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Baker-Polito Administration hands out awards for bravery to local and state law enforcement

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Worcester Police Officer Manny Familia

WORCESTER – Today, in a ceremony at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall, Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy presented the 37th and 38th Annual Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Awards for Bravery. The Hanna Awards honor the memory of Massachusetts State Police Trooper George Hanna, killed in the line of duty in 1983, and recognizes members of law enforcement for exemplary acts of bravery.

“These awards recognize police officers who exhibited remarkable heroism in the face of extreme danger,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Their quick-thinking and decisive actions showed extraordinary courage and a deep commitment to helping others no matter the risk to themselves. Today’s recipients carry on the legacy of Trooper George Hanna, demonstrating exceptional police work grounded in the value of selfless service.”

“Emergency responders, including the brave members of our law enforcement community, have demonstrated their extraordinary commitment to our residents and communities these last 20 months,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “Today’s Hanna Awards remind us that in the most challenging days of the pandemic, police continued using their training, skills, and expertise to protect us. We owe them and their families our respect and gratitude for all that they do.”

Since 1983, 142 individuals have received the Hanna Award, the highest honor the Commonwealth bestows on a law enforcement officer. This year’s prestigious award ceremony honored twelve recipients, hailing from the Massachusetts State Police, Westborough, Pepperell, Mansfield, Braintree, and Boston Police Departments. Due to limitations on gatherings last year, this year’s ceremony combined recipients from calendar years 2019 and 2020.

“Today’s Hanna Award recipients have distinguished themselves through extraordinary bravery, deserving of our appreciation and admiration. Their harrowing stories are a profound reminder of the life-threatening dangers police offers face with every call,” Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy said. “We also honor the memory of our fallen police officers like Trooper Hanna and my friend, Worcester Police Officer Manny Familia, who made the ultimate sacrifice for those they swore to protect.”

Each year, local and state agencies submit Hanna Award applications, which are reviewed by a committee of public safety and law enforcement executives. Upon selecting individuals or teams as recipients, the committee considers the facts of each nomination to classify the award as either a medal of honor or valor. Honor is the highest award for those who demonstrate extraordinary bravery and courage in the face of extreme risk and certain and imminent danger to life or limb. Valor is awarded to those whose valor in a single incident goes above and beyond the call of duty, and who demonstrate selfless bravery despite the potential for danger to themselves.

On Saturday, February 26, 1983, Trooper George Hanna conducted a motor vehicle stop in Auburn. Three men and two women were in the vehicle, and when Trooper Hanna removed the occupants for questioning, he was instantaneously shot six times by one of the male suspects. He died later that evening in a Worcester hospital, leaving behind his wife Marilyn, and three children, Deborah, Kimberly, and Michael. Deborah and Kimberly participated in today’s program, presenting each award alongside Governor Baker.

Award Recipients and Incident Summaries

2019 Medal of Valor

Trooper Peter R. Towle

Massachusetts State Police

On the morning of April 20, 2019, Trooper Peter Towle was on patrol in Brockton when he observed an SUV that failed to properly observe a stop sign or signal upon a left turn. As Trooper Towle followed the vehicle, he noted the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed for a residential area. Trooper Towle then saw the vehicle make an abrupt left turn down a small access road, again without signaling. Trooper Towle activated his blue lights and followed the SUV.

After completing the turn, Trooper Towle noted the SUV had come to a stop. He observed a man exit the vehicle and run towards the back of a brick apartment complex. Trooper Towle ran after the suspect. When he turned the corner of the apartment building, the suspect was waiting for him with a firearm pointed approximately 8-10 feet from Trooper Towle’s chest. Trooper Towle pulled out his service weapon and engaged the threat by firing two shots at the suspect. The suspect then dropped his firearm and fell to the ground.

At that point, Trooper Towle broadcast shots fired and his location over his radio while simultaneously giving commands to the suspect to get on his stomach and put his hands out to the side. The suspect complied, and Trooper Towle performed a pat frisk for any other weapons and to assess the suspect’s injuries. Trooper Towle located one gunshot wound to the suspect’s lower leg. He ran to his cruiser to get his medical bag and rendered aid to the suspect until the ambulance arrived.

Sergeant Jonathan Kalagher

Westborough Police Department

On November 15, 2019, Sergeant Jonathan Kalagher responded to a domestic violence incident in which the victim was allegedly stabbed in the chest by her husband. The female involved in the incident escaped to a neighbor’s house but was followed by her husband, who forced his way into the dwelling by destroying a sliding glass door located in the rear of the building.

The victim then fled through the front door, running down the street with the suspect in pursuit. At this time, Sergeant Kalagher arrived on the scene, where he observed the victim running toward him with the suspect closing the distance. Sergeant Kalagher ordered the suspect to drop the knife. He refused. As the suspect reached his wife, he attempted to stab her one final time before Sergeant Kalagher discharged multiple shots from his duty weapon, subsequently killing the suspect and ending the deadly assault.

Sergeant Kalagher called for an ambulance for both individuals and rendered first aid to the female victim who was suffering from an earlier stab wound. Sergeant Kalagher carried the victim to the ambulance to expedite transport.

