(JEFFERSON CITY, MO) – This morning, Gov. Mike Parson awarded Missouri Public Safety Medals to a total of 23 first responders and four civilians for heroic and life-saving actions during 2021. The awards are Missouri’s highest recognition for first responders acting during critical incidents. This year, for the first time, the ceremony included the presentation of Missouri’s new Red, White, and Blue Heart Award, which is awarded to individuals seriously injured or killed in the line of duty. Three of the five Red, White, and Blue Hearts were conferred posthumously.
“Missouri’s first responders deserve our respect and appreciation for the work they do to protect their fellow citizens, and the heroic acts performed by those honored today make absolutely clear the dangers these courageous individuals are willing to face on our behalf,” Gov. Parson said. “Their actions saved lives and ended threats to their communities. We especially will never forget the tremendous sacrifices of those whose courage left them permanently scarred or even cost them their lives – all to keep others safe.”
Four civilians were also honored with the Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award for their brave acts to save the lives of others or provide vital assistance to first responders while risking their own safety.
Family members and colleagues were on hand for the awards presentation during the Jefferson City ceremony. 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.
Jeffrey D. Collins and John G. Lehman, Jefferson City Police Department – On January 3, 2021, Officers Collins (now retired) and Lehman responded to a report of a man armed with a large knife threatening customers at a shopping center. After Officer Collins arrived at the scene, followed by Officer Lehman, the two officers initiated contact with the suspect, a 59-year-old man who was extremely agitated. Officer Collins attempted to calm the man, telling him the officers were there to help him. The man was slapping his thigh with the large knife and refused to drop it. Officer Collins worked to engage the man in conversation as he drew his duty handgun and as Officer Lehman moved into a tactical position where he could observe the knife in the man’s right hand. Both officers continued their calls for him to drop the knife. He refused and his agitation grew. He then suddenly raised the knife above his head with the blade pointed at Officer Collins and rushed toward Collins. Fearing for his life, Collins discharged his duty weapon. Fearing for the safety of Officer Collins, Officer Lehman also discharged his duty weapon. The officers secured the knife, which was still in the subject’s hand, and initiated lifesaving measures but the subject died. Officers Collins and Lehman responded to a volatile situation in which a number of people were endangered. They attempted to end the situation nonviolently but were forced to act when Officer Collins’ life was at risk.
Timothy L. Shipp, Eureka Police Department – At about 3:15 a.m. on January 26, 2021, while working secondary employment, Officer Shipp heard radio traffic about a house fire. He immediately drove to the location, arriving before the Eureka Fire Department. The front of the house was fully engulfed in flames. He found a neighbor at the back of the house, Justin M. Flynn, who told him a disabled woman was still inside. Mr. Flynn had made two attempts to locate the woman but had been thwarted by the smoke and darkness. Officer Shipp and Mr. Flynn entered the house using the rear entrance. Without breathing apparatus, the dense smoke made it impossible to see and very difficult to breathe. With Officer Shipp in the lead, the men crawled along the floor, with Officer Shipp calling out to the woman. Finally, the woman responded and Officer Shipp followed her voice to find her on the floor of a distant room. Officer Shipp then began dragging the victim along the floor; Mr. Flynn then assisted, and they were able to move her to safety outside. Officer Shipp acted without regard for his own safety in order to save the woman trapped inside her burning home.
Zim Schwartze, Missouri Capitol Police – On February 10, 2021, while off duty, Missouri Capitol Police Chief Schwartze traveled to Fayette, Missouri, for an appointment. While driving home, she came upon a house fire on Route W in Howard County. Chief Schwartze pulled into the driveway, where a man in his 60s had already stopped. He said he heard dogs barking inside the house and was going to call 911. Chief Schwartze ran to the back of the house, observing the attached garage was also on fire. She ran into the burning house and encountered many dogs. She called out to see if anyone was in the house. There was no response. Smoke was rolling across the first floor ceiling as she went room-to-room, calling out to anyone in the house. In the kitchen a man appeared; he said he had been sleeping in the basement and heard Schwartze’s calls. The chief guided the man outside and placed five dogs in a vehicle so they would be out of the way when firefighters arrived. As she returned to the front of the residence, she saw that the man she had originally encountered outside had collapsed and was face down in the driveway. He was not breathing. She immediately called 911 and began chest compressions. Howard County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters began arriving. They took over the effort to revive the man, who had suffered a heart attack. Chief Schwartze now observed debris from the house falling on vehicles, one of which was on fire. She moved the dogs from one of these vehicles into her personal car. Unfortunately, the man who suffered the heart attack did not survive. While off duty and far from her Missouri Capitol Police jurisdiction, Chief Schwartze immediately sprang into action when she observed a fire, acting heroically to protect people, pets and property.
