Issaquah police officers earn top law enforcement honor

May 8, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Officer Jesse Petersen, Cpl. Christian Munoz, and officers Brian Horn and Laura Asbell (from left) stand at the Washington Law Enforcement Memorial after receiving the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor in a May 4 ceremony in Olympia. By Jacqueline Kerness/Issaquah Police Department

In a solemn ceremony not far from the state Capitol, Gov. Chris Gregoire slipped a Law Enforcement Medal of Honor around the necks of police officers involved in a deadly September 2011 shootout at Clark Elementary School.

In a May 4 ceremony led by Gregoire and state Attorney General Rob McKenna, Cpl. Christian Munoz and officers Laura Asbell, Brian Horn and Jesse Petersen earned the recognition for meritorious conduct amid the incident. The medal is the highest law enforcement honor in Washington.

The officers shot and killed Ronald W. Ficker, 51, after the rural Maple Valley man abandoned a rented car at a downtown Issaquah intersection and, carrying rifles and ammunition, set off in the direction of school campuses.

The shootout between officers and Ficker occurred on the Clark Elementary campus, as hundreds of people gathered at a youth football game on the adjacent Issaquah High School campus.

“Everyone goes into their profession hoping that they can do the best job they can,” Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers said May 7. “In this situation, the officers performed just the way we wanted them to. While it was a tragic event, they came through it well.”

The ceremony unfolded at the granite Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol campus in Olympia. Leaders recognized the law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in the past year, Department of Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl and Washington State Patrol Trooper Tony Radulescu.

The local Medal of Honor recipients “wanted the focus to be on the officers who had fallen in the line of duty rather than on their actions,” Issaquah Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said May 7. “We get into this profession to help others, and they responded in the correct manner on that day. They were able to help and save a lot of people.”

No officer from the Issaquah Police Department earned a Medal of Honor before the group recognized for the September incident.

“It’s a huge honor for the four officers involved,” Issaquah Deputy Chief Steve Cozart said May 7. “It’s a recognition by the state that they were successful in being able to apply their skills, abilities, training and tools to place themselves in harm’s way between somebody looking to do folks harm and the public.”

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The ceremony occurred 17 days before a prosecutor-led inquest is scheduled to review the officers’ actions in the shootout. The inquest is a standard procedure for officer-involved shootings in King County.

The recognition in Olympia is the latest honor for the officers involved in the shootout.

The officers earned the Washington honorable mention award at the National Association of Police Organizations’ TOP COPS Awards.

The organization recognizes law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and local agencies each year for outstanding service. Organizers review submissions from throughout the United States to identify the top 10 cases to highlight as TOP COPS. Then, from the cases not selected, organizers select a case from each state for honorable mention.

In addition to the Medal of Honor recipients, the national honor recognizes Issaquah Sgt. Chris Wilson and Officer Tom Griffith for conduct amid the shootout.

The officers and Behrbaum plan to attend the May 12 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

2012 Medal of Honor recipients

In 1994, state legislators established the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor. The award is reserved for police officers killed in the line of duty or for those displaying meritorious conduct.

For Posthumous Service

Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl, state Department of Corrections

In January 2011, Byron Scherf, a repeat rapist serving a life sentence, assaulted and killed Biendl, the chapel officer at the Washington State Reformatory Unit, Monroe Corrections Complex.

Trooper Anthony “Tony” Radulescu, Washington State Patrol

On Feb. 23, Radulescu stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation. The driver, Joshua Blake, shot Radulescu and fled. Blake later committed suicide.

For Serious Injury

Deputies Andrew Ejde and John Stacy, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office

In January 2011, Ejde, Stacy and other deputies responded to a gun-toting man in a parking lot. The suspect suddenly ran from deputies during a weapons search. The suspect’s bullets struck Ejde in the left shoulder and right hand, and Stacy in the right shoulder.

For Meritorious Conduct

Issaquah Police Cpl. Christian Munoz and officers Laura Asbell, Brian Horn and Jesse Petersen for a September 2011 shootout.

Deputy Krista McDonald, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office

In the January 2011 incident McDonald observed the wounded deputies and immediately engaged the armed suspect in gunfire. McDonald wounded the suspect and aided the wounded deputies.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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