The Edmonds Police Department took time out on Wednesday evening to honor both its own and members of the community in the 17th annual Edmonds Police Department Awards ceremony.
Held each year during National Police Week, the ceremony recognizes outstanding achievement by both citizens and officers in serving and protecting the Edmonds community. Inaugurated in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, National Police Week honors police officers serving throughout the United States, and in particular all those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The event was emceed by Chief Al Compaan, Assistant Chiefs Jim Lawless and Don Anderson, and Sgt. Shane Hawley.
Chief Compaan began the evening by welcoming the more than 150 audience members to the event. He called to mind the deeper meaning of law enforcement service, pausing to recognize the 900,000 law enforcement officers currently serving across the United States, and to remember the more than 20,000 who have been killed in the line of duty since the first recorded police officer death in 1792.
“In 2017, 128 law enforcement and corrections officers lost their lives nationwide. So far this year, 45 officers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” he added. “Since Washington became a state in 1889, 286 officers have been killed in Washington State, the most recent being Pierce County Deputy Daniel McCartney on Jan. 7, 2018.”
After the invocation by Police Chaplain Rev. Phil Assink, Mayor Dave Earling took the podium to offer his remarks
“You have reason to celebrate tonight,” said Earling. “You not only keep our community safe, but as evidenced here tonight you have earned the respect of those you serve. People tell me that they feel safe here, and key to maintaining that feeling of safety is having open and direct communication with those who keep us safe.”
Sgt. Hawley then took the podium to begin the program, present the awards and honor the recipients.
“Our first award category is the Citizen Service Citation,” Hawley began. “It is bestowed on citizens whose assistance, sometimes at considerable risk to themselves, contributed to the furtherance of law enforcement in the community.”
The first recipient was Douglas Hortin, whose quick thinking and willingness to get involved led to the apprehension of a hit-and-run driver who had just fled the scene of an injury accident.
Hearing a loud noise coming from a passing car outside his house, Hortin noticed a car’s front bumper hanging loose and rubbing against a tire. He jumped in his car to follow, and ultimately found the car in a dead end with the driver walking away. Not having his cell phone with him, he returned home and called 911, met the responding officers, and led them to the scene where they ultimately identified the suspect. Little did Horton know, but the suspect that fled not only had hit another car, but also a pedestrian that was walking toward the crash scene to help the driver and check for injuries. The suspect was ultimately charged with hit and run.
“Because of his willingness to get involved,” said Hawley, “we are pleased to present Douglas Hortin with the Citizen Service Citation.”
The next Citizen Service Citation went to Heather James, who while driving past noticed smoke coming from a home in the 20600 block of 80th Avenue West. She saw no actual flames, but noticing no one outside she stopped for a closer look. As she did, she saw shoeless children walking out of the smoke-filled house. She went to their assistance, and immediately called 911, staying with the children until the parents arrived.
“But Heather didn’t stop there,” said Hawley. “She immediately initiated a social media campaign requesting donations for the family to help them to recover from the loss.
For these actions, the Edmonds Police Department is proud to present Heather James with the Citizen Service Citation.”
The next category, the Special Award-Business Recognition, went to Pastor Barry Crane and the team at North Sound Community Church. Crane was out of town at the time, and Pastor Allan Skoog accepted the award on his behalf.
“As police officers, it is important to stay in shape,” said Hawley. “Chasing down the bad guys is tough work. Each year we take a battery of physical fitness tests involving push-ups, sit ups and a 1.5 mile run. To help encourage us along, Barry and the team at North Sound Community Church provide a continuing stream of recognition, consisting mostly of food treats, as incentive to work extra hard to pass those tests. Now while we all love that, it’s important to recognize that their generosity extends far beyond these weekly goodie baskets.”
Hawley then went on to describe how in the fall of 2016 Edmonds Police Corporal Damian Smith was in the middle of a lengthy military deployment in Qatar, where he was in charge of an air wing of 760 troops, many of whom were on their first deployments. As holiday season rolled around, many of his charges were acutely missing their families and connections back home, and in response Smith asked his Edmonds PD colleagues for ideas on how to brighten the holiday season for these troops spending it so far from families and loved ones.