William J. Knittel Jr. and Michael E. Werges, Eureka Police Department – On February 18, 2021, Sgt. Knittel and Lt. Werges were dispatched to a residence after a caller reported a man flourishing a handgun at a woman inside the residence. Upon arrival, Sgt. Knittel made contact with a woman at the front door. She told him the man was holding the handgun to his head and there were children inside. As Lt. Werges arrived, a gunshot was then heard inside the house. The two officers immediately entered the home to search for the children. Lt. Werges made verbal contact with the armed man, who was in another room, as Sgt. Knittel searched for, located, and carried the children out of the home. A second shot was now heard from the room the gunman was occupying, and the woman ran out of the room. The gunman then barricaded himself in the room. After several hours of negotiations, the gunman surrendered. Without regard for their own wellbeing, Lt. Werges and Sgt. Knittel rushed into a residence occupied by a violent gunman, rescued two children, and helped secure the safe release of a woman.
Jeffrey A. Hilke, Cole County Sheriff’s Office – On April 21, 2021, Reserve Deputy Sheriff Hilke was working in his civilian position as a funeral director at an Eldon mortuary, where a family was preparing for a memorial service. The ex-husband of one of the immediate family members entered the mortuary and confronted his ex-wife. After arguing, the man attempted to pull the woman into another room. When she resisted, he pulled a handgun from his coat. Deputy Hilke heard the woman scream, and he and another man rushed the gunman to attempt to take control of the gun. As they fought the gunman, the gun’s magazine was ejected, but as the struggle continued the bullet in the chamber discharged and narrowly missed striking one of the people in the mortuary. Deputy Hilke continued to fight the gunman who was now attempting to pull a second magazine from a coat pocket. Once Eldon Police arrived on the scene, they assisted by taking control of the gunman and securing his weapon. While working his civilian job, Reserve Deputy Hilke leapt into action, sacrificing his own safety to prevent what could have been a deadly domestic violence attack.
Dawson M. Payne and John G. Lehman, Jefferson City Police Department – On June 7, 2021, Police Officer Trainee Payne was patrolling along Truman Boulevard with Field Training Officer Lehman. Officers Payne and Lehman observed a vehicle with an expired registration and initiated a traffic stop. The driver stopped in the middle of a heavily traveled six lane street and because of the traffic pattern, Officer Payne approached the vehicle from the passenger side, with Officer Lehman following a few steps behind. As Payne got close to the front passenger door, he observed the driver leaning across the passenger seat with one hand on the trigger guard and the other on the barrel of a .22 caliber rifle. The driver next raised the rifle and pushed its muzzle toward the officer’s face. Officer Payne ducked down and moved away from the vehicle, yelling, “Gun, gun, gun.” He circled around to the driver side of the vehicle as Officer Lehman maintained focus on the passenger side. Each officer drew his service weapon and gave multiple commands to the gunman to place his hands out the window. Officer Lehman observed the driver raise the rifle and extend the barrel out of the passenger window. Fearing for his life and the life of Officer Payne, Officer Lehman began firing his duty weapon through the rear windshield. Officer Payne also observed the driver raising the gun and also fired his duty weapon. Once the driver stopped moving the officers approached the vehicle to ensure there were no passengers and determine whether the driver was still alive. He was pronounced dead at the scene. It was later determined that he had discharged the rifle during the confrontation. Working in coordination, Field Training Officer Lehman and Officer Payne ended an armed threat to themselves and the community.
