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Police, citizens receive awards

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com · 340-2355

Decatur police gathered Thursday night to honor those among their ranks who distinguished themselves in the line of duty.

The list of honorees was lengthy, as the department recognized those from 2006 and 2007 during the ceremony.

Officer Keith Brown was the lone Medal of Merit recipient, for a June 2006 incident in which he grabbed the wrist of a man who was attempting to leap from the Hudson Bridge and pulled him to safety. Brown risked his own life to make the rescue, police said.

Sgt. Steve Clark of the Special Victims Unit was the lone recipient of the 2007 Medal of Commendation.

“I don’t know how we’ll ever replace him if he ever decides to retire,” said Chief Ken Collier as he presented the award. “I don’t know anyone who has as much empathy for domestic violence victims.”

Injured in the line of duty

Officers Mike Cowart and Marty McCaghren received Purple Heart medals for injuries they suffered in the line of duty.

Cowart nearly had his eye gouged out while trying to catch a suspect; he also underwent shoulder surgery for an injury suffered during the attack.

A suspect ran over Mc-Caghren’s leg when she tried to prevent him from fleeing a service station where a forged check had just been passed.

Medal of Commendation recipients for 2006 included:

Now-retired officer Tommy Gunn, for his role in talking down a man who was attempting to jump from the Hudson Memorial Bridge; narcotics investigators Archie Letson and Matt Chance, for serving many warrants and making nearly 30 arrests during an undercover drug operation; Sgt. Kevin Hunter, Sgt. Mike Petty and officers Mike Cowart, Ellie Green and Anthony Stevens for carrying residents to safety during a fire at Presbyterian Towers; and Lt. Frank DeButy and officers Bill LaPradd, Tom Little, Mike Cowart, Mike Hazel, Chris Wilbanks, Elizabeth McNeil, Lela Alexander, David Shutt and Rick Oliver for traveling to the Gulf Coast and aiding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The department also presented Citizen’s Service Awards to the following:

  • Sandy James McCaskey, a passer-by who used a stick to beat away dogs when he saw them attacking a child whose mother was physically handicapped and unable to help. The child suffered only minor injuries thanks to McCaskey.

  • Hunter Hendrix and his father, Dewayne Hendrix, who chased an alleged shoplifter down and cornered him until police arrived.

  • Terry Hoskins, Gordon Hughes II and Ron Birdwell for aiding officer Mike Cowart during a car chase. Hughes used a backhoe to force the suspect’s vehicle off the roadway. All three men restrained the suspect after he attacked Cowart, gouged his eye and tried to grab his pistol.

  • William “Ski” Szcepanski, a dispatcher and photographer who found a missing woman who suffers from dementia on a winter night after he overheard police radio traffic regarding the search.

  • Nash Reddy, a convenience store manager, and William Roger Handcock, a truck driver, for pulling a trucker to safety following a fiery crash on Alabama 20.

  • Danielle and Josh Franklin, Decatur Daily carriers who saw smoke coming from a house while delivering newspapers. The Franklins smashed open a window and helped the trapped resident escape the fire.

  • Tim Coffman and his dog, Jack Black, who helped police track down an alleged shoplifter who fled a store and eluded police by hiding in thick brush.

  • Greg Sheppe and Aaron Sawyer, for helping police find and arrest three alleged auto burglars and recover stolen property.

  • Christopher Andrew Williams, a passer-by who pulled a desperate woman to safety from the railing of the Hudson Bridge.

    The department gave special recognition to retired Chaplain Ron Youngs and School Patrol guard Thelma Carter, who continues looking out for the children at Banks-Caddell Elementary after 46 years on the job.

    Four units received citations for outstanding work:

  • The Warrant Unit, which reduced a massive backlog of unserved warrants by more than 5,000 in 2006. The unit succeeded in serving 3,000 of the old warrants and purged more than 2,000 that could not be served.

  • School Resource Officers, which was named a model agency by the National Association of School Resource Officers. The organization also named the unit’s former head, Sgt. Greg Cain, SRO of the Year in 2005.

  • The Anti-Crime Unit, which handles a variety of tasks, ranging from answering emergency calls at homes to setting up shop in problem areas and springing on crimes in progress — hence the nickname “Jumpout Boys.”

  • The Organized Crime Unit, which has so far this year served 110 search warrants, more than twice as many as in any previous year.

    Chief’s Commendation recipients for 2007 included officers Robbie Willis, Dusty French and Jerry Holmes and detectives Herb Lundy and Jeff Clem.

    Chief’s Commendation recipients for 2006 included Lt. Steve Campbell, Sgt. Mike Petty and officers Al Ballesteros, Tom Little, Mike Cowart, Ellie Green (two commendations), Jon-athan Lindley, Shawn Hudson (two commendations), Robert Peete and Keith Hornbuckle.

    The department also presented awards for shooting skill (the “Top Gun” award) and appearance (the Professional Image award). The No. 1 “Top Guns” were Officer Bill Lapradd in 2006 and Officer Brandon Abbott in 2007.

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