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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Medal of Valor Awards Ceremony

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Washington, DC

       Good afternoon. I'm Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs.

       It's an honor for me to join Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder in welcoming all of you here today. I know you've come from all over the country, and let me just say it's a privilege to have all of you here.

       I'd also like to welcome Members of Congress - Congressman Carnahan and Congressman Conyers. Thank you so much for joining us.

       And finally, thank you to the Medal of Valor Review Board Members who are here with us today.

       We're here to recognize 14 extraordinary individuals for their quick thinking, selflessness, and exceptional courage. There are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics who went beyond the call of duty and risked their lives for fellow citizens and colleagues.

       We know that, every day, public safety officers in this country make tremendous personal sacrifices. The Medal of Valor is an expression of our nation's deep gratitude. In conferring it upon these brave men, we say a collective "thank you" for their service and their commitment.

       I'm now privileged to introduce our next speaker and the nation's top law enforcement officer.

       As a career prosecutor, Eric Holder has worked closely with public safety officers at the local and federal levels. He understands the challenges they face, and he appreciates the sacrifices they make. He brought that understanding and appreciation to his current position, and he works every day to make sure that state and local public safety officers have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and safely.

       I'm so pleased that my boss, Eric Holder - a real friend to law enforcement in this country - could be here today. Please welcome the Attorney General of the United States.

*     *     *

       Thank you, Vice President Biden.

       It's my honor to begin the conferring of medals. I'll read the first citation, then ask that the recipient come forward to receive his medal and certificate, then we'll do the same for the remaining recipients.

       The first honoree is Deputy Carl A. Beier from the Jefferson County, Missouri Sheriff's Office.

       On September 8, 2007, Deputy Beier responded to a report of a violent disturbance at a rural residence in Jefferson County, Missouri. As Deputy Beier approached the house, a man came outside, holding what appeared to be an AK-47 assault rifle, and began charging toward the deputy.

       Throughout the episode, Deputy Beier kept the 9-1-1 dispatch center - and the other responding deputies - informed of the situation. He actually ordered the deputies not to pull into the driveway, fearing that the man would ambush them. Deputy Beier, without regard for his own life, stood his ground while under continuous fire, incapacitated an enraged suspect, and protected lives.

       Congratulations, Deputy Beier.

*     *     *

       The next recipients are Chief Randy D. Poindexter from the Fire Department in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, and Lieutenant Brian S. Sturgill of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

       On August 19, 2007, Chief Poindexter and Lieutenant Sturgill worked together to coordinate multiple rescues of individuals who were stranded because of Hurricane Erin, which had flooded parts of Oklahoma the previous night. In one of their rescues, the men assisted two occupants of a submerged pickup truck. Lieutenant Sturgill maneuvered the helicopter's skids so they were just under the water and Chief Poindexter was able to remove the first occupant.

       The rescue of the second occupant was riskier because Lieutenant Sturgill had to position the helicopter's skids so they were deeper under the water. The Lieutenant's efforts enabled Chief Poindexter to reach both occupants and get them to safety.

       Congratulations to Chief Poindexter and Lieutenant Sturgill.

*     *     *

       The next group of recipients are Lieutenant Paul R. Pender, Jr., Acting Lieutenant Gerald J. Murphy, and Firefighter Frederick C. Johnston of the Brookline, Massachusetts, Fire Department.

       On April 16, 2008, the Brookline Fire Department responded to a report of a house fire which indicated that someone in a wheelchair was trapped on the second floor. Due to the heavy smoke and the size of the flames, all the firefighters were ordered out of the building.

       During the evacuation, a backdraft caused the partial collapse of the second floor ceiling. At the same time, Firefighter Stephen Nelson was knocked down and was partially buried under the debris. The backdraft also knocked down several firefighters at the second floor doorway, sending one of them tumbling down the stairs and taking Acting Lieutenant Murphy with him. He quickly recovered, however, and crawled back up the stairs, found the nozzle of Engine Co. 1's line, and began moving into the fire.

       At the same time, Lieutenant Pender and Firefighter Johnston rushed up the stairway where Acting Lieutenant Murphy directed them to Firefighter Nelson. Without hesitation or concern for their own safety, they all advanced to the second floor, located Firefighter Nelson, and rescued him. Afterwards, all four men were treated for second-degree burns.

       Congratulations to Lieutenant Pender, Acting Lieutenant Murphy, and Firefighter Johnston.

*     *     *

       The next recipient is Detective Jared T. Reston of the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff's Office.

       On January 29, 2008, Detective Reston was working off-duty at the Regency Square Mall when he received a call about two shoplifters. One suspect had been taken into custody, but the other had fled on foot.

       Detective Reston ran after the fleeing suspect and caught up with him. The suspect turned and shot him several times with a Glock .45 pistol. In spite of his wounds, Detective Reston managed to regain his focus and, while still lying on the ground, drew out his service weapon and returned fire, striking the suspect several times and ending the pursuit.

