And so have seven other officers. Governor Nixon recognized each one of them for going above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to protect and serve.
Six of them survived gunfire, though some only barely. Two others put their own lives at risk battling exploding vehicles and swift river currents to save those in peril … both attempts of which were successful. In fact, in all instances, no innocent bystanders were injured or killed.
Not so Officer Mathew Crosby, formerly with the Rock Hill Police Department, a usually sleepy town nestled in the suburbs of St. Louis.
Officer Crosby and his partner, Lt. Jorden Lewis responded to a violent domestic dispute. While trying to make contact with the suspect, a man appeared at the top of a stairway, blocking the officers in the narrow stairwell below. The man fired two shots at the officers. The first shot grazed Crosby in the head, the second entered his shoulder, ricocheted off his clavicle and lodged in his spine.
“I thought I was going to die,” he says. “I could see a pool of blood out of the corner of my eye and it just kept getting bigger.”
Still, he returned fire, as did Lewis. Both of their shots hit the gunman, causing him to fall from the stairway onto Crosby. The gunman continued to struggle with Lewis, attempted to grab his weapon, and shouted “I’m going to kill you all.”
Two Brentwood police officers arrived as backup and detained the suspect; Lewis tended to his partner’s wounds. He says he just went into auto-pilot and remembers Crosby saying “Don’t let me die, I’ve got three little boys.”
Even before that though, he says he and Crosby had a special bond, fishing together and being friends. “He’s like the little brother I never had,” says Lewis, who has served nearly 40 years on the streets of St. Louis and Rock Hill. Even so, he says he loves his job and can’t imagine doing anything else. One thing has changed though … he never takes a slow night for granted. Lewis says “Things like this don’t happen in Rock Hill, and it did.”
Lewis also was awarded a Medal of Valor.
Other recipients hailed from St. Louis, St. Joseph, Jefferson City and Cooper County. Governor Nixon says in a world where the word “hero” is certainly overused — these eight men are truly the heroes among us.
“Each of these eight officers exhibited exceptional bravery and heroism as they risked their own lives in order to protect the citizens of Missouri,” Nixon said at the ceremony. “Their selfless actions are shining examples of the outstanding character and commitment of Missouri’s public safety officers, and exemplify what the Medal of Valor stands for. I am proud to present this award to each of the honorees.”
The Medal of Valor recipients are:
- Mathew R. Crosby and Jorden G. Lewis, Rock Hill Police Department – On April 8, 2010, Patrolman Crosby and Lt. Lewis responded to a violent domestic dispute in an apartment complex. While trying to make contact with the suspect, a man appeared at the top of a stairway blocking the officers in the narrow stairwell below. The man raised a gun and fired two shots at the officers. The first shot grazed Crosby in the head and the second shot entered his shoulder. The bullet lodged in his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down. Despite his injuries, Crosby returned fire, as did Lewis. Both officers’ shots struck the gunman, causing him to fall from the stairway onto Crosby. Despite his wounds, the gunman continued to struggle with Lewis, attempted to retrieve his pistol and threatened, “I’m going to kill you all.” The suspect was eventually taken into custody by two Brentwood police officers who had arrived on the scene, allowing Lewis to attend to his wounded partner. The valiant efforts of both Patrolman Crosby and Lt. Lewis brought the dangerous gunman, a wanted felon from Tennessee, into custody without any civilians or other officers being hurt. In addition, Lt. Lewis’ actions helped save the life of his wounded partner. (Note: Since this incident, Patrolman Crosby was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and has since retired; Lt. Lewis has been promoted to the rank of captain.)
- Donald L. Doza, Missouri State Highway Patrol – On April 28, 2010, Trooper Doza responded to an injury accident on Interstate 70 in Cooper County. A van with a camper attached had crashed into a guardrail, causing extreme damage to the vehicle; smoke from the camper was filling the van. Two medics and a firefighter were on the scene but fire trucks were stuck in traffic. The driver was unconscious inside the van. The van doors would not open, so Doza broke the driver’s window with his baton. Doza tried to pull the driver out through the window, but the driver’s legs were wedged underneath the steering wheel. Doza called for assistance but none was forthcoming. Propane tanks inside the camper began exploding, fueling the fire. Doza broke the front windshield, but the smoke and flames made it impossible to get to the victim from this direction. He returned to the driver’s window and was now joined by a firefighter. As gasoline flowed around their feet, the firefighter pulled the victim’s arms and Doza now managed to free his legs. The victim was pulled from the van moments before the camper exploded. The 80-year-old victim continues to recover.
