Award-Winning Night

124th Annual Valor Awards

Trained for this moment

Gold Medal of Valor
Sergeant Reinaldo Cruzado
Detective Salvatore Manente Jr.
Officer Mark Valentino
Secaucus Local 84

Secaucus Local 84 members Salvatore Manente Jr. and Mark Valentino rushed through the rain and sleet to the Harmon Cove residential development in response to a domestic incident call.

On Dec. 1, 2019 at 5:41 p.m., a woman reported her ex-husband trying to enter her home. He had already fired a round from his weapon on the front porch.

Valentino and Manente arrived at the 500-unit wooded condo complex in Secaucus and exited their vehicles to find the ex-husband, later identified as Anthony Russo, 68, at the top of the porch steps. He was in an elevated position and behind cover.

From only a few feet away, the members demanded that Russo drop his weapon. After disregarding their instructions, Russo fired at them.

The members returned fire.

Local 84 member Reinaldo Cruzado arrived on scene in the middle of the crossfire. The members took cover behind a police vehicle while Russo continued to fire his weapon.

The members did not have time to create a plan to disarm Russo. They acted before they could think. Their training from the Secaucus Police Department, combined with their instincts, immediately kicked in.

“We’re very well trained in Secaucus,” Cruzado said. “Unfortunately, stuff happens, but we stepped up.”

At this point, the members were caught in an armed confrontation. Residents in the complex and surrounding homes heard the exchange of fire, with some reporting that they heard as many as 20 gunshots starting at 6 p.m. One resident, Felix Arockiaraj, told reporters that he initially thought the noise was fireworks.

Any resident trying to leave their home was told to go back inside. While residents turned off the lights in their homes and took cover from windows to avoid falling victim to the crossfire, the members continued to fire and grazed Russo in the arm.

Ballistics later revealed that Russo fired five rounds while Cruzado, Manente and Valentino fired 16 rounds from their weapons.

Suddenly, the shooting stopped. The officers cautiously approached Russo, who was not breathing and had a loaded .38-caliber weapon in his hand. The officers, Russo’s ex-wife and nearby residents were not injured.

“We saved that woman from being hurt, possibly killed by her ex-husband,” Manente said. “At the end of the day, we do what we’re trained to do, and what we want to do [as law enforcement officers].”

Harmon Cove residents received a shelter-in-place order until 7:40 p.m. while the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office SWAT unit and additional Secaucus officers arrived on scene. The heavy police presence blocked off traffic on Harmon Boulevard. One resident from the complex told reporters that she even saw chunky black Jersey City Police Department vehicles pull up to the incident.

Emergency services personnel transported Russo to the Hudson Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:14 p.m. The attorney general revealed that the final fatal shot was a self-inflicted shot to his head.

Two years later at the NJSPBA Valor Awards, Cruzado, Manente and Valentino prepared to receive their Gold Medal of Valor. The Local 84 recipients were the last to be called on stage at the ceremony on Nov. 20.

Before sitting down to enjoy their dinner, the members took a moment to reflect on their award-winning incident from 2019. The incident happened so fast that they hadn’t had a chance to slow down and recount the events that earned the recognition.

“We feel that we did our job,” Manente said. “We helped that woman. None of us, and no civilians, were hurt.”

The members were proud and honored to take home the gold. Cruzado and Manente, who have a combined 26 years on the job, said it couldn’t have been done if not as a team. And there was no better way to receive an award for their response than within a crowd of all their brothers and sisters in blue.

“The whole group of guys did a great job,” Cruzado said. “It feels great to be back.”

What a difference the training makes

Gold Medal of Valor
Patrolman Anthony DeMatteo
Howell Township Local 228

Howell Officer Anthony DeMatteo saw the bloody knife coming at him. No time to think about how to respond. But DeMatteo did not need to think. Even with just 10 months on the job, he had been trained for this situation.

The full days on the range – 40 hours per week, more for some officers – kicked in when DeMatteo responded to a call at 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2019, of person who claimed to be dying after being stabbed by his brother. Perhaps because he grew up in a law enforcement family or perhaps because he wanted to be an officer from the time he was a young boy, DeMatteo had developed a propensity to respond in this situation.

“We are a department that focuses a lot on tactical training and Anthony takes it seriously,” noted Howell Township Local 228 State Delegate Ryan Hurley who presented DeMatteo at the 2021 NJSPA Valor Awards. “And even though he only had 10 months on the job at the time, he took it to heart. And when the time came, he knew exactly what to do and how to react.”

Like so many of the valor award honorees, DeMatteo’s heroics emphasized what makes New Jersey’s law enforcement officers so superior.

“It is just so important that everybody takes it seriously and pays attention to what other officers are training them to do,” Hurley continued. “Some people don’t, and God forbid they have the same situation, I would hope they’d be able to find the courage to do the same thing.”

