Governor awards Missouri public safety medals to first responders, civilians for heroic actions
Today, Governor Mike Parson awarded Missouri Public Safety Medals to a total of 11 first responders and six civilians for heroic and live-saving actions during 2019.
The awards represent the state’s highest recognition for first responders working as individuals and as members of a team during critical incidents. The civilians were honored for taking on harrowing risks during emergencies to save lives and support first responders.
“Each year, this award ceremony demonstrates the heroic, life-saving acts our first responders selflessly perform to protect their fellow Missourians,” Parson said. “Today, we honored eleven law enforcement officers and firefighters who bravely risked their lives to save others. Their acts serve as an inspiration and reminder of the risk these public servants take on each and every day.”
“The citizens we honored today are also inspirational,” Governor Parson continued. “They willingly faced incredible dangers to protect law enforcement and members of the public. It was my honor to stand among these courageous Missourians.”
Family members and a small number of colleagues were on hand for the awards presentation during the Jefferson City ceremony. Social distancing was followed, and masks were required. The award recipients and the acts for which they were honored are as follows:
Medal of Valor
Missouri's highest award recognizing public safety officers who exhibit exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life.
Shawn M. Dougherty and Jason C. Kuessner, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop D – On August 6, 2019, members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Carter County Sheriff’s Office were met with a barrage of gunfire as they attempted to execute a writ of eviction in rural Carter County. Trooper Caleb McCoy was struck in the shoulder, and Carter County Deputy Brigg Pierson was struck in the leg, groin, and chest. While Trooper McCoy and another deputy were able to retreat, Deputy Pierson was seriously wounded and fell down on the porch. Nearby, Corporal Kuessner encouraged and then pleaded for the injured Deputy Pierson to attempt to roll off the porch to a position out of the gunman’s line of fire. Summoning all his strength, Deputy Pierson rolled off the porch and crawled two steps from the residence but then collapsed. Corporal Kuessner then put himself in harm’s way by leaving his covered position to drag Deputy Pierson to behind a vehicle nearby. Master Sergeant Dougherty then ran from his position at a tree line to assist. With Deputy Pierson in medical distress, time was of the essence. Master Sergeant Dougherty, with his M-16 rifle, and Corporal Kuessner, with his service pistol drawn, managed to drag Deputy Pierson to the tree line and an ambulance. After spending four weeks in the hospital, Deputy Pierson was able to return home. He continues to recover through his own strength and perseverance as well as the courage and valiant efforts of Master Sergeant Dougherty and Corporal Kuessner.
Keaton L. Ebersold, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop H and Shannon Sherwood, Rock Port Police Department – On January 23, 2019, Trooper Ebersold and Chief Sherwood responded to a call for a hostage situation on I-29 in Atchison County. A truck driver exited the vehicle with his hands up, saying a woman with a gun was in the sleeper cab with a child. Trooper Ebersold went to the passenger side, and Chief Sherwood approached the driver side. Both doors were locked. A window punch was used to break the driver side window. The woman had her left arm around a small child and a flare gun in her right hand, loaded and cocked, pointed at the three-year-old’s head. The woman refused to negotiate and ordered Trooper Ebersold and Chief Sherwood out of the vehicle. She pointed the flare gun at Trooper Ebersold as he attempted to speak with her before pointing it back toward the child. As Chief Sherwood worked to calm and distract the woman, she slightly lowered the flare gun so it wasn’t aimed at the child. Trooper Ebersold immediately lunged inside the vehicle and wrapped his left hand around the hammer of the flare gun to lock it in place. Chief Sherwood and Trooper Ebersold struggled to control the woman while ensuring the safety of the child. Once Trooper Ebersold had the flare gun, he threw it out of the truck, and the woman was taken into custody. Trooper Ebersold and Chief Sherwood exhibited exceptional resourcefulness and tenacity to end the threat to the young child.
