Stories of bravery and community service revealed at Police Awards

Discover why so many cops –and some civilians – were honored during this ceremony …

The lobby of David Douglas High School Horner Performing Arts Center, begins to fill, before the Portland Police Bureau award program begins.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) honored its own, and civilians as well, at an awards ceremony held in the Hazelwood neighborhood of outer East Portland – at David Douglas High School – on January 23.

With Mayor Charlie Hales out of town, his Chief of Staff, Gail Shibley attended on his behalf. “These awards [reflect] an amazing tapestry of people in our city. These folks ‘had someone’s back’, and I’m glad that today we can give them a very public and sincere ‘thank you’.”

Portland Police Bureau Chief Michael Reese says he’s proud serve Portland.

Then, starting by saying that “no one has ever complained if my speech is brief,” PPB Chief Michael Reese began his remarks.

“Today we come together in celebration of exceptional efforts by the men and women who serve in the Portland Police Bureau,” Reese said. “And also, our community partners to work beside us, building a safe community and neighborhoods.

“I am proud to be a Portland Police Officer,” Reese continued. “It is an honor and a privilege to wear this uniform, and serve this community.”

PPB Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson stepped to the podium, and told why each of those who were to be called to the stage was being honored. Dozens of awards were presented; this story highlights events that took place in outer East Portland.

What follows are the actual words Simpson used to describe why each honor was presented.

Achievement Medal
Officer Natasha Haunsperger, and Irene Konev

PPB Officer Natasha Haunsperger and Irene Konev are awarded, and stand with Chief Reese, Gail Shibley, and Assistant Chiefs Larry O’Day, Donna Henderson, and Michael Crebs.

Over the past 20-plus years, the Slavic Community in the Portland metro area has grown rapidly. The Slavic community consists of Eastern European immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries, as well as from the former Yugoslavia. While each of these communities has distinct individual characteristics, the Slavic populations share some commonalities in history, culture, religion, and languages, and all face similar assimilation issues.

The Eastern European/Slavic community primarily consists of hard-working families with a strong Christian value system, who are pursuing their dreams and goals of creating an economically better and politically and religiously safer life for their families. The population growth and assimilations for the Russian, Eastern European, and Slavic immigrants has brought with it many challenges, including a disproportionately high dropout rate; language barriers; and a lack of awareness about the American social norms and laws. These challenges lead to issues such as criminal activity, and immigrants who are coming from circumstances where the cultural norm is to engage in conflict with corrupt governments and officials. This generates a lack of trust with the community and law enforcement.

Officer Natasha Haunsperger has done an extensive amount of outreach within this community. This led to the alarming realization that significantly more criminal activity is occurring with this community than is being reported. Much of this underreporting can be attributed to a variety of factors: Lack of language skills, fear of retaliation, an innate lack of trust in police, and a tendency to [prefer to] “fix and resolve” problems within the community.

Officer Haunsperger recognized the immediate need to educate the Slavic community on criminal justice, crime prevention, and community engagement. In turn, the Portland Police Bureau needed to be educated on the fears and concerns of the Slavic Community. Officer Haunsperger, and Irene Konev – who works for the Independent Police Review Division – presented the idea to establish a Slavic Advisory Council at the Police Bureau.

Listening to their commendation being read are PPB Officer Natasha Haunsperger and Irene Konev.

East Precinct Command and the Chiefs office unanimously agreed that this needed to happen. On December 6, 2012, the first Slavic Advisory Council was held, and was attended by a variety of Slavic community leaders and members of the Police Bureau.

One year later, the Slavic Advisory Council is thriving. The council developed a Mission Statement and Goals (in English and Russian). In the past year, the Bureau and the Slavic community participated in many events, and plans are being developed for the Slavic Advisory Council and Portland Police Bureau to hold a Youth/Family Forum in the spring.

Officer Natasha Haunsperger and Irene Konev: You recognized the need to bring police and the Slavic Community together to build trust and develop relationships.  This has already greatly impacted those involved.  For these ground-breaking efforts in establishing the Slavic Advisory Council, you are hereby awarded the Portland Police ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL.

Achievement Medal
Detective Anthony Merrill and Officer Colby Panter

A gang shooting at this now-closed Russell neighborhood establishment, The Refectory, led police on a two-year-long successful manhunt. East Portland News archive image

On June 30, 2010, Detective Anthony Merrill and Officer Colby Panter became the lead investigators on a shooting investigation that occurred at the Refectory Night Club. During the initial call, responding uniformed officers received information that a large group of suspected gang members had assaulted two patrons as they were leaving the establishment. The two victims were shot by the suspected gang members.