On that October night, DeMatteo put his training into full effect. He ordered the subject to drop the weapon, but the man with the knife did not relent. He started to attack. DeMatteo then fired multiple rounds. He dropped the suspect and ended the threat.

Here’s how heroic that response turned out to be. Officers later learned that the suspect had brutally murdered two people.

“My training kicked in definitely and, yeah, it was more just a reaction than anything,” DeMatteo shared. “Just right away, I saw a person coming at me with a knife. And just trying to tell him to stop. After he didn’t, I had to do what I had to do unfortunately.”

DeMatteo counts Howell members as part of his family. He grew up around them with his father working on the job in Middlesex County, and that seems to have had a profound influence on DeMatteo.

“Being around all the Howell police officers, seeing how great they are just really made me want to become a law enforcement officer,” he added.

Now three years on the job, DeMatteo still has thoughts about that night. He’s not unlike many other NJSPBA Valor Award winners who have had to fire to end a threat and must find a way to get past that.

DeMatteo made sure to find that path that would enable him to continue the exemplary police work that took down a murderer.

“Definitely talk about it,” he advised. “Talk about it with your peers or the other officers. Go out, have a good time, everyone hang out and just discuss everything so it doesn’t weigh on your shoulders. Talk about how to embrace the moment of, you know, you made it out of there.”

Of course, the incident has changed the way DeMatteo looks at his job. He has that experience to know how much training can make a difference. And he saw how his fellow officers from Local 228 rallied around him.

Many of them were there in Atlantic City when DeMatteo received his gold medal of valor. And the standing ovation that erupted from the Howell table will likely drown out everything else that happened on that October night.

“It feels great, you know, to get recognized at this great event,” DeMatteo confirmed. “A lot of people got recognized that did amazing things throughout the past two years. And it’s great knowing that I have the support of everyone else around. It was a great feeling knowing that everyone was around me there.”

Stairway to rescue 

Gold Medal of Valor
Officer Josh Anderson
Officer Willie Jones
Orange Local 89

As Orange Officers Josh Anderson and Willie Jones ran up the stairs to a third-floor apartment, they didn’t know what to expect. They only knew someone had been stabbed.

Shockingly, they were met at the top of the stairs by a man holding a large kitchen knife, dripping blood. As he exhibited clear signs of emotional distress, the officers drew their weapons, ordering him to drop the knife. Ignoring the commands, he raced toward the officers, clutching the knife above his head. Fearing for their own lives, Anderson and Jones fired at him, relieving the threat.

Running into the apartment, Anderson and Jones found the man’s sister lying on the floor suffering from stab wounds. Immediately, Jones and Anderson applied first aid to the woman. She was rushed to the hospital, where she later made a full recovery from her wounds and was reunited with her family.

Although the incident took place on July 13, 2019, Jones still gets choked up when he talks about it. That kind of life-threatening fear doesn’t just go away.

“It was scary, it was very scary, but we’re here to protect and serve,” Jones said as he described the horrific dread in the pit of his stomach. “Sometimes you’ve got to put your fear to the side and just do your job.”

Officers Anderson and Jones displayed courage that summer day. They found a way to place fear behind them, something that is not easy to do.

And their courage and bravery did not go unnoticed, as they were invited to the 2021 NJ State PBA Valor Awards. They were both honored for their heroic acts of bravery and presented with the Gold Medal of Valor.

After recounting the incident, Jones expressed his deep appreciation for receiving such a prestigious award.

“Well, receiving an award, it is a good thing. It feels good,” Jones said, his voice trailing off.

Glancing at Anderson, who nodded in agreement, he added, “It is just a job. Not everything has a happy ending, but the victim, she made a full recovery and everything. So that’s probably the best thing out of this.”

A reality check

Silver Medal of Valor
Lieutenant Robert Franco
Wayne Local 136
Sergeant Frank Tracey
Officer James Ciampi
Officer Kevin Chen
West Essex Local 81

From left, Silver Medal of Valor honorees Fairfield Township Sergeant Frank Tracey and Officers James Ciampi and Kevin Chen and Wayne Lieutenant Robert Franco.

This could have made for an episode of “COPS” or “America’s Most Wanted.” You can almost hear the voice of John Walsh, except NJSPBA Valor Awards emcee Rob Nixon tells it much better.

A three-county vehicle pursuit began in Mountain Lakes on April 26, 2020 with officers chasing a car with New York tags. The driver headed east on U.S. Route 46 out of Morris County toward Fairfield Township.

Fairfield Sergeant Frank Tracey and his officers, James Ciampi and Kevin Chen monitored the pursuit and shut down Route 46 so the chase could proceed safely through town. The suspect came up on the intersection of three major highways in Wayne: Route 46, New Jersey Route 23 and Interstate 80. No details of what caused the chase are available because the incident is still under grand jury investigation.

Wayne Lieutenant Bob Franco was en route to a domestic violence call when he intercepted the chase. He had heard on the scanner that the car was fast approaching his jurisdiction.