Thomas M. Buchness, Christian County Sheriff’s Office – On June 18, 2019, Deputy Sheriff Buchness responded to a call in the Sparta area for a young woman clinging to a large log in the Finley River with swift water conditions. She was suffering a panic attack and struggling to breathe. Deputy Buchness traveled through a wooded area and found the victim’s condition worsening. He threw her a long, heavy-duty extension cord and directed her to secure herself to the log. The woman was disoriented and losing consciousness. She had been desperately holding on for some time and needed immediate attention. Deputy Buchness removed his duty gear, descended a steep embankment, and carefully climbed out onto the log. Once he reached the victim, he reassured her she would be okay. As fire service personnel began to assemble at the riverbank, the victim was provided with a life jacket, and the extension cord was used as a rescue rope for the victim and Deputy Buchness to safely get to the riverbank. The victim was treated by EMS. During an extremely tense situation, Deputy Buchness exhibited calm, decisive action and resourcefulness, which facilitated the rescue of a woman in imminent danger of drowning.
Christopher S. Robertson, Calverton Park Police Department – On December 17, 2019, Corporal Robertson responded to assist the Ferguson Police Department after a 10-year-old boy had fallen from a diving board into the closed public pool at January-Wabash Park. There was about seven feet of water in the pool and the air temperature was 32 degrees. Upon arrival, a Ferguson officer was already in the water. He had pulled the child up from under the water, but the officer was now struggling due to the icy water and the physical exertion of propping up the lifeless child. The officer was fatigued and now in danger himself. Corporal Robertson immediately jumped into the pool. He prioritized the rescue of the child. Once the child was out of the water, Corporal Robertson worked to rescue the Ferguson officer. He got him to the edge of the pool where other responders pulled him to safety. The child, who had been in the water for an estimated 20 minutes, received CPR at the scene and was flown by helicopter to a children’s hospital where he succumbed to his injuries the next day. Without regard for his own life, Corporal Robertson courageously jumped into the icy pool and successfully pulled out two people. The Ferguson officer survived.
Awarded to a group of public safety officers in recognition of acts above and beyond the call of normal duty during a critical incident in which the collective performance of the group was essential to the successful resolution of the incident.
Duane K. Greer, Christopher R. Erb Jr., Patrick A. Ferguson, James J. Fuchs, and Joshua A. Roth, St. Louis Fire Department – On August 15, 2019, the St. Louis Fire Department was dispatched to a second floor apartment in Lafayette Square with smoke showing. Upon arrival, neighbors gave no indication anyone was inside the apartment. Captain Erb, Firefighter Ferguson, Firefighter Fuchs and Firefighter Roth all pushed up the stairs through the heat and smoke to conduct the primary search. First, Firefighter Ferguson located a child behind a bedroom door. Captain Erb then radioed that he had found another young victim. Multiple medic units were requested. Eventually, the team located a total of four children under four years old in the smoke-filled rear bedroom. One was in a closet, and two were in a children’s play tent. All of the children were rushed from the building. Three were in cardiac arrest, and one was semi-conscious. CPR was performed on three of the children in the front yard of the apartment building. Due to the narrow streets and the number of fire trucks on the scene, the medic units were at a distance. With extreme professionalism, under the command of Battalion Chief Duane K. Greer and in accordance with their training, the firefighters performing CPR acted with dispatch to carry the children to the medic units. The children, including 18-month-old twins, were treated at a hospital. Within two hours, all were breathing on their own and considered stable. The St. Louis Fire Department team performed flawlessly as they saved four young lives, from executing a thorough primary search and locating each young child in a smoke-filled apartment to providing critical life-saving care on the scene.
Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award
Awarded to a civilian who has provided valuable or courageous assistance to members of a Missouri public safety agency in an emergency situation.