Kurt A. Schmutzler and Bradley E. Maudlin, Missouri State Highway Patrol – Late on the night of June 24, 2021, Sgt. Schmutzler was notified heavy rain had led to flash flooding in Amazonia, Mo., and the need for multiple rescues and evacuations. Sgt. Schmutzler immediately requested assistance from Cpl. Maudlin, a Patrol road officer with swift water rescue training. Cpl. Maudlin was off duty but quickly responded. Sgt. Schmutzler, a Marine Operations officer, deployed with an inflatable rescue boat. The pair first responded to a house with two men inside. It was surrounded by three to four feet of swift-moving floodwater. The officers decided the safest approach was to use pike poles to find a path through 80 yards of water to the residence and then carefully walked the two men out to safety. They next went to a house with five people trapped inside; two were elderly, and there was a young child. Because of the swirling waters and numerous obstacles in the water, they again opted not to utilize the boat. Carrying additional life-jackets, they made their way to the residence on foot, which quickly made clear it was too hazardous to attempt to walk out the trapped family. Sgt. Schmutzler and Cpl. Maudlin decided to utilize a 12-foot flat bottom boat they noticed near the house. They first put life jackets on a mother and her young child, loaded them into the boat and carefully walked the boat to safety through swift water that was up to four feet deep. The water had become deeper and more dangerous by the time they returned and attempted to move an elderly woman and a man in his 20s, neither of whom could swim. The swift current was sweeping the officers off their feet; waves rocked the boat, almost ejecting the two people inside. Cpl. Maudlin, controlling the back of the boat, quickly repositioned himself and pushed up on the left side of the boat, preventing it from capsizing. Sgt. Schmutzler, who is a swift water rescue instructor in the Patrol’s Marine Operations Division, said if not for Cpl. Maudlin’s quick reaction, the boat would have capsized and tossed both passengers into the water. Over the course of more than eight hours, Sgt. Schmutler and Cpl. Maudlin rescued or evacuated a total of 27 people in Andrew and DeKalb counties.
Colton J. Beck, Missouri State Highway Patrol – On the night of December 10, 2021, Trooper Beck attempted to conduct a traffic stop after observing a vehicle run a red light in Springfield. The driver failed to stop and Trooper Beck began a pursuit. At a dead end, the driver drove off the road and down an embankment, where his vehicle became disabled. At the dead end, Trooper Beck exited his vehicle and approached the driver side of the disabled vehicle on foot. The suspect continued to push the accelerator in an attempt to flee. The driver was obscured because of the low light conditions and dark window tinting. Trooper Beck gave clear commands for the suspect to exit the vehicle; as he approached the driver door, the suspect fired a single shot from a shotgun through the window. Trooper Beck was struck in the face, neck, and upper torso. Although seriously wounded, Trooper Beck returned fire. He then moved to a tactical position and continued to exchange fire with the suspect. The gunman then fled on foot. When additional officers arrived, Trooper Beck, despite his injuries, remained calm and provided a description of the gunman, his direction of flight, and conveyed the continuing threat posed by the gunman, information that assisted in the capture of the suspect early the next morning.
Governor’s Medal: 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.
Justin W. Bryant, Michael W. Deck, Kyle R. Embrey, Kristin N. Engle, Dawn M. Neuman, John F. O’Neill IV, Shanna M. Ostendorf, and Robert J. Tosie, St. Louis County Police Department – On the evening of July 15, 2021, the St. Louis County Police Department’s Highway Safety Unit was in a restaurant on Bagnell Dam Boulevard in Lake Ozark. The officers were in Lake Ozark to attend the annual Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Advisory Council. The officers were off duty, in civilian attire, and eating dinner when they heard gunfire coming from across the street. With their badges displayed and guns drawn, the officers ran toward the gunfire. Shouting that they were members of law enforcement, the officers took up strategic positions using parked vehicles as cover. Shots were being fired in several directions as rival outlaw motorcycle gangs engaged in a shootout. The officers were unable to discharge their weapons because of the number of gang members in the vicinity and several shooting victims lying on the ground. The officers instructed one shooting victim to crawl between vehicles to a position where they could provide aid until EMS responded to the scene. Once local officers arrived and the gunfire ended, the St. Louis County officers assisted in securing the scene, at the request of the local law enforcement. This included detaining possible suspects, gang members, and witnesses. Before the officers left the scene, it was determined that five outlaw motorcycle gang members had been shot, one of them fatally. No bystanders were injured during the shooting. While off duty, in civilian attire, and with no ballistic protection, Sgt. Shanna M. Ostendorf, Sgt. Kristin N. Engle, Sgt. Kyle R. Embrey, and Officers Justin W. Bryant, Michael W. Deck, Dawn M. Neuman, John F. O’Neill IV, and Robert J. Tosie had courageously run toward chaotic gunfire from multiple directions and acted to protect civilian lives in a busy entertainment area. Shanna M. Ostendorf has since been promoted to lieutenant.
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.
