drop his weapon. Instead, he raised his assault rifle and aimed it directly at Banfield.
But Banfield was quicker. He fired a single fatal round, downing the disturbed gunman, who was poised to murder him.
Howell Police Officer Donald Banfield showed unflinching bravery in facing a dangerous assailant trained in sophisticated Special Forces combat. His exemplary swift actions and professionalism under the most extreme of circumstances may well have saved several other lives – not only his own but the man’s family -including the baby girl he carried to safety -and law enforcement officers who responded to the tense standoff.
For the second time in four years, we’re proud to name Howell Police Officer Donald Banfield a POAM Police Officer of the Year.
KENT COUNTY DEPUTY JOE GLYNN
Kent County Deputy Joe Glynn has spent 30 years serving the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. But March 26, 2009, brought him a new experience: a car racing up to 90 miles per hour -powered by a paraplegic driver using a snowbrush to depress the gas and brake pedals. The chilling venture began just before 11 a.m. when Glynn spotted a speeding white pick-up truck traveling westbound on a windy, two-lane Cannon Township road. Rader clocked the vehicle at 79 miles per hour in a 50 zone.
Activating his overheads and air horn, Glynn pursued the truck, which held two men. But instead of slowing down, the pick-up accelerated to 90 miles per hour.
In response, Glynn switched on the siren and several times changed the alert tone. Still the pick-up continued at its high speed, prompting Glynn to report the pursuit to dispatch.
Maintaining its speed, the truck began passing vehicles, eventually rac- ing west in the eastbound lane.
Shortly after Deputy Gale Hawley joined the pursuit, the truck slowed and moved toward the right shoulder. Glynn assumed the driver was finally going to stop. Instead car attempted a U-turn.
For reasons Glynn would not understand until later, the driver didn’t turn quickly enough. He traveled up onto the right shoulder, crossed over to the eastbound lane and then lost control, landing in a roadside ditch among trees south of the road.
As the driver attempted to extricate his truck from the ditch, Hawley pulled in front of him -nose to nose -to trap the pick-up between the cruiser and the trees. Exiting his vehicle and drawing his weapon, Hawley stood directly in front of the pick-up.
Repeatedly he called to the driver to shut off the motor. But the driver kept maneuvering to free his truck, making short turns as he alternated the accelerator and brake pedals.
Meanwhile, Glynn had jumped from his car, leaving it in the westbound lane with its lights and siren activated. Gun drawn, he raced across the eastbound lane to aid his colleague and help capture the driver whose truck remained trapped in the ditch.
Meanwhile, the truck lurched from the ditch and forward toward Haw- ley, who jumped aside to get out of the pick-up’s path.
Glynn remained the driver’s only obstacle between capture and free- dom. The determined looked directly at Glynn, who was ordering him to stop -and accelerated directly toward him.
Leaping out of the vehicle’s path, Glynn manage to fire several times, but the pick-up sped away, temporarily eluding both officers who had to first return to their patrol cars.
It wasn’t long, however, before Deputy Glynn located the pick-up truck, now empty, in a residential driveway. Approaching the house, he saw three people outside -a woman and two men, one of them the passenger from the truck.
The passenger’s hand was bleeding from one of the bullets Glynn had leveled at the fleeing car. He kept yelling, “I told him to stop!” Hawley arrived shortly after, but Glynn had already positioned the two men face down on the ground, as the woman sat on the front porch yelling, “You shot my boyfriend!”
Glynn left a Rockford police officer, who had just arrived, guarding the wounded and now-handcuffed passenger, while he and Hawley entered the house where they found the driver on the couch. He was bleeding from Glynn’s gunshot, which had struck his abdomen. He surrendered without incident. But on the floor, only six feet away from him, lay a loaded assault rifle and a loaded 9mm rifle.
Only then did the officers learn that the driver was a paraplegic, but his truck was not equipped for his disability. Instead, he had been using a snowbrush to depress the gas and brake pedals every time he needed them. He had experienced so much difficulty negotiating the U-turn and ma- neuvering out of the ditch because transferring the snowbrush slowed him down every time he had to switch from accelerator to brake.
When he’d arrived home after his initial roadside encounter with the two deputies, he had used his arms to drag himself on the ground partway to- ward his house. The others in the house had then come out and carried him to the couch where the deputies found him.
Kent County Detective Joe Glynn demonstrated unwavering courage in a situation where reckless driving and lethal weaponry in the wrong hands might have proved deadly to innocent bystanders, his fellow officer and himself.
Detective Glynn, the Police Officers Association of Michigan rewards your accomplishment by naming you 2010 POAM Police Officer of the Year.