According to statements made by the victims and witnesses at the scene, the two victims were leaving the club when the group of gang members began arguing with one of the victims. Shortly after the argument, one victim was punched in the face and knocked to the ground, and then shots were fired. One victim was grazed in the head with a bullet, while the other was shot at five times.

Detective Merrill and Officer Panter interviewed more than 20 potential witnesses connected to the shooting within the first four weeks of the investigation. They reviewed video footage from the nightclub and surrounding areas where the shooting had occurred. They convinced a witness to take a voluntary polygraph exam. They attempted to interview uncooperative gang members who they suspected were at the club the night of the shooting.

Sgt. Pete Simpson reads why Officer Colby Panter and Detective Anthony Merrill are awarded Portland Police Achievement Medals.

In August 2011, Detective Merrill and Officer Panter received information from a confidential source that identified several of the gang members that were involved in the Refectory shooting. In September 2012, Detective Merrill and Officer Panter drove to the Coyote Ridge State Prison in Washington and interviewed an inmate who identified the suspect in the shooting.

The officers also identified and located the suspect’s girlfriend, and discovered she was also present at the shooting. They developed an arrest warrant and found the suspect was already in a Washington prison, searched a hotel in Washington where the couple hid after the shooting, and learned the suspect was involved in a gang shooting in 2011 in Seattle. Many search warrants and interviews later, they had built a credible case.  Last October, the suspect was indicted for attempt murder, and was sentenced to 70 months in jail after he pled guilty to two counts of Assault II with a firearm.

Detective Merrill and Officer Panter: For your extraordinary and exhaustive work, following every single lead and building a thorough investigative case that led to the arrest of a dangerous shooter, you are hereby awarded the Portland Police ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL.

Distinguished Service
Lt. Larry Graham and Amy Jacobs

As the 2011 “Shop with a Cop” back-to-school event gets underway, Fred Meyer’s Amy Jacobs and Lt. Larry Graham pause of a photo. East Portland News archive image

Lt. Larry Graham and Amy Jacobs of Fred Meyer were next summoned to the stage to receive Distinguished Service Awards.

Simpson announced that in 2002, Lieutenant Larry Graham developed a partnership with Fred Meyer Stores and other social service providers, which led to the “Shop with a Cop” program – which pairs children in need with police officers, to shop for school supplies and clothing at the beginning of the school year. In addition to the children being able to obtain these needed items, they are able to spend some positive time with a police officer.  The cost of the items purchased is covered by a combination of donations and crime prevention funding.

Amy Jacobs of Fred Meyer and Lt. Larry Graham listen as their commendation is read.

Through Lieutenant Graham’s leadership, this event has continued to grow, with hundreds of officers over the years volunteering their time to participate.  In addition, Amy Jacobs of Fred Meyer has been pivotal in ensuring this program continues.

Amy has worked tirelessly to obtain funding and support from within the Fred Meyer organization. Her leadership and encouragement has attracted many to volunteer and support this program. Amy works with store managers and purchase agents to ensure the participating store is overstocked with kids clothing on the day of the event, so the kids have a large selection to choose from.

Through their commitment to the program, Jacobs and Graham have ensured that more than 2,000 local kids in need have been provided with more than $650,000 worth of back-to-school clothing and supplies. For their efforts, they are each awarded the Portland Police Distinguished Service Award.

Amy Jacobs of Fred Meyer and Lt. Larry Graham smile at one another as they recall the good that “Shop with a Cop” has done in the community,

After the ceremony, Graham told East Portland News, “While it’s nice to get an award like this, it’s especially good to see that Amy is recognized for the work she’s done over the years.”

Looking at his framed commendation and medallion, Graham added, “This award is also for all the officers and command staff that show up, on their own time, to help with ‘Shop with a Cop’ every year. They’re the real stars.”

Distinguished Service
Pastor Marc Estes, Pastor Frank Damazio, and the Congregation of City Bible Church

City Bible Church pastors Pastor Marc Estes and Frank Damazio learn why their church is being presented the PPB Distinguished Service Award.

Lead Pastor Frank Damazio and Campus Pastor Marc Estes have demonstrated exemplary and distinguished leadership over City Bible Church for many years, and this has been very beneficial for our community.

The pastors’ willingness to reach outside themselves and their church to those in need has significantly enhanced the livability of numerous community members, especially Portland’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens. Pastors Damazio and Estes accomplish their deeds individually as well as leading several teams of volunteers, partnering with the City of Portland, the Portland Police Bureau, and other governmental and non-profit agencies.

Some of their annual and ongoing projects include the “Live, Love” Project. This is a project in which individual citizens – normally non-church members – are identified and assisted by City Bible Church volunteers with home improvements, food, money for necessary expenses, emergency housing, and more. Multi-year projects have also included the adoption of local schools for property cleanups and resources for teachers and students, including backpacks filled with school supplies.