2019 Medal of Honor

Trooper Stephen M. Torosian

Massachusetts State Police

At noon on December 12, 2019, while working a detail on Route 495 South in the Town of Amesbury, Trooper Stephen Torosian was seated in his marked State Police cruiser with emergency lights activated. He was parked in the breakdown lane protecting the construction crew working ahead of him while a crash truck from the construction company was parked behind him. At that time a male suspect drove up and parked behind the crash truck, and exited his vehicle, walking past the crash truck and up to the driver’s door of the cruiser.

The suspect was wearing a hat with a mask that covered his face, tan pants, and a reflective vest. Without any warning, the suspect opened the cruiser door and made several stabbing motions at Trooper Torosian’s torso, resulting in multiple lacerations to Trooper Torosian’s left arm. Trooper Torosian was able to fire one round from his department firearm striking the unknown assailant once in the chest and stopping the violent assault. The assailant fell to the ground in the right travel lane, and Trooper Torosian kicked the knife out of the assailant’s grasp.

Trooper Torosian made a radio broadcast that he had been stabbed and shots were fired. Trooper Brian Sonia from the K-9 Unit responded first and assumed immediate control of the scene. He took the assailant into custody and rendered first aid to both the assailant and Trooper Torosian. Trooper Sonia clearly and calmly articulated the situation to other responding units and ensured that the scene was secure to allow for the prompt arrival of the Emergency Medical Technicians. Trooper Sonia later escorted the assailant to the hospital in the ambulance to ensure his security.

Despite suffering potentially debilitating injuries, and his less-than-advantageous seated position in his cruiser, Trooper Torosian fought back and quickly stopped the threat. His immediate actions most likely saved his life as well as those of the unsuspecting construction crew working only a few feet away from him. In addition, recognizing that the suspect had been wearing a high-visibility traffic vest during the assault like that of a construction worker, Trooper Torosian had the forethought to broadcast that description over the radio to alert other detail cruisers in the area in case this had been the start of a coordinated terrorist attack against law enforcement.

Officer William Hull and Officer Mark Whalen

Boston Police Department

On the early morning of February 22, 2019, Officer Mark Whalen and Officer William Hull were on patrol near Southampton Street of Boston, which had seen an increase in incidents related to the opioid crisis. Observing a man slumped on the steering wheel of a minivan with no sign of movement, the officers believed the male may have needed medical assistance or under the influence of alcohol or drugs and decided to conduct a wellbeing check.

The officers approached the vehicle on foot and, after 40 seconds of knocking, the man awoke and produced his license upon request. The officers returned to their vehicle to conduct a history check. They learned the occupant had a criminal history that included a recent conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm.

As the encounter continued, Officer Hull observed that the male’s right hand was concealed in his coat pocket and directed the occupant to show his hand. The male failed to comply, causing Officer Hull to open the driver’s door while continuing to command that the male show his hand. The male removed his hand in an open posture that led Officer Hull to believe the male may have been grasping a weapon in his pocket. Officer Hull now directed the male to slowly exit the vehicle; however, the occupant returned his hand to his pocket. When the male refused to comply, Officer Hull grabbed the male by the left hand. The male then suddenly pulled Officer Hull toward him while putting his right hand back into his pocket. Both officers withdrew their firearms as they believed they were in extreme danger.

After repeatedly commanding the occupant to show his hand, the male removed his right hand from his pocket brandishing a firearm. Suddenly, the officers saw a flash and heard a gunshot from the firearm. Officer Hull immediately discharged multiple rounds at the male while seeking cover with Officer Whalen. The male sped off in the minivan and the Officers were able to broadcast the description of the suspect and vehicle as they began their pursuit.

Officer Whalen was operating the vehicle when Officer Hull realized that Officer Whalen had been shot in the right hand and forearm. The officers discontinued the pursuit to apply a tourniquet to Officer Whalen’s arm. Officer Whalen was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for serious wounds to his hand and arm, ballistic burns on his hands and face, and foreign particles embedded in his eyes.

Other responding officers located the minivan, which had crashed into a parked vehicle several blocks away. The male was unresponsive behind the wheel and declared non-viable. Police found a revolver at his feet, which a forensic examination determined had been disabled when struck by a round fired by Officer Hull.

Officers Hull and Whalen had initially checked the driver to determine his well-being. However, their initiative in stopping the suspect may well have spared an innocent victim the violence that these officers encountered. Their act of heroism in the face of grave danger to themselves and others demonstrated an exceptional commitment to uphold the law and protect the safety and security of this Commonwealth’s citizens.

2020 Medal of Valor

Trooper Michael W. Palmer

Massachusetts State Police

At midday on New Year’s Eve 2020, the Springfield State Police was alerted to a shotspotter activation of 9 rounds fired in the area of Stafford Street, Springfield. Three additional shot spotter activations occurred of two, five, and four rounds, respectively, 2 minutes of the initial 9 round alert in the same area.