MONROE COUNTY DEPUTY JASON MILLER
As a high school running back, Monroe County Deputy Jason Miller had mastered the art of carrying the ball down the field. But the stakes were higher than any school sport last August 8 when Deputy Miller’s breakaway run transported a wounded fellow officer -and not a football – away from the scrimmage.
At 9:30 a.m., Miller responded to a call about gunshots fired within a South Rockwood home. The initial shot prompted an alarmed neighbor to alert police, but 911 heard another gunshot in the background during the call.
Deputy Miller arrived at the house to find a South Rockwood police car parked three houses away. Monroe County Deputy Donald Duncan had taken cover by the passenger side of his car, which was parked in front of the house.
A shoeless man in a t-shirt and shorts sat in a lawn chair in front of the open door of the house’s attached garage. The man was waving his arms at Duncan, beckoning him to approach. Meanwhile, Duncan was ordering the man to drop his weapon.
It was then Miller noticed that the man was flashing a silver-colored handgun in his right hand. As Miller edged closer to the man, he spotted a South Rockwood police officer sneaking up from behind the garage to within 10 feet of the man’s right shoulder.
A distinctive “pop” sounded from the South Rockwood officer’s Taser, and the man fell back in his chair as it tipped backward.
But the Taser had not completed its intended mission. Still somewhat in control despite the stun, the man turned toward the South Rockwood of- ficer, pointed his gun and fired one shot. The South Rockwood officer and the gunman then both fell to the ground.
But that was far from the end of the story. The gunman, only momen- tarily down, retreated to the garage and then back into his house. One and then two more gunshots sounded from the house. Silence fol- lowed.
In those first few minutes, no one knew where the gunfire was aimed, but Miller refused to let an injured colleague remain alone and unprotected. Dashing from his cover, he ran to the South Rockwood officer’s aid, know- ing he himself could well be the target of the next gunshot.
He found the officer crawling behind the house, extremely pale with a large blob of blood on his lower left back above his duty belt. “I’ve been shot,” he told Miller.
Grabbing him from behind, Miller managed to carry him to a spot two houses away, where an off-duty officer helped him move the wounded of- ficer to safety.
Leaving the off-duty officer to watch over his injured colleague, Miller ran to his patrol car, drove it to where the downed officer lay, put him in the back and, with sirens blaring and lights blinking, raced for medical help as he simultaneously updated dispatch.
He stopped an ambulance en route to the scene and helped put the wounded officer in the back. While paramedics attended the patient, Miller himself drove the ambulance to a large open field, where he helped establish a landing zone for a life flight helicopter.
Only after he made sure the wounded officer was loaded into the heli- copter and in able hands did he return to the crime scene to see how else he could help.
It was then he learned that the gunman had earlier that day told the neighbor, who had made the original police report and who was the gun- man’s landlord, that he was going to kill himself.
He had been ashamed and depressed because he’d had his driver’s li- cense taken away. The neighbor observed that he’d sounded as though he’d been drinking.
Sitting on her patio after she called 911, the neighbor saw the man leave his house, gun in hand and blood running down his right temple. He looked directly at her, sending her fleeing to her house where she immediately locked her door. That was when he sat down by the garage, clutched his gun and awaited the police.
Although the disturbed man sustained serious injuries from self-inflicted shots to his head, his injuries were not fatal. He is now serving an 11-year prison term on attempted murder and felony firearms charges. The South Rockwood officer, shot in the lower right torso, fully recov- ered from his injuries.
Demonstrating the highest gallantry in law enforcement, Monroe County Deputy Jason Miller’s put his own life on the line to save a fellow officer. Deputy Miller, The Police Officers Association of Michigan thanks you for your heroism and selfless concern for a wounded comrade. We proudly honor you as a 2010 POAM Police Officer of the Year.
OAK PARK PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER MASON SAMBORSKI
Oak Park Public Service Officer Mason Samborski believed that teens sometimes make mistakes and do stupid things, but that alone doesn’t make them criminals.
On December 28, 2008, Oak Park Public Safety Officer Samborski acted on that ideal, trying to give a break to the 16-year-old kid he’d pulled over for a minor driving offense. Tragically, it cost the dedicated officer his life. It was 1 a.m., just three days after Christmas. Officer Samborski stopped the teen, who was driving away from a residential area. It was the same area where Samborski’s fellow officers were seeking suspects in a crime that had just occurred.
The youth had no driver’s license or photo ID. The Michigan Secretary of State showed no record of a license for the name the teen gave Samborski. Officer Samborski had seen many similar cases in his more than three years with the department, but he knew each case is different and that he must make a decision on this specific young man. He had to weigh the ben- efits of taking a 16-year-old youngster to jail for a minor driving offense instead of helping his fellow officers search for suspects in a more serious crime.