“The domestic turned out to be a victim that needed hospitalization and suspect was arrested,” Franco recalled. “But as I was responding, the chase intersected me. I ended up following the car as it came through a stoplight.

Sergeant Tracey commented that the car was slowing down at that point, and it was clear the chase was coming to an end.

“The vehicle stopped, so we took up positions behind it,” Tracey explained. “And then all of a sudden the driver, a male, emerged and…”

This is the part where the commercial break would come. But if you have seen “America’s Most Wanted,” you probably know what happened next.

“There was a lot of yelling at first,” Franco detailed. “But by the time I got out of the car to get control of the scene, he had already brandished the handgun.”

The suspect pointed the gun in the officers’ direction. From their tactical position, it was obvious there was imminent danger. Use of deadly force was inevitable.

“There wasn’t anything else to do,” Franco added. “We engaged him from that point.”

From that point, the incident ended pretty quickly.

“We discharged our weapons, and the suspect was wounded and taken into custody.” Tracey said. “And that was it. That was the end of the story.”

Cue the music and fade to black.

Except for the after-credit interviews.

The responding officers were, of course, surprised at what happened. But what were they thinking as the chase ended?

“Well it was pretty crazy. I got to tell you,” Tracey answered. “Listen, at the end of a pursuit, it’s a pretty common thing where it’s either the person goes off running and there’s a foot pursuit or we just take him into custody. So it was extremely shocking that the male emerged and all of a sudden began pointing a gun at all the cops that were behind him.”

And how did they feel when he came out of the car pointing a gun?

“I think shock is a good word,” Tracey continued. “But then we just know we had to do what we had to do to protect ourselves and everyone else that was behind us, the members of the public, too, you know?”

How do you make sure you win a fight like this one?

“It’s being prepared for that and definitely training,” said Franco, who is one of his department’s foremost experts on the range and trains many Local 136 members. “We rely a lot on training and fall back on that.”

And what goes through your mind when you have to engage and shoot back?

“You know, maintain a solid mindset,” Franco emphasized. “Don’t forget why you took the job. Don’t let anyone else dictate your career. You decided to be a cop, and you be the best cop that you can be.”

And how do you look back on the incident?

“The bottom line of it is, is he pointed a gun at me. I pointed one at him,” Franco confided. “I went home, and he didn’t.”

The final footage would certainly include these members hearing the rousing ovation from those at the valor awards when Nixon read through the details of the response. And comments about how that recognition felt.

“It’s a good feeling, this once-in-a-career type of thing and the fact that the PBA did this for us,” Tracey commented. “I would say it’s humbling because we’re in the presence of a lot of great officers with a lot of amazing stories.”

Cutting to the chase

Silver Medal of Valor
Patrolman Andrew Duffy
Riverdale Local 335

In his eight years on the job, Riverdale Local 335 member Andrew Duffy has routinely responded to shoplifting calls throughout town. He never imagined one of them would lead him on a treacherous car chase.

Duffy was surveilling a known shoplifting suspect at Home Depot on Jan. 23, 2020, and approached him as he exited the store. The suspect tried to escape to his vehicle and resisted Duffy’s attempt to make the arrest.

“We were fighting while he was inside the car,” Duffy recalled. “He got the car started, and I pushed myself out before he drove away at a high rate of speed.”

With the help of Bloomingdale Borough Local 354 members, Duffy managed to locate the suspect within an hour. Duffy chased the SUV for nearly three minutes while telling dispatchers that the suspect was speeding at 80 mph and dangerously passing other vehicles.

The suspect drove past Samuel R. Donald Elementary School in Bloomingdale and into a residential neighborhood. Duffy continued to pursue the suspect.

“I chased him past the school and down another road,” he shared. “That’s where he almost hit me.”

Bloomingdale officers caught up with the suspect first and followed him into a dead end near a cul-de-sac. The suspect seemed to have no escape route. Duffy decided this is where he’d make the arrest.

“I was about to exit my car because there was no place for him to go,” Duffy explained. “He turned his car and headed straight for me.”

What was supposed to end in an arrest resulted in an injury instead. The suspect drove across a lawn and headed toward Duffy just as he was getting out of his patrol vehicle. Suddenly, Duffy was swept off his feet.

“I fell back into my car,” he revealed. “When his car made contact with mine, it pinned my left leg.”

Even with one leg stuck in the door of his cruiser, Duffy instinctually knew what to do. He had to protect himself and the Bloomingdale officers involved in the pursuit. He drew his weapon and fired at the suspect while his car rocked back and forth from contact with the suspect’s SUV.

“I fired multiple rounds, and then one had struck him and killed him,” Duffy remembered. “There’s nothing to train for that. It’s really just instinct and doing the best to protect yourself and everybody else around.”

