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Massachusetts Correctional Employee of the Year Ceremony honors state and county officials



WORCESTER – Tuesday, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Massachusetts Department of Correction, and Massachusetts Sherriff’s Association convened the Commonwealth’s state and county correctional community at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall for the Correctional Employee of the Year Awards Ceremony. The ceremony honored more than 50 members of the correctional community for exceptional performance and public service. The large number of honorees represent 3 years of recipients who were not able to gather during the pandemic.

“Correctional officers play an essential role in maintaining the safety of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy. “In all of the challenges posed by the pandemic, they remained deeply committed to fulfilling their duties and creating a safe environment for the meaningful rehabilitation of those entrusted to their care. I commend the Sheriffs, Commissioner Mici, and their leadership teams for bringing forward these worthy recipients and empowering them to excel in their roles.”

Tuesday’s ceremony conferred three distinct awards: Meritorious Recognition, Medal of Valor, and Medal of Honor. Meritorious Recognition recognizes an employee who acted beyond the requirements of their position. The second highest honor, Medal of Valor, honors an employee who put themselves at risk of retaining injury to protect others. Last, individuals receiving the Medal of Honor, the highest award, knowingly risked their life to save another.

“Corrections is very challenging, and our employees face that challenge each day by providing care, custody, and programming to prepare those under our watch for a safe and successful reentry into the community” said Commissioner Carol Mici. “Our agency is proud of the many brave men and women who are being honored today for their roles in keeping our facilities safe and supporting our mission.”

“The work of the corrections professional is largely unsung, mostly unheralded and seldom, if ever, celebrated,” said Suffolk County Sheriff and Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association President Steven W. Tompkins. “That’s why these awards are so special, because they provide that rare opportunity to recognize the men and women who not only perform this thankless work, but who rise above the norm in the service of their peers, the people in their care and custody, and the institutions themselves. Today, we offer them this small honor to say, ‘thank you for all that you do.’”

The awards are as follows:

Meritorious Recognition

Deputy Sheriff Jason Bernardo & K9 Nick
Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office

On December 13, 2019, Deputy Jason Bernardo and his K9 partner, Nick, were off duty when they answered a call for assistance in the search for an elderly dementia sufferer who had been reported missing the previous day and was believed to lost within a remote area in the town of Eastham. Bernardo and Nick coordinated with aerial support from state and local police agencies in their search of the missing person. While navigating through tall marshland grass and knee-deep mud, Bernardo and Nick were able to track the missing person, rescue him from the dangerous conditions and reunite him with his grateful family.

Correction Officer Brett LeClerc
Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office

On October 25, 2019, Officer Brett LeClerc was performing a traffic detail when he witnessed a motor vehicle accident involving multiple vehicles, resulting in significant damage and serious injuries. In one of those vehicles, a young child was entrapped in the back seat area. LeClerc used his flashlight to shatter the car window and extricate the injured child from the vehicle.

Sergeant Michael Petralia, Correction Officers Liam Hickey, Andrew Keegan, and Patrick Daigle
Essex County Sheriff’s Office

On June 3, 2019, Sergeant Michael Petralia, along with Officers Liam Hickey, Andrew Keegan and Patrick Daigle responded to a suicide attempt inside the Essex County Correctional Facility. Officers arrived to find the inmate had stopped breathing. Together, these officers initiated emergency lifesaving measures, including multiple rounds of CPR to restore respiration to the inmate. Their quick actions and professional teamwork undoubtedly saved the inmate life.

Lieutenant Steven Wilkins; Sergeants Brian Tavares, Jared Valeri, and Joseph Twomey; and Correction Officers Scott Foley and Christopher Day
Essex County Sheriff’s Office

On October 5, 2019, Lieutenant Steven Wilkins, Sergeant Brian Tavares, Sergeant Jared Valeri, Sergeant Joseph Twomey, Officer Scott Foley and Officer Christopher Day responded to an emotionally disturbed inmate inside the Essex County Correctional Facility. Upon arrival, officers discovered that the individual, a recent surgical patient, had torn open the surgical wound site, causing extensive blood loss. Without regard for their own safety, the officers immediately entered the inmate’s cell and used improvised materials to slow the bleeding, while at the same time restraining the individual from causing additional self-harm.

Lieutenant Curtis Keezer
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On Tuesday, July 2, 2019, during movement at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, an inmate came out of his cell with his head and face covered with fabric and brandishing a weapon. The inmate went to the top tier and stood at the top of the stairs repeatedly threatening that he would stab any staff who came near him. An emergency response was initiated and Lt. Curtis Keezer responded to the unit where he spoke for a considerable amount of time with the inmate, making every effort to deescalate the situation as responding staff arrived on-site. This was a very dangerous situation and Lt. Keezer put himself in a position where he kept the inmate busy focusing on him by talking to him preventing the inmate from possibly charging towards staff with the weapon in his possession. This inmate was highly agitated, in possession of a weapon, and threatening physical harm to anyone who came near him. Lt. Keezer was instrumental in keeping the inmate talking with him until further help arrived where the inmate was successfully disarmed without anyone being hurt.