Jason C. Gamm, Rick L. Shannon and Wesley W. Teague nominated by the Trenton Police Department – On June 14, 2019, Trenton Police Department Officer Jasmine E. Diab was transporting a prisoner to a mental health evaluation. During the transport near Winston, Missouri, the prisoner assaulted Officer Diab. Officer Diab was shot in the abdomen and the prisoner was shot in the hand during the struggle. The prisoner tried to take control of the vehicle and, positioned on top of the officer, attempted to drive away from the scene. Officer Diab continued to fight the prisoner. Several passing civilian motorists realized the officer was in extreme danger. Jason Gamm and Rick Shannon heard one of the gunshots. Mr. Shannon retrieved a gun from his vehicle and gave it to Mr. Gamm. Mr. Gamm and Wesley Teague approached the rear of the police vehicle. Mr. Gamm carefully moved around the vehicle to the driver’s door and managed to pull the prisoner from the vehicle. The prisoner continued to fight. Mr. Teague then grabbed the prisoner’s legs with his arms, and Mr. Shannon assisted holding him on the ground. All three civilians held the prisoner until law enforcement arrived and took him into custody. Officer Diab was hospitalized and continues to recover. If not for the heroic actions of Mr. Gamm, Mr. Shannon, and Mr. Teague, who acted without concern for their own safety, Officer Diab might have been killed.
Thomas E. Hutsler II, nominated by the Platte County Sheriff’s Office – On July 9, 2019, Thomas Hutsler was at a motor vehicle licensing office in Kansas City in Platte County when there was a commotion at the counter. A woman in a loud threatening voice told a clerk, “What do I need to do, show you my gun?” As she stormed out of the office past Mr. Hutsler, he overheard her say, “You haven’t seen the last of me.” Recognizing the danger, Mr. Hutsler instructed his son to remain inside as he headed to the parking lot. Mr. Hutsler then observed the woman pull a handgun out of her handbag. She fired the gun in the parking lot and then headed for the license office. Mr. Hutsler blocked the office door and told her she was not reentering the building. During a verbal confrontation, the woman brandished her weapon before placing it back in her bag and heading toward her vehicle. Mr. Hutsler warned other people in the parking lot to beware of the armed woman. The license office went on lockdown. Mr. Hutsler started his truck and maneuvered it to block the woman’s car. At this point, an off-duty officer drew his gun, and when the woman exited her vehicle, he ordered her to get on the ground. Mr. Hutsler used the officer’s phone to relay the events to a dispatcher. The woman refused the officer’s commands. Mr. Hutsler got behind her, wrapped his arms around her, and took her to the ground. Kansas City Police soon arrived. Police say the woman’s gun was loaded with a bullet in the chamber. In a highly dangerous situation with many lives at stake, Thomas Hutsler acted with fearlessness and daring to protect his fellow citizens from harm.
James W. Whitley II and Robert J. Whitley, nominated by Missouri State Highway Patrol – On the evening of August 3, 2019, a pontoon boat was floating down the Mississippi River near Hannibal with seven people aboard. A tow rope had become wrapped around the boat’s propeller, which caused the motor to fail. The boat floated in front of four raked barges moored on the Illinois side of the river. Cousins James and Robert Whitley were upstream in a 20-foot jon boat with a 75-horsepower engine when they noticed the pontoon was in distress. They immediately set out to help. When they were about 100 yards away, the pontoon hit a barge and capsized. Some of the occupants were in the water while others clung to the barge. The Whitleys entered the very dangerous area in front of the barges, threw a life jacket to a man in the water, and then recued a two-year-old child. Carefully maneuvering their small boat in and out of the danger zone, they rescued three more people who were clinging to the barge. As they fought the current, the jon boat almost capsized twice. They pulled a lifeless body from the water and administered CPR to no avail. By then, the man they had thrown a life jacket to had been rescued downstream by a tow boat. The body of a second deceased victim was recovered the next day. On the dangerous Mississippi River, fighting the current, swirling water and debris in a small, lightweight boat, James and Robert Whitley acted quickly, selflessly, and with undaunted courage, placing themselves in harm’s way and saving the lives of five people.
Nominations are now open for heroic acts performed in 2020 and must be received by February 28, 2021. The nomination form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety website at https://dps.mo.gov/medal/.