       Congratulations, Detective Reston.

*     *     *

       The next recipient is Officer Pedro Garcia, III of the San Antonio, Texas Police Department.

       On September 8, 2008, Officer Garcia and his partner responded to an "officer in trouble" call to assist three patrol division officers who had come under gunfire while attempting to serve a felony warrant at a residence. Officer Garcia directed a rescue plan to remove a wounded officer. As he approached, he was struck in the face by a bullet or bullet fragment.

       Despite his injury, he reached the wounded officer and pulled her out of the building into the fenced backyard, while returning fire. Because Officer Garcia could not safely remove the wounded officer from the backyard without putting them both back into the direct line of fire, he directed another officer to use a patrol car to create an opening in the fence so they could escape.

       While the gunfire from the house continued, Officer Garcia carried the wounded officer to his patrol car. He drove her down the street to a waiting EMS unit and then returned to the scene to coordinate with his fellow officers until a SWAT Team relieved them.

       Congratulations, Officer Garcia.

*     *     *

       The next recipient is Captain Edwin Lynn O'Berry of Palm Beach County, Florida Fire and Rescue.

       On April 8, 2009, Fire Rescue Captain O'Berry was one of several firefighters at the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Station 31 changing shifts when he saw Officer Doug Rua of the Palm Springs Police Department struck in the head and rendered unconscious by a robbery suspect.

       Captain O'Berry retrieved his personal firearm from his vehicle, jumped a six-foot fence with barbed wire on top, and ran to Officer Rua's aid. Another firefighter followed Captain O'Berry and dragged Officer Rua to safety while Captain O'Berry covered them with his weapon. The suspect was carrying Officer Rua's handgun when he ran into a three-foot-wide alley behind a nearby apartment building. Captain O'Berry followed.

       Once the suspect realized he was cornered, he turned toward Captain O'Berry and pointed the handgun at him. Captain O'Berry and a responding police officer fired at - and struck - the suspect. Afterwards, Captain O'Berry began rendering aid to the suspect, who was flown to the local trauma center, where he later died of his injuries.

       Congratulations, Captain O'Berry.

*     *     *

       The next recipient is Officer Vidal Alberto Colon of the Milwaukee Police Department.

       On April 11, 2009, Officer Colon and his partner responded to the report of a "subject with a gun" who was threatening citizens during a dispute. During his foot pursuit, Officer Colon chased the subject through residential yards to the rear of a house. As Officer Colon neared him, the subject stopped to retrieve the handgun he had dropped.

       Officer Colon was about 10 feet away and ordered the subject not to move; however, almost simultaneously, the subject fired his weapon at Officer Colon, hitting him in the abdomen. Despite his injury, Officer Colon continued to exchange fire with the subject until both their weapons were empty. When other officers arrived, Officer Colon was able to rise to his feet and make it to the front of the residence to direct them to the suspect, so he could be taken into custody.

       Congratulations, Officer Colon.

*     *     *

       Our final group of recipients are Fire Lieutenant William Ervin Appel; Firefighter/Paramedic Andrew Charles Neff, Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Scott Chellis, and Firefighter/EMT Timothy Allen Wisely of the City of Maplewood, Missouri Fire Department.

       On July 21, 2008, Lieutenant Appel and Firefighters Neff, Chellis, and Wisely - along with Firefighter Ryan Hummert - were dispatched to a reported vehicle fire. When they arrived, they found a small pick-up truck engulfed in flames in the driveway of a house. As Firefighters Wisely and Hummert advanced a hose toward the burning vehicle, there was a loud explosion and Firefighter Hummert fell to the ground. Firefighter Wisely began medical treatment of Firefighter Hummert and quickly saw that he had been shot in the head.

       Firefighter Neff ran to assist Firefighter Wisely in treating their fallen colleague. None of the firefighters knew the location of the gunman, and while waiting for an ambulance, there was another gunshot. This time it was Maplewood Police Officer Adam Fite who had been shot. Firefighter Neff administered emergency medical treatment to Officer Fite while they both were still in the line of fire. Ultimately, Firefighter Neff was able to drag Officer Fite to safety and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.

       When Lieutenant Appel realized where the gun shots were coming from, he directed the firefighters to take cover. Unfortunately, Firefighter Hummert had sustained a mortal injury and Firefighter Wisely, who didn't want to leave him, was moved out of the line of fire by Lieutenant Appel and Firefighter Chellis. Throughout the incident, Lieutenant Appel provided key information to the command staff until the St. Louis County Police Department Tactical Team arrived and removed the firefighters in an armored vehicle.

       Congratulations to Lieutenant Appel, Firefighter Neff, Firefighter Chellis, and Firefighter Wisely.

*     *     *

       Thank you, and, again, my congratulations to all our recipients. I know I speak for the Vice President and the Attorney General when I tell you what an honor it has been to confer these medals. If I can make one more request, we'd like to have all the honorees return to the stage for a group photograph.

*     *     *

       Thank you again. This concludes our ceremony.

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