Justin M. Flynn, nominated by Eureka Police Department – At about 3 a.m. on January 26, 2021, Mr. Flynn awoke to a series of loud explosions. He checked outside and saw a house about one-half mile from his was on fire and quickly drove to his neighbors’ residence, arriving before firefighters. Two of the residents had made it out of the house but an elderly disabled woman was trapped inside. Because the front of the house was engulfed in flames, Mr. Flynn breached the rear door and made two attempts to reach the trapped victim, using the flashlight on his phone as he shouted out to the woman. But there was no response and the smoke made it impossible to see or breathe for any length of time inside the house. While exiting the second time, Mr. Flynn saw Eureka Police Officer Timothy L. Shipp, who had just arrived on scene. Mr. Flynn advised him that the remaining occupant was disabled and that he had not been able to find her. Officer Shipp and Mr. Flynn now entered the house together through the back door, the smoke choking them and making it impossible to see. Crawling on their hands and knees, Officer Shipp shouted for the woman, and this time she responded. Shipp told her to keep calling out so he could find her through the smoke. Crawling through the noxious smoke, Officer Shipp reached the woman on the floor of a room Mr. Flynn had not been able to reach previously. Officer Shipp dragged the woman toward the back door. Working together, Officer Shipp and Mr. Flynn got the woman out of the house to safety. Throughout the difficult ordeal, Mr. Flynn performed bravely, without concern for his own safety, and helped save a woman’s life.
Joshua James-Troutt and Travis Terry, nominated by Callaway County Sheriff’s Office – On the morning of October 17, 2021, Callaway County Sheriff’s Deputy John Nielsen responded to a call for a rollover crash in the area of U.S. Highway 54 and State Highway J. As he approached the intersection, Deputy Nielsen was waved over by two stopped motorists. They pointed to the crash scene and then to a man 200 yards away who was walking directly into traffic on westbound Highway 54. Deputy Nielsen watched as the man was almost hit by a tractor trailer. Deputy Nielsen drove to the man’s location with his emergency lights activated, stopped, and instructed him to place his hands on his patrol vehicle’s bumper. The man, who was about 6-foot-5 and weighed over 200 pounds, called for the deputy to shoot him, refused to comply, and walked back into traffic. Deputy Nielsen attempted to restrain the man, but he resisted and eventually wound up on top of the deputy’s chest by the side of the highway. With the deputy pinned to the ground and the wind knocked out of him, the suicidal man tried to get the deputy’s gun from his holster. At this point, two other motorists arrived on the scene. Joshua James-Troutt was driving westbound Highway 54 and pulled over when he saw the suspect resisting the deputy. Travis Terry had been driving on eastbound Highway 54 when he stopped and crossed the eastbound and westbound traffic lanes to assist. James-Troutt stated he heard Terry say, “He’s going for his gun.” At that point both men grabbed hold of the suspect and together, with great effort, managed to pull him off Deputy Nielsen. This allowed Deputy Nielsen to get to his knees long enough to get his Taser and stun the suspect, who then, finally, placed his hands behind his back and was handcuffed. With a suicidal man struggling to get a deputy sheriff’s gun along a busy highway, Joshua James-Troutt and Travis Terry bravely put their own safety at risk to assist Sheriff’s Deputy Nielsen in taking the man into custody.
Bryan Yarbrough, nominated by Bolivar City Fire Department – On the night of November 19, 2021, Bryan Yarbrough was driving back to a hospital, where his fiancé had just delivered a baby hours earlier, when he noticed the roof of a house was on fire. Because of the late hour and because there were cars in the driveway, he stopped and knocked on the door. There was no response, but he could hear animals inside so he opened the unlocked door. While looking for the animals, he found two adults who were asleep in bed. He woke them and then helped get them and their pets out of the house and called 911. After everyone was out of the residence the fire grew considerably and firefighters battling the blaze had to exit the structure because of concern that the roof would collapse. Uninterested in any recognition, Mr. Yarbrough left the scene to return to the hospital. He was later recognized by the City of Bolivar with a “Bryan Yarbrough Day” proclamation from the mayor.
Red, White and Blue Heart Award: This is the first year the Red, White, and Blue Heart Award is being awarded. The annual award may be presented to any first responder who under honorable circumstances is critically, seriously, or fatally injured while performing official duties in the line of duty. The injury must require long-term treatment by a medical professional and considerable loss of time from duty.