The list of volunteer programs is endless, and includes food boxes, Christmas gifts, summer camps for the children, mentoring, and more.  They have provided resources to Portland Police Officers, by providing a no-cost venue for police-related functions and for officers to use clean restrooms, eat meals, and write reports.  They host multiple annual breakfasts and events to recognize, support, and provide resources to Portland’s veterans and first responders.

Pastor Frank Damazio and Pastor Marc Estes, your leadership and compassion are renowned throughout the community.  Through your efforts, thousands of people in our community have been positively impacted.  Your partnership with the Police Bureau and other agencies is a testament to what can be accomplished when we work together to assist those in need.  It is my honor to present to you, and the congregation of City Bible Church, the Portland Police DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD.

Life Saving Medal
Officer Alfonso Valadez and Officer George Weseman

Portland Police officers Alfonso Valadez and George Weseman receive the Police Bureau’s Life Saving Medal.

In the afternoon of August 26th, 2013, Officer Alfonso Valadez was dispatched to the field behind Ron Russell Middle School regarding an unconscious male suffering from an apparent drug overdose.

Officer Weseman also responded from nearby and found the male. The officers determined the man was not breathing and did not have a pulse. Officer Weseman advised dispatch of their location for medical to respond, and began chest compressions.

Officer Valadez tilted the man’s head back to open his airway and began to monitor the man for a pulse. Medical response was delayed because the location was not easily accessible or visible from the street. Officer Weseman continued chest compressions for about two minutes before the male began to occasionally gasp for air.

Officer Valadez then relieved Officer Weseman and continued the chest compressions. After several minutes, the officers switched again with Officer Weseman resuming the compressions. By the time medical arrived, the man had regained a pulse and continued to gasp for air.

Officer Alfonso Valadez and Officer George Weseman, for your actions in rendering aid to an unconscious man in order to save his life, you are hereby awarded the Portland Police LIFESAVING MEDAL.

Life Saving Medal
Officer James West

For saving a boy’s life, Officer James West is presented the PPB Life Saving Medal.

Officer James West was on patrol last Fourth of July on SE 82nd Avenue, when he came across a pedestrian who had been struck by a vehicle.   The pedestrian, a 10-year-old boy, had been struck in the crosswalk by a passing car and hurled through the air approximately 45 feet, suffering head injuries.

Officer West called for medical responders and additional units. Initially, the boy’s breathing was labored and he was unconscious. His breathing ceased at one point and Officer West administered CPR.  During this time, he was able to locate and broadcast the license plate of the vehicle and preserve what was now a crime scene. He continued CPR until relieved by responding paramedics.

The boy was transported to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and was in critical condition with life threatening injuries.  However, by July 9th, the boy was ‘doing fabulous’, according to the in-charge nurse.  The nurse also stated that if Officer West had not taken the prompt action, the boy could have died.

Officer West, for your quick action in saving a boy who had been struck by a car and gravely injured, you are hereby awarded the Portland Police Bureau’s LIFESAVING MEDAL.

Portland Police Civilian Medal for Heroism
Scott Adams

After a man accused of robbing the SE Division Street Bank of the West ran through this construction site at Portland Community College, roofer Scott Adams took off after the alleged criminal. East Portland News archive image

Many will recall the suspected bank robber who held up the Bank of the West branch on the corner of SE Division Street and SE 82nd Avenue on August 19, 2013 – only to be stopped by a punch from a construction worker.

In presenting the “Portland Police Civilian Medal for Heroism”, Simpson recalled how Scott Adams, a roofer on the Portland Community College construction project, heard someone yelling that the bank nearby had just been robbed.

Robber-stopper Scott Adams receives his award, with applause from Chief Michael Reese, Gail Shibley, and Assistant Chief Larry O’Day.

After the ceremony, Adams recalled for East Portland News, “I knew it was the robber when he ran into the job site. He had red paint on his hands; I thought he was an injured worker.

“I ran after him,” Adams continued. “As I caught up to him, he stopped to confront me saying that if I didn’t ‘back off’ there would be ‘big problems’. I didn’t say a word, but when he started to walk around me, I blocked his way.”

After the award presentation, Scott Adams proudly shows off his award to reporters.

The suspect took a swing at Adams. “I knew I had to take him down.”

As Chief Reese applauded and presented the commendation, Simpson said, “Mr. Scott Adams, for your selflessness and bravery to stop a felon, thereby putting your own personal safety at risk, you are hereby awarded the Portland Police Civilian Medal for Heroism.”

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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