When this request found its way to Barry Crane, he set the wheels in motion to take care of them. Thanks to a sizeable donation from North Sound Church, Corporal Smith was able to put together a holiday meal for every member of his air wing that was serving in Qatar.
“For their continued support, we are happy to present this special award of recognition to North Sound Church,” said Hawley as he presented the award.
Next up was the Letter of Commendation, which is awarded to department employees, or officers from other law enforcement agencies, who perform particularly noteworthy acts or service based on determined and intelligent performance.
This year’s recipient was Detective Julie Govantes.
“Detective Govantes has only been with the department for a couple of years,” noted Hawley. “But her impact has been immediate and significant.”
As part of the department’s recruiting team, Govantes is a big advocate of community engagement. She reads to the kids at Chase Lake Elementary, greets the public at the Department’s open house, and this year represented the Department for a KING-TV media segment about Edmonds. Additionally she helped raise money for Special Olympics through volunteering for special events, worked at the Tip-A-Cop events and the local shop-with-the-cops night for underprivileged kids.
The next Letter of Commendation went to Corporal Aaron Greenmun for his tireless and innovative work in the department’s training program.
“Since taking over as our Training Corporal, Aaron really hit the ground running,” said Hawley. “In addition to launching a reformatted in-service training for all the officers in the department, a very large undertaking, he updated and remodeled our outdated training room, commissioned a mural for the front of the room, replaced the aging projector and added a presentation podium.”
Hawley also praised Greenmun as a fantastic instructor, citing his monthly courses in how to limit officer deaths and injuries, focusing specifically on how to avoid motor vehicle crashes. And he noted Greenmun’s work outside the department, noting his efforts with the DARE program at Maplewood Schools and how he uses his vacation time to lead kayaking events for young cancer patients and survivors.
Officer Greg Mills was next up for a Letter of Commendation.
“During the last year, Officer Mills has been out on light duty, twice due to injury,” said Hawley. “But that hasn’t stopped him from being exceptional.”
Assigned to the Records Unit while recovering, Officer Mills went through more than 50,000 paper case reports, separating those that needed to be retained from those that could be destroyed according to state guidelines. The space he created by eliminating these old records allowed the Department to completely remodel its records area, “a project long overdue.”
With the paper records sorted, Officer Mills took on an even more daunting project, diving into 50 years of accumulated microfiche.
“We had thousands of microfiche sheets which he went through sheet by sheet to find those we needed to keep,” said Hawley. “By my estimation, that comes out to more than 150,000 case reports, some of them hundreds of pages long.”
And no sooner was he done with that than he organized the department’s collection of 35mm photos, many dating back to the 1990s..
“The records staff has adopted Greg as one of them, but until now that has not been truly official,” added Hawley. “So now I am proud to present Officer Greg Mills not only with his letter of commendation, but also his official, records unit polo shirt!”
Next up for a Letter of Commendation was Officer Brittany Johnsen, whose fast-thinking and first aid skills saved life.
In March of 2017, the 911 center received a frantic call from a local motel in which a panicked woman told the dispatcher that her husband was bleeding. Officer Johnsen was the first to respond, arriving to find the man barely conscious, extremely pale and bleeding profusely in the passenger seat of his vehicle. The man had recently had a major medical procedure and the bandages on his leg came off, causing him to lose so much blood that it was actually starting to pool up on the driver’s side of the car.
Recognizing this was life-threatening medical emergency, Officer Johnsen used the tourniquet she carries and applied it to the man’s leg. It was enough to stop the massive hemorrhaging and buy time for the aid crews to come in and start more advanced life-saving measures.
“Medical staff estimated that the man had lost about 2 of his 5 liters of blood by the time Officer Johnson found him,” added Hawley, “and that her quick action almost certainly kept him from bleeding to death.”
Currently on military deployment, Johnsen could not be present to accept the award personally.
Next up for Letters of Commendation were Detective Andy Mehl and Detective Julie Govantes for their excellent detective work that resulted in the apprehension of a seriously violent felon.