The suspect’s vehicle came to a stop. Duffy was treated for an injury to his leg but was otherwise unscathed, as were the Bloomingdale officers. The incident taught him that while he has arrested multiple shoplifters on the job, he should never underestimate a routine call.

“It’s changed my perspective on policing,” he admitted. “I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s really true that anytime, any call could be what I experienced that day.”

When he heard his name called to receive the Silver Medal of Valor at the 2021 NJSPBA Valor Awards on Nov. 20, Duffy never imagined that he’d be honored for his courageous response while almost being run over by a car. He had listened to all the incidents that PBA members were being recognized for and did not know he’d be selected.

“It’s an extreme honor,” Duffy expressed. “I’m very thankful to receive the award. I know there’s a lot of other men and women that probably never had their events submitted, and they should have been, but to be selected is a great honor.”

Palm Sunday heroics

Silver Medal of Valor
Officer Danielle Carvalho
Plainfield Local 19

What was supposed to be a normal Palm Sunday quickly took a turn for the worse when Plainfield Officer Danielle Carvalho found herself responding to the kind of call you don’t get every day. Sirens blaring, her squad car raced toward the church, where she saw a man matching the description she was given over the radio wielding a large, silver machete.

Carvalho was the first to arrive on the scene. In a matter of seconds, still waiting for backup to reach the church, she emerged from her vehicle, drew her firearm and ordered the man to drop his weapon. Yelling loudly and refusing to listen, he raised the machete over his head and began charging toward Carvalho.

Reacting quickly, Carvalho fired once, piercing his shoulder. His arm dropped to the side and the silver machete hit the ground. He locked eyes with Carvalho for five long seconds before turning and running around to the back of the church. There, he was captured by the other officers, who had arrived after Carvalho. The man was taken to the hospital to receive treatment for his wounds.

Carvalho reflected on the intense feeling of protecting herself in a life-or-death situation.

“Cops like to put on a brave face and say, ‘No, this is what I do every day,’” she explained. “But it’s not. Every day is not life or death. And when it comes a time where it has to be life or death and you have to make the decision to potentially take somebody’s life, it’s scary.”

Due to this incident, March 28, 2021, quickly became a Palm Sunday Carvalho would never forget. And months later, she was honored at the 2021 NJ State PBA Valor Awards with the Silver Medal of Valor for her fearless and brave actions that day.

“I’m honored to be able to receive this award,” Carvalho expressed. “I’m not happy that it happened, but it’s nice to be recognized.”

The recognition was additionally rewarding because it spotlighted an incident in which a law enforcement officer was not being vilified for taking action that left a machete-wielding man injured. Facing such a grave situation, Carvalho, who is the Plainfield Local 19 State Delegate, responded with the proper and necessary use of force.

“A lot of the times, especially in this day and age, police officers aren’t recognized for what they do,” she explained. “We’re the bad guys a lot of the time. So we have to come around each other and support our own when they make a good decision and they do things the right way.”

Looking around the banquet hall filled with heroic men and women who were all there to support one another made Carvalho smile.

“It’s a pleasure and an honor to be recognized by the State PBA for this,” she added.

Following the leader

Bronze Medal of Valor
Sergeant Francis Sangi
Officer James Crawford
Asbury Park Local 6

The relationship between an officer and his or her superior can be special, and members of Asbury Park Local 6 are proof of that.

On July 23, 2019, Sergeant Frank Sangi and Officer James Crawford were called to assist psychiatric screeners on a call of a distressed man. Refusing to speak to the officers, he locked himself in his room.

When he finally came out, he tried stabbing Sangi in the neck with a pair of scissors. Sangi fell backwards, and when the man tried to continue to attack him, Crawford drew his weapon, shooting the man and ending the threat.

Fast forward to more than two years later, on the night of the PBA valor awards, where Sangi and Crawford were awarded the Bronze Medal of Valor for their heroic actions.

Both men can tell you, they knew exactly what to do in that moment: “To put my hands up, block strikes, create distance from him,” Sangi recalled.

Although the pair were involved in the incident, Sangi believes his officer was more deserving of the award. Neither officer wants to take credit for saving countless lives and each other.

Crawford looked to Sangi and noted, “Well, you went into the room first. You did what a sergeant does right? I mean, you led us in there, and that’s why you were the one getting attacked.”

It would be easy to say that Sangi just had an instinct to walk toward the danger and the threat of losing his life, but that’s exactly what makes him a leader. For Crawford, the willingness that Sangi had to go in first encapsulates who he is.

“I mean, a lot of sergeants, they’ll show up and they’ll be like, ‘Go in there and get the guy out of there,’” Crawford said. “But he actually went in there first, and there’s not a lot of supervisors that work like that anymore.”

‘I had to isolate the threat’

Bronze Medal of Valor
Patrolman Kyle Williams
Manalapan Township Local 229

Assigned to a mutual aid detail in Asbury Park for the fireworks display on July 4, 2019, Manalapan Township Local 229 Member Kyle Williams walked back to his post on the Jersey Shore when he heard a civilian scream about a firearm.

