When LAPD Hollywood Division officer Kevin Cotter confronted an armed gunman alongside Det. Craig Marquez on the morning of Dec. 9, he didn’t know it would lead him to the Rose Garden at the White House.
In fact, he would have preferred not to be in the position, and would have been content continuing to work off-duty at a filming location. But when he heard that a shooting rampage was ongoing nearby, he had a job to do — a duty to uphold — despite no communications equipment or knowledge of the evolving scene.
“I’m really overwhelmed by some of this,” Cotter said at the Los Angeles Police Foundation’s “Above & Beyond” Medal of Valor and Purple Heart Awards Ceremony last Thursday. “I’m not accustomed to recognition. The bottom line is, you have to do your job.”
He and Marquez were both awarded the LAPD’s Medal of Valor during the ceremony in the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center for stopping Tyler Brehm, who was walking in the middle of Vine Street near DeLongpre Avenue at 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 9, randomly firing a .40-caliber handgun at motorists.
Brehm struck several vehicles and shot music executive John Atterbury, who later died from his injuries. When Cotter, Marquez and another officer, Travon Dixon, responded, Brehm aimed his weapon at authorities and was shot. He died at the scene.
Since then, the officers have received a public outpouring of support in the form of letters and e-mails. Marquez said the incident — and the honors that followed — provided a great opportunity to showcase the hard work of the LAPD.
“We’re definitely humbled by it all,” he said. “Even though this is an individual award, you don’t do anything in a vacuum.”
That statement was evidenced by the other two Medal of Valor recipients, Foothill Division officers Fernando Sanchez and Alejandro Valencia, and the 11 officers who received Purple Hearts, some posthumously. Their stories were narrated by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who showed emotion as she served as the event’s mistress of ceremonies.
On July 10, 2010, Sanchez and Valencia were pursuing a suspected DUI driver during a short vehicle chase when the suspect abruptly stopped his vehicle and fired upon the officers. During the encounter, Sanchez lost his footing and broke his wrist. Valencia thought his partner had been shot and opened fire on the suspect, a documented gang member. Sanchez was shot in the process, but the suspect was mortally wounded.
The Purple Heart recipients were Sgts. Michael Flanagan and Stacy Lim, detectives Lovie Nettles and Norman Eckles and officers Franck Peter, Kristina Ripatti, James Veenstra, Felix Vera, Jack Storey, Joseph Ortega and Oscar Joel Bryant.
“These stories make you want to cry,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “They fill you with emotion.”
He said the LAPD’s 9,965 officers comprise the finest police department in the country. As the mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa said he could not be more proud of the department.
“And I know your families are proud,” he said.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said officers routinely risk their lives for people they do not know, and that is the “hallmark of policing in Los Angeles.” He said people sometimes comment that he has a tough job, but it pales in comparison to those in the field.
“There is nothing more challenging than being in a dark alley with gunfire in the air,” Beck said. “None of you are born to run toward gunfire, but all of you do.”
Curtis also gave the department and the recipients high praise.
“They live by a strict moral compass that guides them like guardians from those who wish to do us harm,” she said.
After the ceremony, Marquez and Cotter posed for pictures with family members and, in one case, signed an autograph. Two days later, they were in Washington, D.C., receiving praise from the commander in chief and the National Association of Police Organizations.
“You know, I look forward to this event each and every year, because it’s a chance to say thank you,” President Barack Obama said. “Every day, hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers keep our neighborhoods safe, and frankly, they don’t ask for a lot. They don’t ask for a lot of credit. They don’t go to work planning to be heroes. They just do their jobs.
“But when you put on that badge, you assume a special responsibility. And every time you put it on, you never know if this day will be the day that you’ve spent your entire career training for -– the day when just doing your job and being a hero are exactly the same thing. For the men and women standing behind me, America’s Top Cops, that day came. And when it did, they were ready. They didn’t flinch. They didn’t back off. There are people who are alive today only because of their courage.”
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