The teen told Samborski that he lived in an apartment just around the corner. There would be an adult there, he said, for Samborski to talk to. Knowing this was the same apartment where his fellow officers were conducting their search, Samborski decided to take the boy to his home, turn him over to the adult and then quickly rejoin his colleagues. Samborski patted down the young man and put him in the back of the patrol car, but he felt no need for handcuffs. He even allowed the teen to park the car he’d been driving rather than having it impounded. Samborski then drove him to the nearby apartment, released the teen from the back seat and waited at the front door of the complex until some- one buzzed them in. But it was a teenage girl -and not an adult -who greeted them. The teen driver had intentionally misled him. At this instant, the formerly cooperative young man dashed for the door with Samborski in pursuit. Knowing his fellow officers were in the very same building, Samborski radioed for help.
He then overtook the teen, and the two struggled. But before his back-up officers reached the scene, an apartment resident called 911 to report that an officer was down in the vestibule.
Although it took only minutes for his fellow officers to arrive, they were too late. They found Samborski lying in the lobby on his back. The suspect had disappeared.
Tragically, Samborski had been shot in the head with his own weapon, which the teen had grabbed during the struggle. The officers’ frantic at- tempts to save Officer Samborski’s life proved futile.
Police captured the fugitive teen later that day. He was charged with first-degree murder. Although Samborski didn’t know it, the teen who mur- dered him had strong gang affiliations and had previously been arrested for assaulting a police officer.
Samborski, the first Oak Park officer killed in the line of duty in 30 years, left a wife and year-old daughter.
Oak Park Public Safety Officer Mason Samborski was a man who be- lieved that even those who violate the law should be respectfully treated. He died living true to his values.
We posthumously honor Officer Mason Samborski for his dedicated ser- vice and deep-felt principles. And we honor his family – his wife, daugh- ter, parents, brother and sister – who have suffered an unimaginable loss. We therefore name Oak Park Public Safety Officer Mason Samborski POAM Police Officer of the Year.
PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP POLICE OFFICER MICHAEL LEGO
For nearly a week, Plymouth Township Police Officer Michael Lego, with fellow Western Wayne Community Response Team members, had been conducting intensive surveillance on suspect in two armed robberies.
In the second, more violent incident, the robber had pistol-whipped the victim with a semi-automatic pistol and threatened to kill him. Last year, on Oct. 29, their surveillance paid off. At about 1:45 that afternoon, Officer Lego followed the suspect as he drove his black 2007 BMW from his Canton Township home into and out of several shopping center parking lots. Each time, he’d cruise the lot, park before one or two select stores and then drive to yet another parking lot where he’d repeat the pattern.
Suspecting that he was casing businesses to find his next target, Lego followed, continually updated fellow WWCRT members.
The suspect parked for several minutes in a Plymouth Township Kmart parking lot, where Officer Lego, using his binoculars, noticed that he’d re- placed his white, long-sleeved shirt with something black.
The suspect then drove out of the parking lot, west on one road, south on another -with Lego maintaining a discreet distance behind.
The driver re-entered the bowling alley parking lot he’d slowly driven through less than an hour before, approaching the parking lot from the south driveway. Lego entered from the north driveway.
A WWCRT radio report located the suspect in his car, just south of the Verizon store he’d previously cased. Lego pulled in just west of the store, barely out of the suspect’s sight and continued to monitor WWCRT surveil- lance reports.
Hoping for the best but anticipating the worst, Lego donned his personal body armor and black mesh shirt with “POLICE” spelled out in large white lettering on the front and back.
Clearly displayed on a chain around his neck hung his gold police badge. On his belt pistol, handcuffs and magazines. His primary weapon was his department-issued Colt AR-15 rifle with an EOTech sight and sure-fire light. He doubled-checked his 30-round magazine loaded with Hornady TAP .223-caliber ammunition.
Suddenly, the suspect was on the move again. This time backing up, driving south and then west through the parking lot -before turning around and pulling right back into his original space just south of the Veri- zon store.
Two WWCRT officers parked near Lego in their own patrol cars as the tense radio call came in: The suspect was now into the Verizon store. He was wearing a white fisherman-style hat and gloves – just as the suspect in the second Canton armed robbery – and he was pulling his shirt up over his nose, presumably to conceal his identity. He held a small silver pistol in his right hand. In the other were a white plastic bag and a screwdriver – exactly what the suspect in the earlier robbery had used to pry open the cash box.