“When I drove up, two people were pointing [weapons] at one another,” Williams recalled. “Then, I heard multiple rounds of gunfire.”

Williams couldn’t tell how many rounds were fired, but his instincts instantly kicked in. His routine training had prepared him for situations exactly like this one.

“I immediately unholstered,” Williams said. “I had my eyes on one of the subjects.”

The subject turned around and tucked his weapon in his pants, which Williams witnessed from 20 feet away. He drew his sidearm and quickly ordered the suspect to the ground. He apprehended the subject and retrieved the loaded weapon.

Then Williams learned that a civilian, unrelated to the incident, was shot during the initial fire. He located the civilian and used his life-saving resources to help the victim.

“I carry a tourniquet on me at all times,” Williams said. “I was able to help an Asbury Park officer apply one of my tourniquets and stop the bleeding.”

Williams credits his quick response to training he received at the Monmouth County Sheriff STARS Facility and his experience as a volunteer fire chief, which supplied him with the necessary skills for high-level incidents like this one.

“I had to isolate the threat and do what I could to stop it from hurting more people,” he said. “Once the threat is controlled, I can go on to other people that were hurt. That’s exactly what I did that day.”

At the 2021 NJSPBA Valor Awards, Williams felt honored to be recognized and reiterated that he was just doing the job he loves so much. He works to make a difference in people’s lives, and after the response, he remembered a quote from his coordinator at the police academy, John Tate, who retired from the Seaside Heights Police Department.

“He said, ‘You’re going to meet thousands and thousands of people in your career. And you’re never going to remember all of them, but they’re always going to remember you,’” Williams recalled. “That’s how I try to patrol, and I think I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to be a patrolman.”

The drive to survive

Bronze Medal of Valor
Officer Roberto DeJesus
Unit Citation
Officer Robert Kropewnicki
Officer Sabrina Romasz
Officer David Canica
Officer Marcus Steinhauser
North Plainfield Local 85

Aug. 2, 2019, turned into a nightmare that North Plainfield Officer Roberto DeJesus will never forget. While his partner, Officer David Canica, patiently waited for a warrant check on a vehicle, DeJesus drove up alongside him.

That’s when everything started spiraling out of control. The man and woman who were in the vehicle became hostile and aggressive toward DeJesus and his fellow officer, throwing insults and exclaiming that they wanted to fight. While attempting to get them out of the vehicle and arrest them, DeJesus was met with resistance.

Suddenly, the passenger of the vehicle in question slammed the door shut, trapping DeJesus inside their vehicle. The driver pressed his foot against the accelerator, driving full speed toward a house in front of them. Without warning, the driver aggressively reached for the gun from DeJesus’ holster.

Reacting quickly, DeJesus grabbed the steering wheel and turned it with as much strength as he could muster. In a split second, the car flew airborne, crashing into the house.

DeJesus injured his head, neck and back in the crash, and he recalled the excruciating pain as he talked about the incident after being honored with a Valor Award. When Canica arrived at the scene with Officers Robert Kropewnicki, Sabrina Romasz and Marcus Steinhauser, he pulled DeJesus out of the car and they arrested the passenger and driver, who was attempting to continue driving through the house.

In those few moments, which seemed like an eternity to DeJesus, he had only one thought.

“I thought of my kids during that whole incident,” he exclaimed. “I know it happened very fast, but during that whole incident, I really thought that I wouldn’t see them again. And luckily, it ended up being a good outcome.”

When DeJesus found himself at the 2021 NJ State PBA Valor Awards surrounded by his loving family and Officer Canica, who helped pull him out of the vehicle two years ago, he said it felt surreal. DeJesus was extremely grateful to receive the Bronze Medal of Valor and live another day to serve with the North Plainfield Police Department.

“It was great to be recognized from my peers,” DeJesus reflected. “My peers and my fellow officers actually took their time and effort to look at me and respect me for what I did.”

Nailing the Grinch who stole on Christmas

Meritorious Service Award
Officer Dan Haviland
Old Bridge Local 127

The joy of the Christmas lights around Old Bridge Township in 2019 quickly faded away when Officer Dan Haviland received a call. It was a Christmas Day he would never forget.

A call came over Haviland’s radio of an armed robbery at a local 7-Eleven. Haviland and several other officers from his squad arrived at the scene to find the suspect matching the exact description he was given driving away. He followed the car and eventually pulled it over.

The car came to a dead stop. Haviland watched as the driver opened his door and walked in front of his car. Haviland stepped forward and motioned that he needed to search him. Suddenly, the suspect took off running.

Haviland chased after the suspect. Losing his balance, the suspect slipped and fell to the ground. Haviland leapt forward to tackle him and finally apprehended him. When backup arrived, Haviland and his fellow officers recovered the stolen money, a mask and the gun the suspect had used.