Simultaneous to the shot spotter activations, Trooper Michael Palmer informed State Police dispatch that he was in the area and turned onto Nursery Street. Together with Springfield Police Officer William Soto, Trooper Palmer observed a shirtless male in the middle of the street. The man suddenly turned towards the officers and fired shots hitting Trooper Palmer in the left leg. Officer Soto rendered first aid to Trooper Palmer by applying a tourniquet and, upon arrival at the scene, Trooper Patrick Harper expeditiously transported the injured Trooper to the hospital.

Several State Police and Springfield Police Department assets responded to the scene, searched for and located the suspect. The subject was arrested and charged with 2 counts of Armed Assault to Murder, Assault & Battery by Discharging a Firearm, Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Unlawful Possession of a Firearms and Discharging a Firearms within 500 feet of an Occupied Building.

Trooper John J. Lennon

Massachusetts State Police

On November 20, 2020, Trooper John Lennon stopped a vehicle for a defective license plate light in Hyannis. As Trooper Lennon approached the vehicle, which was occupied by 2 males, the driver pointed a firearm out of the driver’s window and shot Trooper Lennon striking him in the right hand. The vehicle then fled the scene. After being shot, Trooper Lennon was able to radio for assistance and provide the vehicle description and registration. Members of the Massachusetts State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section (VFAS) South and Metro Teams were activated and responded.

The ensuing investigation spearheaded by the Cape & Islands State Police Detective Unit (SPDU) identified the shooter who had two additional arrest warrants in Massachusetts, another in Wyoming. Additionally, the man was a suspect in two shootings in Washington and California. VFAS and SPDU worked diligently with federal partners to locate the this dangerous individual. The suspect was added to the Massachusetts State Police Most Wanted List.

Information quickly developed that the subject fled the Commonwealth to New York City. The MSP VFAS identified the subject’s associates in the Bronx, New York, as a likely location where the suspect was hiding out. On the early morning of December 4, 2020, approximately two dozen United States Marshals and Task Force Officers traveled to the Bronx to apprehend the wanted subject. As the subject’s associate came to the door, the subject emerged from a bedroom, without warning, and began firing at officers with a handgun striking two Deputy U.S. Marshals, who were removed to safety and given immediate first aid and transported to a nearby hospital. A New York Police Department officer assigned to the USMS New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force suffered a broken leg during the incident as he rushed inside to assist and was also transported to the hospital. The wanted suspect was hit by return fire and pronounced dead on scene.

Trooper Lennon suffered serious injuries that have required months of recovery and rehabilitation, which is still ongoing.

Sergeant Nick L. Parker and Officer Justin D. Zink

Pepperell Police Department

On June 25, 2020, Sergeant Nick Parker and Officer Justin Zink arrived at the residence of a 30-year-old male in Pepperell to serve a Warrant of Apprehension. Officers could hear the suspect, who was known to police, arguing with his mother about opening the door. The mother opened the door to the officers when moments after entering the single-family home, the suspect charged at Sergeant Parker with a large knife held over his head and being swung in a downward strike.. Sergeant Parker was pinned between a door and a wall but was able to defend himself against the repeated downward knife strike from the suspect by grabbing the suspect’s hand. Officer Zink was trapped on the other side of the door in the tight quarters of the entryway to the home.

In a struggle for control of the knife between Sergeant Parker and the suspect, Officer Zink freed himself to enter the room, and – realizing that Sergeant Parker’s life was in danger – discharged his firearm one time and shot the suspect in the right side of the abdomen area. The suspect immediately stopped struggling and the knife was removed from his control. Officer Zink, an EMT, immediately began to render medical attention to the suspect and called for an ambulance.

Sergeant Parker’s quick action to defend himself allowed him to continue to attempt to gain control of the suspect’s arm, preventing serious bodily injury. Officer Zink quick action, realizing that non-deadly force options would not stop the suspect’s continued attempt to stab Sergeant Parker, made the split-second decision to deploy his firearm and potentially save Sergeant Parker’s life.

Sergeant Christopher H. Baker, Officer David J. Schepis, and Officer Stephen T. Wallace, Jr.

The Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council

On the early morning of January 25, 2020, the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council (Metro-LEC), a consortium of more than 48 local police and sheriff departments who serve a 600 square mile area south of Boston with 850,000 residents, received a call for support from Hingham Police who were confronted with a report of a domestic assault on the third floor of a building. During the assault, the suspect was observed beating his girlfriend with a handgun.

Metro-LEC’s SWAT team initiated their hostage rescue protocols and would eventually attempt the rescue using a team comprised of Sergeant Baker and Officer Schepis of the Mansfield Police Department, and Officer Wallace of the Braintree Police Department. The team used a fire truck tower bucket to extend themselves towards the 3rd floor window and extricate the hostage.

While evacuating the rescued victim off the fire truck, the suspect fired three gunshots at the officers striking their armored vehicle. In response to the shots being fired the officers conducted their immediate reaction drill and took cover. The professionalism, restraint and less lethal counter measures lead to the successful, and peaceful apprehension of a suspect who was in the midst a psychotic episode and armed with a firearm and dynamite. The suspect – who police later learned was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic – was arrested and taken into custody safely and without incident.

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