As soon as the suspect entered Verizon, Lego and the two other officers drove around to the store’s south side and stepped out of their vehicles, all the time listening for new reports on Lego’s radio.
With Lego designated as takedown crew leader, the three approached the store, standing east of the building near the store’s side door and within a few spaces of the parked BMW.
Meanwhile back-up officers were arriving from neighboring law-en- forcement agencies.
Although Lego and his team couldn’t see inside the store, the radio re- port told them all they needed to know: a robbery was in progress, and the suspect had an employee at gunpoint, bound with his face to the ground. Not wanting to create a hostage situation with a robber who had already escalated from robbery to pistol-whipping, and knowing that both the exit door and the suspect’s BMW were secured, they waited and watched.
Suddenly, the store’s door flew open and the suspect walked toward his car. He still had the white plastic bag and screwdriver in his left hand, the silver semi-automatic in his right.
Satisfying himself that the suspect was far enough outside the door, Lego announced police presence and commanded him to freeze and drop his gun. The suspect looked defiantly at Lego and raised his gun toward all three officers. Afraid for all of their lives, Lego fired several rounds from his AR-15.
The suspect took several steps back, fell to the ground, dropped his pis- tol and collapsed in the parking lot, fatally wounded.
Officers then entered the store where they found two store employees bound with tape and locked in an interior office.
But Officer Lego’s ordeal was far from done. Only after the gunshots stopped, did he become aware of extreme pain in his left hand. With one sickening glance, he saw that his hand was bleeding profusely and had suf- fered extensive damage. Bones and tissue were protruding through the skin. Not until WWCRT officers approached and pointed it out to him, did he realize that he had another injury too -a large wound in his right shoulder. Paramedics raced him to nearby St. Mary’s Hospital, where doctors sent him on to the trauma team at University of Michigan Hospital. He spent several days there. He lost two fingers and is still out on disability. Without flinching, Officer Lego took a true leadership position in a nerve-racking and volatile situation. He paid for his bravery with extensive permanent injury.
We thank Plymouth Township Police Officer Michael Lego for his cour- age and sacrifice as we honor him with the 2010 POAM Police Officer of the Year Award.
TAYLOR POLICE SGT. FRANK KORNEXL
“Shots fired! Officer down!”
This was the call – undoubtedly one of the most chilling in law enforcement – that went out to the Downriver Mutual Aid SWAT Team at about 1 p.m. on May 22 last year, Taylor Police Sgt. Frank Kornexl, a SWAT team member, quickly rounded up his equipment and sped off to the scene in Allen Park, a suburb about 10 miles northeast of Taylor.
As Kornexl arrived for a quick briefing at the makeshift on-site com- mand post, he learned that, just an hour before, a lone gunman had taken the area hostage after a court officer tried to serve him with an eviction notice. The enraged shooter had riddled the body of the Allen Park police officer accompanying the court officer with small-game pellets. When the officer took cover behind his car and fired back, the incident escalated, with the bar- ricaded gunman firing ongoing rounds from his house.
Dozens upon dozens of gunshots had since echoed throughout the neigh- borhood.
Determined to end the explosive situation before anyone else was hurt, Sgt. Kornexl first began a methodical search for just the right vantage point. He found what he sought near the front window of a house across from the gunman’s home. From there, he had an unobstructed view of the shooter’s front door. Although the position gave Kornexl some concealment, it offered only limited cover from bullets that might penetrate the window or wall. Despite the danger, Kornexl remained in place, monitoring the gunman’s activities.
Suddenly the periodic shooting intensified as the gunman fired a number of consecutive rounds from inside his house directly at officers hiding behind nearby homes.
It was then he spotted Kornexl and turned to firing at him. But, in doing so, the gunman had made the fatal error of exposing himself enough to allow Kornexl, a trained sharpshooter, to strike him with a single bullet -and end the terror.
Police found the gunman dead on his bedroom floor. They later discovered that he’d fired more than 200 rounds from four dif- ferent weapons. He had seven other weapons -including two rifles -and thousands of reserve rounds strategically scattered near windows in each room of his house.
Fortunately, the Allen Park officer shot during the siege fully recovered. Although law enforcement officers and SWAT team members frequently expose themselves to deadly force, Kornexl’s response to the dynamic events of that day in Allen Park was nothing short of extraordinary. Ignoring his own personal safety, he intentionally risked death or serious injury to protect not only the neighborhood’s residents but also his own broth- ers and sisters in blue.
Without Sgt. Kornexl’s heroic efforts and matchless professional exper- tise, many lives could have been lost. We recognize his outstanding service to his community and his fellow officers by presenting Taylor Police Sgt. Frank Kornexl with the 2010 POAM Police Officer of the Year Award.