Now, almost two years later, Haviland was surprised about being honored at the Valor Awards and happy to receive congratulations from other members.

“It’s pretty cool,” Haviland commented. “It’s nice to be honored, but it’s also cool to hear all the other stories from around the state and hear what other officers have dealt with.”

He did not indicate that his response stood out from any others. In looking back, he noted that he would respond the same way today as he did on Christmas Day 2019.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Haviland added. “You have to go with the flow and take things as they come.”

Overcoming an anxious moment

Meritorious Service Award
Corporal Bruce Evans
Little Egg Harbor & Tuckerton Borough Local 295

At first, Corporal Bruce Evans was hesitant and nervous about attending the 2021 NJ State PBA Valor Awards on the eve of the second anniversary of the incident that changed his life. On Nov. 21, 2019, Evans was on traffic patrol when he made a routine traffic stop. Little did he know the danger he would soon be in.

When the car he stopped pulled into a gas station in Tuckerton Borough, Evans pressed the passengers for information. After they began spewing false information to Evans, he knew something was amiss. One of them was on the run for violating parole, and because Evans was persistent with his questioning, they quickly realized they were not going to get away.

Suddenly, the driver pulled out a firearm and began shouting and threatening his girlfriend to get in the car or he would kill her. Slamming the door behind her, they raced away and crashed into another vehicle.

At the scene of the accident, Evans commanded them to show their hands. The driver ignored the command. Pulling out the handgun, he fired at Evans. Evans took cover and returned fire. Although the offenders escaped, they were arrested and charged the next day.

It was the first time Evans had ever been in a life-or-death situation like this. Although he’s worked in Camden before and worked narcotics while with a department in South Florida, it was an experience that will stay with him forever.

“That is the first time I’ve almost been murdered and first time I shot my gun in that type of incident,” he reported. “It’s definitely the first time it’s ever escalated to that point.”

Looking back on the incident, Evans reflected it was something he never expected and has reminded him to always keep his head on a swivel.

“I’ve worked in some dangerous areas compared to Tuckerton. And this was on a Thursday afternoon in Tuckerton,” he explained. “I would have never in a million years would have thought something would happen like that. But I take all the training I gathered over the years and all the work I’ve done there. That prepared me for it, and luckily, I’m here to talk about it.”

As his name was called, Evans stood and walked forward to receive the Meritorious Service Award, presented by the NJ State PBA. His anxiety eased. In a simple word, he was happy.

“I had a little nervous energy coming here,” Evans admitted. “But then once you get in there and you hear the bagpipes and everyone’s clapping, everyone’s cheering, and you’re telling your story, it really does make you feel good. Yeah, it makes me happy.”

How to save a life

Meritorious Service Award
Patrolman Robert Thuring and Patrolman Ryan Hensperger
East Brunswick Local 145

East Brunswick Local 145 members Robert Thuring and Ryan Hensperger rushed to the scene of a man threatening to jump off the Route 18 overpass on the New Jersey Turnpike on June 21, 2020.

When Thuring and Hensperger arrived, the man stood on the overpass, looking down at the nearly 60-foot drop. Thuring immediately tried to talk the man down by calmly having a conversation.

“I let him take over to try and build a rapport with [the man],” Hensperger explained. “I positioned myself to a more strategic place, in the event that we needed to grab him.”

Thuring and Hensperger quickly realized that the man would at least attempt to jump off the bridge, no matter what they said to change his mind. So they pursued a backup plan.

“We grabbed onto him,” Thuring recalled, “and he tried to jump.”

The man fought back, nearly taking Thuring and Hensperger over the bridge with him. A brief struggle ensued before they managed to pull him back to safety.

The members successfully prevented the man from committing suicide and brought him to the hospital. They credit their accomplishment to the stellar training they’ve received and the impeccable communication during the incident.

“Neither of us have ever dealt with someone trying to jump off of something before,” Thuring admitted. “Thankfully, it worked out perfectly.”

Their response led to recognition at the Valor Awards. They felt honored to be acknowledged and grateful that they could rely on each other.

“I’m thankful that fellow officers are out here to support us,” Hensperger exclaimed. “I learned to count on the [officers] I work with, communicate back and forth and get the job done.”

Check it out

Meritorious Service Award
Sergeant Jason Pfeiffer
Officer Corey Hudak
South Bound Brook Local 148

When Sergeant Jason Pfeiffer and Officer Corey Hudak thought they had received a typical medical call for psychiatric transport on Feb. 6, 2021, they soon discovered there was more to the story.

When they arrived at the house, a woman met them at the door. One of her arms was soaked in blood from the lacerations across it.

She yelled to the officers to bring her to the hospital, exclaiming, “I got to go! I got to go!” Immediately, Hudak tended to her wounds and began questioning her while Pfeiffer went inside.

As Pfeiffer slowly walked through the house, he reached a back room, which he soon learned belonged to the occupants’ 4-year-old son. That’s where he stumbled upon a horrific scene. The child’s body lay motionless. Dried blood drenched his blankets. The woman had slit his throat, where blood was still spilling out. He had been dead for a couple of hours, at least.

Hudak watched as the woman’s husband, who had been asleep upstairs when the events unfolded, ran out of the house and began shouting at the woman, “What did you do?”

At first, Hudak tried calming the husband. But when Pfeiffer came running out of the house next, he told Hudak to place to woman under arrest because she had murdered her son.

Although she tried to resist, Hudak placed her in handcuffs and brought her to the back of his patrol car.

“The husband was lucky. It could have been him, too,” Sergeant Pfeiffer detailed. “But what’s to stop her of bringing a knife out on us, too? She could’ve been waiting at the door for us with a knife, you know? So, there’s a whole bunch of scenarios. I’m glad we just went inside to check that house.”

Pfeiffer reflected on the first interaction he had with the woman. He had a gut instinct that something was not right because she was so adamant about getting out of the house. And that is why he wanted to make sure nothing else was amiss.

Although Pfeiffer and Hudak were honored to be in front of hundreds of their peers and officers across the state at the Valor Awards, this incident that quickly turned into something they never would have expected has stayed with them forever. For Hudak, the horrific scenario plays over and over again like a broken record.

“Now, going to different types of calls, the call that night is always running through my head because a simple medical call could turn into a homicide,” Hudak reflected. “So you always have to be on high alert, and from the flick of a switch something could turn into a homicide like that.”

The officers urged others to never get complacent when answering calls and to always be ready. Thanks to the two officers following their instincts that day, they may have helped save a life.

“Always go the extra mile,” Pfeiffer explained. “If you get that feeling that something might not be right, investigate it a little further. And that’s what we did. And thank God we did that.”

Unit Citation
Sergeant Christopher Boller, Officer Kyle McGuire, Officer Corey Fomarotto
Ewing Local 111
Alexander Maldonado, Delegate

On April 5, 2020, Sergeant Boller and Officers McGuire and Fomarotto were dispatched to an armed female attempting to commit “suicide by cop.” They made contact with a girl armed with a knife. They started to talk to her in an attempt to calm the situation, when she charged at the officers. Sergeant Boller struck her in the arm with his baton, causing her to drop the knife. They then wrestled her to the ground and took her into custody. She was transported to the hospital for treatment.

Unit Citation
Detective Christopher Hendy, Detective Jason Hartman, Detective Sheldon Bryant, Patrolman Daniel Lawrence, Patrolman Jared Martorana, Patrolman Gary D’Alessio
Cherry Hill Local 176

The Cherry Hill Police Special Investigations Unit, along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, conducted a year-long investigation into a suspected high-ranking member of a Jamaican drug trafficking organization. On March 10, 2020, the target was seen leaving an apartment building carrying a large suitcase. Cherry Hill detectives and patrol units coordinated a motor vehicle stop of the suspect. After obtaining a search warrant for the vehicle, they recovered more than $1 million in U.S. currency, resulting in a first-degree charge.

Unit Citation
Patrolman Brian Appleby, Patrolmen Kevin Oliver, Patrolman Ryan Gashlin, Patrolman Kyle Zangara, Patrolman Frank Moschella, Patrolman Brian O’Leary, Patrolman Richard Buhowski
Toms River Local 137

On July 5, 2020, Toms River officers were dispatched to an apartment on the report of a 16 year-old with autistm swinging a knife at people around the complex. While officers were checking the outside area, the youth came running out a door wielding a large knife. Officer Gashlin engaged in a dialogue in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. Other officers arrived at the scene, secured the area and protected the negotiating officer. A Taser was deployed, but the troubled youth didn’t relinquish his weapon. Officer Appleby then utilized a shield to approach the individual and disarm him. The child was secured and transported to the hospital for treatment.

Unit Citation
Lieutenant John Moyer, Sergeant Robert Schuenemenn, Detective Daniel Lyons, Detective Anthony Sorrentino, Detective Kevin Guldin, Detective Robert Daniello, Detective Jonathon McSorley, Detective Brady Hort, Detective Daniel Lawrence, Detective Christopher Hendy, Detective Jason Hartman, Detective Ryan Johnstone, Detective Robert Froehlich
Cherry Hill Local 176

In November 2020, a Cherry Hill apartment complex was experiencing a rash of armed robberies, assaults and an attempted kidnapping on elderly persons. After hundreds of hours investigating, reviewing video and surveillance, the detectives were able to identify a suspect from Philadelphia. Based on the evidence, search warrants were executed and, on Dec. 2, 2020, the suspect was arrested. His charges included attempted kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault and numerous weapons charges.