Assigned to a brutal stabbing case during the summer of 2017, Mehl and Govantes went to work to identify and track down the suspect, who had left one victim with a stab wound to the abdomen and another near death from 11 separate stab wounds (thankfully, this victim was stabilized at Harborview Medical Center and survived).
After multiple interviews and solid detective work, Mehl and Govantes were able to identify the suspect and obtain key information indicating that he had fled to southern California.
Mehl tracked the suspect to Pasadena, Calif., where he worked with local law enforcement who found and arrested the man based on the information Mehl had uncovered. Mehl then flew to Los Angeles where the suspect was being held and admitted to the stabbing. He was ultimately sent back to Snohomish County to stand trial for two counts of first-degree assault
“Thanks to their excellent work on this case, a dangerously violent felon was taken off the streets,” Hawley said.
The next Letter of Commendation went to South County Fire Captain Christopher Karg for his selfless action and putting himself at considerable risk during a particularly tricky and dangerous arrest.
“Our officers were called to a local hotel for a very drunk, out-of -control person,” related Hawley. “When our officers arrived, they attempted to talk the man onto a stretcher for transport to the hospital. Things were going all right at first, but then took a turn for the worse when the man suddenly grabbed for an officer’s gun and tried to get it out of the holster.
“Fire Captain Karg was on the same side of the stretcher as the officer who was now fighting with the man over his gun. Karg jumped into the fray, pinning the man down to the stretcher and finally subduing him, defusing a really dangerous situation with a potentially deadly outcome,” Hawley said.
Karg was out of town and wasn’t able to receive his award in person.
The final Letter of Commendation recognized a group, multi-jurisdictional response to dangerous and potentially unstable situation.
Officers Earl Yamane and Douglas Compton, Sgt. Ken Ploeger, and Lynnwood Officer Zach Byrd received the Letter of Commendation. Also recognized for their key roles in the incident were Officers Patrick Clark, Robert Peck, Dietrich Borst and Sgt. David Machado, who received the Distinguished Service Citation for Valor.
“One of the best parts of this job is that you never know what’s in store for you on any given shift,” said Hawley. “And one of the worst things is that you never know what’s in store for you on any given shift. These officers had no idea what was in store for them when they came to work on March 23, 2017.”
Hawley relayed how police received a call from neighbors in the 19100 block of Olympic View Drive reporting loud banging, breaking glass and possible gunshots. When the officers arrived at the residence, they immediately saw damaged cars in the garage and debris strewn everywhere. Officers immediately surrounded the house, at which time Officer Peck observed a naked man moving around inside, followed moments later by smoke pouring from inside the house.
The officers then split into two groups. One — led by Sgt. Ploeger and containing Officers Yamane, Compton and Byrd — managed to get inside but had to retreat due to the smoke. Given the house was now on fire, their team began evacuating neighbors.
The other group was led by Sgt. Machado and contained Officers Peck, Clark and Borst. They entered the house on the upper level above the smoke, where they observed the naked man with a gas can in one hand and a lighter in the other, walking through the house setting fires.
He ignored the officer’s commands, fought through a strike from Sgt. Machado’s Taser, and moved into the garage, setting both cars on fire. Officer Peck hit him with a Taser again, which allowed Officer Clark and Borst to handcuff him. All while the officers were mere feet from burning cars and a can of potentially explosive gasoline.
Once they got the man outside, they saw that he received appropriate medical attention while the Fire Department moved in to put out the flames.
“In his write-up for this incident, Sgt. Machado noted that in 27 years of law enforcement, this was one of the most intensely dangerous events he has seen,” said Hawley. “We completely agree.”
Officers Peck, Clark and Borst and Sgt. Machado received the department’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Citation for Valor, awarded to an employee who performs an act of heroism in the face of personal injury or risk of life.
The next award was the Meritorious Service Citation, given to an employee in recognition of a laudable or extraordinary act, or outstanding community service. Receiving that award was Police Chaplain Ken Gaydos, who is currently in a care facility in California. He was represented by his son Tim.
“For more than 40 years, Ken Gaydos has been the face of the Chaplain program in Snohomish County,” said Hawley. “Interestingly, Ken began his career in media, as a reporter for NBC. In 1968, he followed Presidential candidates Robert Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and was present the day of Robert Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles that same year.”