WASHTENAW COUNTY DEPUTY MICHAEL MAROCCO
The first day on any new assignment is sure to bring its share of challenges. But Washtenaw County Deputy Michael Marocco never dreamed the day would thrust him into a fatal gunfight with a man who had just murdered his mother and then set her home ablaze. Only two hours into patrolling his new area, just after midnight last June 28, dispatch sent Deputy Marocco and fellow Deputy Chad Teets to an Ypsilanti Township home. A woman had run to alert her neighbors that their garage was on fire. But when she reached the house, she spotted a man leaving the home with a gun and a plastic grocery bag.
Knowing the Ypsilanti Township Fire Department was already en route, the two deputies set out in their unmarked blue Impala in the direction the neighbor had seen the gunman flee.
As they searched, dispatch sent them a chilling warning: This was possibly the same mentally unstable man who, a year ago, had barricaded himself in his house with a gun.
Before long, Marocco spotted a man matching the neighbor’s descrip- tion less than a half-mile from the fire. He was walking down a dimly lit roadway, a plastic grocery bag in his left hand.
Exiting the car in a lighted intersection, they indentified themselves as police and shouted for the man to stop. Marocco, knowing the man was armed and mentally unstable, pulled his service weapon and shielded him- self behind his patrol car’s left side quarter-panel with the car angled toward the suspect. Deputy Teets positioned himself behind the right rear bumper. But the suspect, continued walking.
Suddenly, without warning, the man reached into the plastic bag and grabbed a handgun with his right hand.
“Drop the gun!” both deputies repeatedly commanded. The gunman, now only 10 yards from them, responded, but not as the deputies wished. Instead, he replied he would not drop the gun -and then raised his weapon, pivoted and pointed his gun directly at Teets. Fearing for his own life and for his partner, Marocco fired a single shot. The gunman collapsed backwards, hitting the ground back first. But he was not done.
The suspect extended his arm -gun still in hand -directly toward the deputies.
Marocco fired again, fatally wounding the gunman, who still clung to the weapon for a short time before it fell from his hand.
It was later learned that the gunman had fatally shot his mother and set her house on fire with an accelerant to destroy any evidence of the crime. More than eight years before, his mother had sought a personal protection order, fearing he was going to kill her that very day. The order was termi- nated several months later at his mother’s request.
The man, who was out on bail awaiting trial on a rape change the next month, had had numerous alcohol-fueled contacts with the police involving violence against his mother and other people. He had also made prior sui- cide attempts.
Law enforcement personnel train for just such situations, taking the oath to protect the lives of the public, their fellow officers and themselves. Washtenaw County Deputy Michael Marocco lived up to this oath with cool professionalism under great duress. For this, The Police Officers As- sociation of Michigan honors him with its 2010 Police Officer of the Year Award.
WESTLAND POLICE OFFICERS JASON BRASSFIELD AND ROBERT WILKIE
Patrolling on the darkest of winter nights, Westland Police Officers Jason Brassfield and Robert Wilkie might well have welcomed the comfort of a warming fire. But the flames they found that night were anything but comforting.
It was just after midnight last January 10 when the officers sped off to investigate smoke billowing into the sky from an unknown source. The smoky trail led them to Wayne, a city just south of Westland, where a rapidly spreading motel fire had already engulfed one unit.
As the first responders on the scene, the two officers immediately began checking for people trapped in their rooms. Because of the late hour, they feared those who were soundly sleeping would be oblivious to the danger surrounding them.
A bystander approached the officers to report that a woman was trapped in Unit 16, immediately next to the one already ablaze. Rushing to the res- cue, Brassfield and Wilkie spotted the woman through the window. Smoke billowed around her. The fire and intense heat made it impossible to com- municate.
The door, their only entry to the room, was already afire, and flames sur- rounded the unit.
Undeterred, Wilkie used his baton to remove burning wires and debris from the doorway, while Brassfield located a fire extinguisher in a nearby glass case.
Smashing the glass with his elbow, Brassfield raced back to the room and sprayed the blazing doorway to suppress the flames. Finally able to break through the door and window, they created an exit through which they coaxed the woman to safety.
Knowing the woman was now beyond harm’s reach, the two officers continued their search for other motel guests, who might be trapped in their rooms. They ultimately rescued two others, both sound asleep and unaware of the fire.
Although Officer Wilkie suffered minor burns and several cuts, not one of the motel guests was injured.
Westland Police Officers Jason Brassfield and Robert Wilkie endan- gered their own lives to save three people who might easily have perished in flames. We commend their quick actions and courage by honoring them with POAM’s 2010 Police Officers of the Year Award.