Sergeant William Chiccarelli, Correction Officer Ryan Smith, Nurse Practioner Gia Leach, and Registered Nurse Johana Gonzalez
Essex County Sheriff’s Office

On February 18, 2020, Sergeant William Chiccarelli, Officer Ryan Smith, Nurse Practitioner Gia Leach and Registered Nurse Johana Gonzalez responded to a cardiac arrest event inside the Essex County Correctional facility. The inmate, a 53-year-old male was not breathing and had no pulse when they arrived. Together, the officers and medical staff coordinated to deliver lifesaving efforts, including nearly thirty minutes of sustained AED assisted CPR. Their dedicated persistence and professionalism resulted in a successful resuscitation.

Deputy Sheriffs Matthew Ritvo-Cabezas, Barry McCafferty, and Kyle Kidger
Essex County Sheriff’s Office

On the evening of June 5, 2020, Deputy Sheriff’s Matthew Ritov-Cabezas, Barry McCafferty and Kyle Kidger were traveling on Route 114 in the town of North Andover, when they noticed panicked bystanders gathered on the side of the roadway. Responding to the scene, the deputies observed that a motor vehicle had crashed through the guardrail and down a steep embankment, where it landed on its roof with the operator trapped inside. The deputies descended the embankment and using a punch tool, broke through the vehicle windows to free the injured motorist.

Director Denise Vega; Sergeant Nissa Thornton; Correction Officers Daniel Church, Christopher Cali, Marley Dixon, Tommy Higginbotham, Michael Jones, Matthew Talieri, and Robert Sweeney; and Domestic Violence Coordinator Linda Harriman
Massachusetts Department of Correction

The Employee Assistance Service Unit (EASU) demonstrates incredible compassion, integrity, creativity and hard work while working alongside one another, displaying the highest level of teamwork. The Unit is comprised of correctional professionals who have worked in multiple capacities, various positions, and worked extensively throughout the DOC. In addition to their daily responsibilities and on call crisis coverage 24 hours a day / 7 days a week, the Unit has implemented many pro-active initiatives such as the correctional series, mask donations and virtual family support groups as a means to assist, connect and help correctional staff, their families and retirees. The unit has implemented “Secondary Correctional Debriefs”, an organized, planned group meeting/discussion outside of the correctional environment. This was born following the horrific assaults on correction officers at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center. After the incident the Unit hosted multiple groups with over 90 staff voluntarily participating in the groups to include the three officers viciously attacked in the assaults. Secondary Correctional Debriefs were again utilized for other critical incidents including after the suicide of a Correction Officer and the murder/suicide of two correctional professionals. This dreadful tragedy caused overwhelming grief and sadness to many. The Unit in collaboration with family, friends and other employees came together to shine a light on the tragic event. A memorial named “Always Remembered” was built on the grounds of Pondville Correctional Center to serve as a place of peace to remember and honor DOC employees.

The Unit provides integration ceremonies of memory stones in honor of those we have lost to the Always Remembered Memorial. Soon the Unit will be introducing an Always Remembered Memorial Wall, which will list those who have retired and have lost.

Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Jasak
Hampden County Sheriff’s Office

On December 10, 2021, Officer Jonathon Jasak, a member of the Hampden County Addiction Taskforce (HCAT), was performing community outreach in the City of Springfield when he noticed an apparently unresponsive person on the steps of a local church. Officer Jasak, responded to the victim and assessed him to be suffering from narcotic overdose. Officer Jasak used his skills and training to administer doses of lifesaving Naloxone to resuscitate the victim.

Correction Officers Benjamin Belisle and Christopher Lavallee
Hampden County Sheriff’s Office

On June 17, 2021, Vocational Instructor / Correction officer Benjamin Belisle and Correction Officer Christopher Lavallee were dispatched to assist in a high altitude aerial rescue in the City of Springfield, where a civilian was trapped in a tree, approximately 50 feet from the ground. Assisted by the Springfield Fire Department’s Heavy Rescue Squad, Officers Belisle & Lavellee quickly devised a rigging system, allowing them to scale the tree and outfit the victim in a body harness, before lowering him to safety.

Correction Officer Gregory Saucier
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On May 14, 2021, Correction Officer Gregory Saucier while off duty on his way home after his shift observed a line of traffic focusing on a stationary vehicle in the break down lane of Route 140 in New Bedford, MA. Without hesitation, despite COVID-19 protocols or regard to his own personal safety, CO Saucier exited his vehicle during this high traffic commute time and responded to a person in respiratory distress lying on the ground. CO Saucier assisted the victim in performing CPR and necessary life-saving measures until such time EMS arrived. The victim regained consciousness although was disoriented. It was later determined the person was suffering from an overdose in which Narcan was dispersed by emergency personnel. Officer Saucier is worthy of this award for his actions helping a civilian despite risk to his own safety and wellbeing.

Sergeant Rui Vasconcelos
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On September 8, 2021, Sergeant Rui Vasconcelos while working in the Health Services Unit at MCI-Cedar Junction was supervising the dispensing of medications with nursing staff to the inmates who are housed on the ward. While dispensing medication, one inmate pulled the nurse’s arm into the cell with such force that her head and face hit the cell door and the inmate refused to let go. Sergeant Vasconcelos quickly reacted by grabbing onto the nurse and tugged her backwards until she finally came out of the inmate’s grip. The nurse and the Sergeant both sustained injuries during this incident. Due to Sergeant Vasconcelos quick action he saved the nurse from sustaining further serious injuries.

Correction Officer Bobby Gorham and Licensed Practical Nurse Renee Hamel
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On May 16, 2021, an inmate, who was in crisis, made his way to a building roof which was approximately 50 feet from the ground and attempted to tie off a sheet, expressing an intention to kill himself. A primary response was called and responding staff members Correction Officer Robert Gorham and LPN Rene Hamel began initial dialogue from the ground with the inmate to keep him occupied while the responders could get emergency apparatus into place. A helicopter was also on stand-by across the street in the event it was needed. During the situation, Lieutenant Kimberly Rego received permission to climb the ladder with Fire Department Personnel to speak with the inmate in an attempt to gain the inmate’s compliance to come down from the roof safely. Dialogue continued from the fire truck ladder for an hour and forty-five minutes, which proved instrumental in preventing the inmate from harming himself while encouraging him to come down the ladder, which was accomplished safely. Collectively, all staff actions coordination and forethought to get rescue apparatus in place prevented a potentially deadly situation and preserved life. In addition to Gorham and Hamel’s Meritorious Recognition, Rego receives the Medal of Valor for her actions.

Medal of Valor

Lieutenant Kimberly Rego
Massachusetts Department of Correction

Please see description immediately above.

Lieutenant Kevin Fernandes
Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office

On two separate occasions, Lieutenant Fernandes successfully negotiated a peaceful conclusion to incidents involving suicidal individuals. In the first case, on September 21, 2019, Fernandes negotiated the peaceful surrender of a barricaded subject who was armed with a handgun and threatening suicide. In the second instance, just two weeks later, Fernandes negotiated the safe evacuation of an emotionally disturbed individual, who was threatening to jump from the roof of a business in Mashpee. Together, these events demonstrate his unique contributions in service to both public safety and his fellow citizens.

Deputy Sheriffs John Curry and Daryl Schuchman
Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office

On December 16, 2020, Deputies John Curry and Daryl Schuchman were on-duty in the town of Orleans when they observed an elderly (82), fisherman in distress and in danger of drowning when his wading boots filled with water. Unable to free himself, the fisherman fell backwards, trapped in the frigid surf. Curry and Schuchman entered the water and together they rescued the man to shore.

Correction Officer Jose Ramos
Hampden County Sheriff’s Office

On February 20, 2019, Correction Officer Jose Ramos responded to the scene of a horrific motor vehicle accident involving severe injuries and multiple fatalities, including young children. Officer Ramos aided the injured by initiating life saving measures including the use of CPR. In doing so, Officer Ramos prevented the additional loss of life. At the same, Officer Ramos coordinated the civilian bystanders at the scene in an effort to provide support and assistance to multiple victims in need of assistance. His leadership in this moment of tragedy is recognized today with the Medal of Valor.

Correction Officer Caitlyn Bradbury
Essex County Sheriff’s Office

On January 21, 2021, Officer Bradbury responded to a mass altercation involving nearly twenty participants. Upon arrival, Officer Bradbury observed that one of the participants was armed with a homemade sharpened weapon (shank) and was using the weapon to injure others. Despite great personal risk, Officer Bradbury engaged the assailant in an attempt to disarm him and protect others from injury. Not only did the assailant resist her efforts, but other inmates joined the attack, assaulting Officer Bradbury in the process. Officer Bradbury bravely fought on until additional help could arrive and peace was restored.

Correction Officer Steven Rosado
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On Sunday, June 2, 2019, Correction Officer Stephen Rosado was at Sandy Beach in Hopkinton when he witnessed a family frantically searching for their 9-year-old boy who was presumed missing in the water. Without hesitation or concern for his own safety and wellbeing, Officer Rosado sprang into action, searching the water for the boy. In ten to twelve feet of water Officer Rosado called out that he had discovered the boy’s body. He, along with other volunteers pulled the child’s lifeless body to shore where medics got a pulse back. The boy was airlifted to the hospital but unfortunately succumbed to his injuries. It was due to Officer Rosado’s quick actions that they were able to find the child.