After spending 25 years as a reporter, Gaydos moved to Washington state, and in 1971 was recruited to become a volunteer chaplain for the then-Edmonds Fire Department. This led to Gaydos becoming involved in training other chaplains and growing the local program.
“But Ken didn’t stopped there,” continued Hawley. “He became actively involved in the International Conference of Police Chaplains group and even toured overseas, helping other regions start similar programs.”
In 1986, while at a drowning scene, Gaydos realized the need for some sort of safe, warm place for people in crisis. He acquired an old ambulance to provide warm shelter, food, comfort and a place to grieve away from onlookers. This marked the beginning of the Support 7 program. Since then, it has been modeled by more than 500 cities worldwide.
“Over the last four decades, Ken has been there for people in their worst moments,” Hawley said. “All of us have been at a scene where people are hurting and watched Ken care for others. We can only speculate on the number of people whose lives he touched. Altogether, Ken has given over 45 years of his life as a chaplain in this community. Ken once said that at times of crisis, people don’t always remember what was said or talked about, they just remember you were there.”
Hawley next invited Commander Jim Collins and Adjutant Commander Les Abel of American Legion Post 66 to join him at the podium to help present the Non-Commissioned Employee of the Year award.
Nominated by fellow department employees, the award reflects the recipient’s significant achievement and dedication to the work of the department. This year’s award went to Executive Assistant Caroline Thompson.
“If you call the police station to talk to the chief, you end up talking with his executive assistant, Caroline Thompson,” said Hawley. “However, most of us in the building would argue that when she picks up the phone, you have indeed reached the Chief. I often put ‘to the woman who runs the police department’ on Post-It notes I give her.
One of the biggest parts of her job in recent years has been administering the department’s response to requests for public disclosure, Hawley said. Some of the requests she completes take months of work, require extreme attention to detail, and often entail searching through more than 20,000 emails. She also works to ensure department budgets and contracts are on track, and is essentially a one-person finance department, functioning within the police department.
Hawley then invited American Legion Post 66 Commander Jim Collins to the podium to present the American Legion Law Enforcement Certificate of Commendation to Caroline Thompson in recognition of her continuing outstanding service to the community.
The final award of the evening was the Chief David N. Stern Memorial Officer of the Year.
“Each year, one of our full time, fully commissioned police officers is recognized as Officer of the Year,” said Hawley. “This employee is nominated for this high honor by fellow department employees and then selected by previous recipients of the award. The award reflects the recipient’s significant achievements and dedication.
“This year’s selection for the Chief David N. Stern Memorial Officer of the Year Award is Sgt.Ken Ploeger.”
In his 28 years with the Edmonds Police Department, Ploeger has rendered consistently outstanding service to the community. Currently in charge of the recently restored Street Crimes Unit, which had been lost in prior budget cuts, Ploeger has brought it back and is keeping it running smoothly.
“Ken has a variety of skills he brings to the table, all of which he freely shares and teaches to the officers in his unit,” continued Hawley. “These include street-level narcotics, seizure investigations, prostitution cases, problem and drug house abatement, felony investigations, surveillance techniques, handling informants and search warrant execution.
“As previously recognized this evening, Ken has had a big part in many major cases this year,” added Hawley.
The department’s Officer of the Year Award was renamed in 2008 as the Chief David N. Stern Memorial Officer of the Year Award to reflect the level of professional service provided by the late Chief Stern to the Edmonds Police Department. Jim Collins of the American Legion presented the American Legion’s Officer of the Year plaque to Ploeger. He was followed by Edmonds Noon Rotary Club President Scott James and club member Darlene Stern, whose late husband is the namesake for the award.
“David Stern, for whom this award is named, was a shining example of the Rotary motto, Service Above Self,” James said. “Soon after his passing in 2007, the Rotary contacted Chief Compaan and Stern’s widow Darlene to discuss how to honor David Stern. What better way than to honor exemplary officers in his name, and in 2008 the Officer of the Year Award was officially renamed in his honor.”
The ceremony concluded with TAPS, played by bugler and former Edmonds police employee Debbie Dawson, followed by a moment of silence in honor of fallen law enforcement officers.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel