Among the SPPD officers honored at the April 9 POAVC Medal of Valor awards ceremony were (front row, l to r) Senior Officer Hector Ramirez, Officer David Keathley, Officer Frank Huerta, (second row) Officer Matthew Alonzo, Lt. Troyce Reynolds, Sgt. Ishmael Cordero, (third row) Sgt. Ryan Smith and presenter Lt. Carlos Juarez. Not shown are Medal of Valor honoree Sgt. Paul Spencer and Citizens Medal of Merit recipient Reserve Officer Rick Halloran.

Courage, dedication: SPPD officers lauded with POAVC Medals of Valor

April 22, 2011
Santa Paula Police Department

Eight Santa Paula Police officers were honored for going above and beyond the call of duty during two separate incidents that garnered them Medals of Valor awarded by the Peace Officers Association of Ventura County.

SPPD Lt. Troyce Reynolds, Sgt. Ishmael Cordero, Sgt. Ryan Smith, Sgt. Paul Spencer, Senior Officer Hector Ramirez and Officers Matthew Alonzo, Frank Huerta and David Keathley were lauded at the 38th Annual POAVC Medal of Valor Awards Ceremony held April 9 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. SPPD Reserve Rick Halloran was also honored, receiving a Citizens Medal of Merit.

Held beneath Air Force One, the event attracted law enforcement leaders from throughout Ventura County including District Attorney Greg Totten and Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, as well as city police chiefs. Also attending were Santa Paula Vice Mayor Bob Gonzales, a former police chief, and City Manager Jaime Fontes.

The Ventura County Police and Sheriff Honor Guard presented the Colors and the National Anthem was sung by Dawn Reid, whose husband is CHP Officer Steve Reid.

POAVC President Matt Findley welcomed the crowd, noting, “What brings us here tonight is to say thank you for doing an excellent job... and it shows that human spirit” of wanting to offer assistance, even under adverse circumstances, is “alive and well here in Ventura County.” Those who “knew the risks and never hesitated” were being honored for their extraordinary actions, which Findlay said define “courage... knowing the danger and saddling up anyway” without thought of self.

Superior Court Judge Ryan Wright read the commendations for the medals presented to SPPD personnel by Lt. Carlos Juarez who filled in for Chief Steve MacKinnon, who unable to attend.

Halloran’s Medal of Merit was for an incident when he was on a ride along with Sgt. Smith when a known gang member, considered to be armed and dangerous, was detained. The subject’s “demeanor caused concern,” and when confronted by Smith a physical altercation occurred.

Halloran, who had remained in the patrol vehicle, heard Smith radio the subject was trying to get his weapon and ask for assistance. Halloran exited the vehicle and rushed to Smith’s aid, jumping on the subject’s legs and enabling Smith to take control. Wright said that in spite of the possibility a shooting might result from the altercation between Smith and the suspect, Halloran’s “selfless act” without thought of personal risk was the reason for his Citizens Medal of Merit.

The guidelines for the Medal of Valor are to recognize “extraordinary bravery, above and beyond the call of duty, where risk of life actually existed and the offers was aware of such risk,” and “where failure to take such action would not justify censure.”

Such was the case on the evening of May 22, 2010, when SPPD Sgt. Ryan Smith, Senior Officer Hector Ramirez and Officers Matthew Alonzo and David Keathley stopped several seven subjects - two with outstanding warrants - in South Alley. Suddenly shots rang out, and the officers found they were under fire from an unknown direction.

The four officers did not hesitate; Wright said they moved “in unison” to protect those they had stopped, in spite of the subjects being known gang affiliates and possible targets of the gunfire. The officers “disregarded” the status of those subjects they had stopped to question and “placed themselves in front of the subjects” to protect them, while the officers first maneuvered them and then themselves to take cover. For their brave actions in protecting those they were questioning, the four officers received the Medal of Valor.

A little more than a week following the September 13 daytime shooting death of Isidro Alaniz, 28, in a Santa Paula alley, a warrant was being served on a person of interest in the homicide at an area mobile home park. The suspect, Jacob Escobedo, 24, had just been released from prison and was also suspected of shooting a woman in a separate incident.

Escobedo barricaded himself inside the mobile home with several women and three small children. Wright said officers believed Escobedo was armed and under the influence of drugs.

Four officers, Lt. Troyce Reynolds, Sgt. Ishmael Cordero, Sgt. Paul Spencer and Officer Frank Huerta, “took positions behind parked cars,” said Wright, and waited. About 30 to 40 minutes later Escobedo exited the mobile home holding a child as a shield. He stated he had no weapon, but from his demeanor it was obvious he was under the influence of drugs, probably methamphetamine.

The four officers left their cover and carefully approached Escobedo, and Spencer “grabbed the child from Escobedo’s grasp.” Although the other officers attempted to take Escobedo into custody, he was able to slip back into the mobile home with the other hostages. Hours later Escobedo released the other hostages and gave himself up to officers.

Wright said to save the child the officers showed extreme courage by leaving cover to approach Escobedo, whom them knew was accused of violent crimes, had a criminal record, and was under the influence of a drug known to cause erratic and dangerous behavior. Such actions, said Wright, warranted the Medal of Valor for the SPPD officers.

In all 35 officers and civilians from throughout Ventura County were honored at the annual dinner, including 8-year-old Averee Cook, who received a Citizens Medal of Merit.

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