WASHINGTON — President Obama awarded the nation’s highest honor for law enforcement to 13 police officers Monday, recognizing officers who put themselves in harm’s way — one fatally — to protect citizens.
The Public Safety Medal of Valor recognizes police, firefighters and other first responders for exceptional courage. Obama said the actions of the 13 recognized Monday helped to save countless lives.
“To a person, each of these honorees acted without regard to their own safety,” Obama said in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House evoking the formality of a military Medal of Honor presentation. “We’re so grateful they were there — some off duty, others on duty, and all rising above and beyond the call of duty.”
The ceremony, held during National Police Week, came shortly after Obama signed into law two police-related bills renewing a bulletproof vest grant program and allowing free U.S. Capitol flags for the families of fallen first responders.
Obama called on Americans to support law enforcement officers with deeds as well as words, and thanked their families for the burden they also face.
“We know that you wait up late and you’re worried and you’re counting down the minutes until your loved one walks through the door safe after a long shift. We know it never gets easier, and we thank you for that,” Obama said. “And of course we honor those who didn’t come home, including one hero we honor posthumously today.”
Philadelphia Police Sergeant Robert Wilson III stopped at a video game store last year to buy his son a gift for getting good grades. Two armed men — who police later learned were brothers — entered the store, and security footage then showed Wilson confronting them, stepping away from the staff and patrons to keep them out of the crossfire.
After exchanging 50 rounds in a shootout, one of the robbers shot Wilson in the head, killing him. Accepting the Medal of Valor for Wilson was his grandmother, Constance Wilson.
The Public Safety Medal of Valor was established by President Clinton by executive order in 2000, and then officially recognized by Congress in 2001.
Others awarded the medal Monday are:
Officer Mario Gutierrez, Miami-Dade, Fla., for subduing a knife-wielding assailant who attempted to set off a massive gas explosion that could have resulted in multiple fatalities.
Patrolman Louis Cioci, Johnson City, N.Y., for pursuing and apprehending a gunman who had killed a fellow officer at a crowded hospital, thereby saving the lives of employees, patients, and visitors.
Officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks and Captain Raymond Bottenfield, Santa Monica, Calif., for placing themselves in danger to save the lives of students and staff during a school shooting on the campus of Santa Monica College.
Major David Huff, Midwest City, Okla., for resolving a hostage situation,. saving the life of a two-year-old girl after negotiations deteriorated with a man holding the child captive at knife point.
Officer Donald Thompson, Los Angeles, Calif., for crossing two freeway dividers and enduring first- and second-degree burns while pulling an unconscious man to safety from a car moments before it became engulfed in flames.
Officer Coral Walker, Omaha, Neb., for single-handedly incapacitating a man who had killed and injured multiple victims on a shooting spree.
Officer Gregory Stevens, Garland, Tex., for exchanging gunfire at close range and subduing two heavily armed assailants, thereby preventing a mass shooting.
Officer Niel Johnson, North Miami, Fla., for pursuing a man who had shot a Miami police officer and two other innocent bystanders, withstanding fire from an assault weapon, and apprehending the assailant.
Special Agent Tyler Call, FBI, for helping to rescue a woman from her ex-husband, who was holding her at gunpoint.
Deputy Joey Tortorella, Niagara County, N.Y., for confronting and subduing a gunman who had shot and wounded his parents inside their home, and preventing him from threatening a nearby elementary school.