- Joseph R. Haman, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – On May 27, 2010, Officer Haman (HEY-men) stopped a suspicious vehicle in north St. Louis. While the officer was conducting an investigation of the vehicle’s occupants, a passenger in the rear seat opened fire. The gunman fired from point-blank range, hitting the officer six to eight times. Despite being critically wounded, Haman was able to dive for cover and return fire, striking the suspect vehicle and causing the gunman to retreat. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Haman remained composed and focused as he radioed for help. Haman, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, provided responding officers with a description of the gunman and detailed information so that a search could begin. St. Louis police were able to locate and arrest the suspected gunman the same day. Police credit Officer Haman’s ballistic vest with saving his life.
- Steven M. Landsness, O’Fallon Police Department – On Oct. 23, 2010, Sgt. Landsness was off duty and walking along a trail near the Missouri River in Sunset Park in Florissant when he heard several people yelling that someone was in the river. He quickly spotted a woman struggling against the current, about 75 feet from the shore, in a treacherous area of the Missouri that has claimed several lives in the past. Despite her calls for help, others stood by on the riverbank or called for her to swim with the current. Recognizing the woman was exhausted and struggling to keep her head above the surface, Sgt. Landsness quickly entered the river, swam to the woman and calmly brought her to the shore, saving her life.
- Darren M. Rodgers, Arnold Police Department and Gerald L. Williams, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office – On Jan. 29, 2010, Cpl. Williams received a lead that the suspect in the theft of almost 50 guns – including fully automatic weapons – was hiding in a shed in Imperial. Sgt. Rodgers was part of the team assembled to capture the dangerous suspect. Williams, Rodgers and another officer approached the shed. Using established procedure, officers had their guns ready when the shed door was opened and the suspect was ordered to surrender. The suspect, lying underneath a blanket, pointed a gun at Williams’ head. The corporal, reacting instantly, was able to grab and twist the gunman’s arm as he fired. Williams narrowly avoided being hit in the face but was wounded in the arm. Despite his wound, Williams continued to struggle with the suspect. When there was no danger of hitting the officers, Rogers fired two shots, hitting the suspect both times and disabling him. The gunman survived his wounds and was taken into custody. The actions of Cpl. Williams and Sgt. Rogers protected the community by taking off the streets a dangerous gunman who had obtained a cache of dangerous firearms and was already wanted for robbery and armed criminal action.
- Kenneith D. Smith Jr., St. Joseph Police Department – On July 21, 2010, Officer Smith responded to a domestic disturbance call in St. Joseph. As he arrived, the officer spotted the suspect running toward a woman and her young child. When the suspect saw Smith, he ran toward his van and attempted to flee the scene. Smith blocked him, but the suspect refused to obey the officer’s commands. The suspect began struggling with Smith and was able to reach a gun hidden in his van. With the gun in his hand, the man told Smith that he was going to kill him. As the two continued to struggle, he placed the gun at Smith’s head and pulled the trigger. The officer was able to push the man enough so the bullet missed him, hitting the van. As the struggle continued, Smith pulled his service weapon and repeatedly told the gunman to drop the gun or he would have to shoot. When he aimed his gun at the officer’s face, Smith had no alternative but to fire once, killing the gunman. Officer Smith bravely acted to protect the woman and child and exhausted all options, putting his own life at even greater risk, before being forced to use deadly force.
The Medal of Valor is awarded annually by Missouri’s Governor after recommendations are submitted by the Medal of Valor Review Board. Recipients must be persons serving a public agency, with or without compensation, as a firefighter, law enforcement officer or emergency personnel.
The nominating form states the Medal of Valor is awarded “to a public safety officer who has exhibited exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life.” State and local corrections, court and civil defense officers are eligible.
Nominations are now open for acts performed during 2011 and must be received by March 31, 2012. The nominating form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety Web site at http://www.dps.mo.gov/documents/MedalofValorForm.pdf
Photos of the Medal of Valor recipients at the ceremony will be available at the following site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/missouridps/