Blaize A. Madrid-Evans, Independence Police Department – On the morning of September 15, 2021, Officer Madrid-Evans was one of four Independence Police officers who responded to a residence to check for a man wanted on an outstanding aggravated assault warrant. Officer Madrid-Evans had graduated from the police academy two months earlier and was still undergoing field training. As officers encountered the suspect in an open garage area, he quickly removed a handgun from his waistband as he spun around and fired at the closest officer, mortally wounding Officer Madrid-Evans. Another officer returned fire, killing the gunman. Officer Madrid-Evans was just 22 years old, but had proven himself to be a selfless individual, who was committed to helping others and carrying out the highest ideals that are embraced by law enforcement officers. He was an organ donor, and his donation helped sustain the lives of 75 people, including Springfield, Missouri, Police Officer Mark Priebe, who had been paralyzed in the line of duty in 2020, and received a life-saving kidney transplant.
Antonio A. Valentine, St. Louis County Police Department – On December 1, 2021, as part of a narcotics investigation, St. Louis County Police detectives attempted to stop a stolen vehicle in north St. Louis County. The driver fled at a high rate of speed. Officers were not in pursuit because of the speed at which the vehicle was traveling. Detective Valentine and his partner were responding to the area to assist fellow narcotics unit officers when their police vehicle was struck head-on by the fleeing vehicle as the suspect crossed the centerline into the wrong lane at a high rate of speed. The collision killed Detective Valentine, who had honorably served the department since 2007. Detective Valentine had devoted his entire adult life to public service. During more than two decades in the military, he had deployed to combat missions in Iraq and Kyrgyzstan. He had honorably served the St. Louis County Police Department for 14 years.
Bryant E. Gladney, Boone County Fire Protection District – Before dawn on December 22, 2021, Assistant Chief Gladney was overseeing the Boone County Fire Protection District’s response to a traffic crash on westbound Interstate 70. Because a box truck was on its side blocking the right lane and shoulder of the highway, Chief Gladney had activated his emergency warning equipment and had taken a blocking/warning position to the east of the crash scene. Before Chief Gladney could exit his vehicle, a tractor trailer traveling at a high rate of speed in the driving lane failed to slow down and struck Chief Gladney’s vehicle, causing catastrophic damage to the vehicle and killing Chief Gladney. Chief Gladney had spent a total of more than 36 years with the fire protection district and emergency medical services. He ran the district’s EMS bureau and training bureau, where he mentored the next generation of firefighters. He had responded to Ground Zero following the September 11 attacks as a member of Missouri Task Force 1, the state’s federal urban search and rescue team.
Robert C. Bridges, Springfield-Greene County Park Board – At about 10 p.m. on November 11, 2021, Park Ranger Bridges was on patrol and heard radio traffic indicating that Springfield Police officers were searching for an armed person who had caused a disturbance at a business. They had established a perimeter near Glenstone Ave. and Battlefield Road. Bridges, who as a park ranger, has jurisdiction across Greene County, went to the scene and was assigned to take a position on the perimeter. Ranger Bridges soon observed movement in the darkness near a retail business. As he drove toward the movement and illuminated the area with his spotlight, he observed a man who had his back to Ranger Bridges. The man quickly turned and fired ten shots through the front windshield of Ranger Bridges’ vehicle. One shot entered Ranger Bridges’ left wrist and exited through his elbow. Two shots went through his right forearm, breaking the ulna. Bridges exited his vehicle and rolled to the ground, attempting to take cover, but the gunman approached and shot him once through the right leg and twice in his left rib cage. His ballistic vest stopped the shots to his rib cage. The gunman then attempted to disarm Ranger Bridges, who, despite two broken arms and having been shot six times, rolled away to protect his gun and fought him off. Two Springfield police officers arrived on scene and were able to end the threat to Ranger Bridges. Since the attack, he has had multiple surgeries and will undergo additional surgeries in the future.
Colton J. Beck, Missouri State Highway Patrol – On the night of December 10, 2021, Trooper Beck attempted to conduct a traffic stop in Springfield, but the motorist fled and his vehicle became disabled. As Trooper Beck approached the driver’s door, the suspect fired a single shot from a shotgun through the driver door window. Although seriously wounded, Trooper Beck courageously returned fire. Trooper Beck was struck in the face, head, neck, and right shoulder, some of the pellets could never be removed. He was transported to a hospital for treatment, where he underwent emergency eye surgery. It was determined a shotgun pellet had penetrated his right eyeball, permanently blinding him in that eye. He later had to undergo surgery to remove the damaged right eye. Trooper Beck recuperated and returned to service with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Nominations are now open for heroic acts performed during 2022 and must be received by Feb. 28, 2023. The nominating form is available on the Missouri Department of Public Safety website at https://dps.mo.gov/medal/.