Correction Officer James Walsh
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On Saturday, December 7, 2019 Correction Officer James Walsh was off duty and with his family and observed a State Trooper attempting a vehicle stop with an erratic driver that crashed into a snow bank. Officer Walsh identified himself as a Correction Officer and offered his help, but at this time assistance was not required. During the Trooper’s search the suspect became combative, pushing the officer away and attempted to re-enter the vehicle and reach under the seat. After multiple orders to comply the Trooper utilized his Taser on the subject and requested assistance from Officer Walsh in restraining the suspect. The two were able to subdue and restrain the suspect. It was later found that the subject was unlicensed and was in possession of a large quantity of Fentanyl, and at one point had it in his hands which could have easily exposed either Officer. Without the assistance of Officer James Walsh this situation could have gone terribly wrong. Officer Walsh is commended on his professionalism and tactics in assisting the State Trooper taking this alleged drug trafficker off the streets and should be recognized for the Medal of Valor award.

Correction Officer Thomas Perry
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On December 24, 2021, Correction Officer Thomas W. Perry Jr. observed while on his way to work a line of stopped traffic behind a severely damaged Ford F-150 that had crashed into and under the overpass. Officer Perry noticed that there were no emergency personnel at the scene. Without hesitation, despite COVID-19 protocols or regard to his own personal safety, Officer Perry exited his vehicle during this high traffic commute time with poor road conditions and attempted to open the doors and extricate the trapped driver with the help of two unidentified civilians on scene. It was at this time that Officer Perry noticed that the driver of the vehicle was wearing a MADOC uniform. All attempts to open the doors of the vehicle had failed due to the extensive damage to the cab. Officer Perry asked if anyone had any tools to assist with their efforts to free the trapped driver and an individual returned with a Sawzall tool. Officer Perry and the unidentified civilians used the Sawzall to cut the driver’s side of the cab and peel back the roof of the truck, thus freeing the trapped and severely injured driver. Officer Perry sustained minor laceration injuries to his head and hands during the process of removing the roof and was also exposed to a significant amount of blood. Soon after the roof was removed, a civilian nurse arrived on scene and attempted to stabilize the driver however was not able to find any signs of life. Minutes later, EMS and MSP arrived and took over the scene. Officer Perry continued to assist MSP at the scene until ample emergency responders arrived.

Medal of Honor

Captain Hilaire Pierre
Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office

Captain Hilaire Pierre has earned the highest honor awarded, the Medal of Honor, for his actions on March 22, 2021, when off-duty and at his Plymouth home, Captain Pierre was summoned by the frantic pleas from his teenaged neighbor that his parents were involved in a domestic dispute in which the teen’s mother had reportedly shot the teens father. Rushing to the scene, Captain Pierre encountered the father who was armed with a handgun and suffering from gunshot wounds. Though unarmed himself, Captain Pierre confronted the father and persuaded the man to surrender his weapon. Once the scene was secured, Captain Pierrre rendered medical aid to the injured party, who later required med-flight evacuation. For his bravery and professionalism in the face of imminent danger, Captain Pierre is awarded the Medal of Honor.

Assistant Deputy Superintendent Demaris Smith
Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office

On January 10, 2019, two inmates engaged in a brutal and unprovoked attack on an unsuspecting officer inside a unit at the Suffolk County Jail. The attack continued even after the officer had fallen unconscious in a pool of his own blood. Then-Lieutenant Demaris Smith was first on the scene and realized that her fellow officer was in grave danger. Without regard for her own safety, Smith singlehandedly engaged both attackers in an effort to draw them away from her injured colleague until additional help could arrive. Smith’s brave actions saved her colleague from suffering additional and quite possibly fatal injuries.

Sergeant Nathan Owen and Correction Officers Michael Parent, Anthony Kelly, and Austin Fuller
Massachusetts Department of Correction

On January 10, 2020, Officer Parent was making a round of the unit and an inmate approached him. The inmate engaged Parent in dialogue at a point in the unit as far away from his partners as possible. At this time Officer Fuller noticed inmates gathering around his partner. Parent started to make his way towards Fuller and while engaged in dialogue with the inmates in the unit was physically assaulted by one of the inmates. Once he was hit, twenty-two inmates joined in the assault on both Fuller and Parent. Officer Anthony Kelly without hesitation responded to the group assault without regard to his own personal safety. He valiantly fought his way to get to his partners and render them assistance. Sergeant Nathan Owen was one of the first responders from outside of the unit. He ran selflessly towards the group assault in order to aid the outnumbered Officers while they were desperately trying to defend themselves from the violent inmates. At one point the inmates had taken control of Parent and pulled him into an open cell. While they had Parent momentarily in the cell, they continued to assault him.

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