Unit Citation
Captain John Arturi, Lieutenant Luis Torres, Lieutenant Matthew Markowski, Sergeant Shawn Turner, Sergeant Joseph Agnes, Sergeant William Van Putttenvink, Sergeant Daniel Ruta, Corporal Alwin Dickson, Corporal Antonio Toribio, Corporal Bebars Taloustan, Corporal Luis Otero, Officer Sbkelqim Mahmuti, Officer Dominick Degroot, Officer Jonathan Richardson, Officer Donald Vinales, Officer Michael Destefano, Officer Raul Moreno, Officer Lidia Aguilar, Officer Anthony DeNova
Passaic County Corrections Officers Local 197

On April 4, 2020, inmates in the Max 1 section of the Passaic County Jail refused to lock inside their cells. They also tied sheets around gates and put up mattresses to restrict the officers’ sight and movement. Officers attempted to negotiate, but the inmates responded with insults, urine, feces and other objects. The inmates then started to light fires in the block. The Special Operations Response Team was deployed. They extinguished the fires, removed the inmates and restored order to the section with no officer injuries and minimal damage to the facility.


Lifesaving Award
Police Officer Bryan Richards, Police Officer Alberto Nunes
New Jersey Transit Police Local 304

On July 14, 2020, New Jersey Transit Police units were dispatched to Newark Penn Station on the report of a large amount of blood on the floor of the women’s restroom. Upon entering the restroom, Officer Richards found a lifeless newborn infant. He immediately started CPR on the tiny body. Knowing that time was of the essence, he had Officer Nunes transport him and the baby to the hospital. As Nunes navigated city traffic, Richards continued his lifesaving efforts. By the time they reached the hospital, the baby was breathing on her own.

Lifesaving Award
Detective Patrick Moran
Berkeley Heights Local 144

On July 23, 2021, Berkeley Heights police were dispatched for a 25-day-old infant with an airway obstruction. Detective Moran, who was off duty, heard the call on his police radio. Realizing he was just around the corner, he responded to the distress call. Upon arrival, he administered a series of back blows and dislodged the obstruction. The baby then started breathing on her own.

Lifesaving Award
Patrolman Steven Fernandez
Ridgefield Park Local 86

On March 14, 2021, Patrolman Fernandez was at a fire scene, evacuating a nearby restaurant, when he heard an explosion and observed a firefighter lying on the ground with a severe leg injury that was bleeding profusely. Fernandez pulled the firefighter away from the fire and any further explosions. He applied a tourniquet to the firefighter’s leg to stop him from bleeding out.

Lifesaving Award
State Correctional Police Officer Chad Ammerman
State Corrections Officers Local 105

On June 21, 2021, off-duty Correctional Police Officer Chad Ammerman was enjoying a day at Barnegat Bay when he was alerted to a man floating in the water, calling for help. Seeing that the man was in great distress, he emptied his cooler to use as a flotation device and swam nearly 300 yards toward the victim. Ammerman had the man hold on to the cooler and dragged both him and the cooler to a nearby boat.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Brody Wentzell
New Jersey Park Police Local 222

On June 27, 2021, four adults and two juveniles were tubing in the Delaware and Raritan Canal in an off-limits area with a strong current and dangerous lock. The tubers were trapped and in danger of being pulled under. Officer Wentzell responded to the scene and after assessing the situation, he went to find some rope. Not finding any, Wentzell tied three power cords together, which he used to pull the tubers from the water.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Alaina Giles, Officer Joseph Olarra Jr.
Highland Park Local 64

On Feb. 1, 2019, Highland Park officers were dispatched to a working structure fire in a large apartment complex. While knocking on doors to get residents out of the building, Officer Giles found an unconscious male in one of the apartments. Officer Olarra joined in the rescue and, though suffering from smoke inhalation, the two officers carried the victim out of the inferno, saving his life.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Andreg Enriquez, Officer Shane Chufaman, Officer Ramon Cruz
Bergenfield Local 309

On Feb. 1, 2019, Highland Park officers were dispatched to a working structure fire in a large apartment complex. While knocking on doors to get residents out of the building, Officer Giles found an unconscious male in one of the apartments. Officer Olarra joined in the rescue and, though suffering from smoke inhalation, the two officers carried the victim out of the inferno, saving his life.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Brian Todaro
New Jersey State Park Police Local 222

On Nov. 3, 2020, State Park Police officers were advised of a shoeless woman who looked like she was in a daze in Liberty State Park. As officers approached her, she ran off and jumped into the Morris Canal. Officer Todaro took off his duty belt and vest and jumped into the chilly water after her. Before she could drown, Todaro reached the woman and got her to shore, where other officers could pull her from the canal.

Lifesaving Award
Police Officer Herline Valcin
Asbury Park Local 6

On Oct. 19, 2020, Asbury Park officers were dispatched to the front of an apartment complex on the report of multiple gunshots. As Officer Valcin arrived in the area, he came upon a gunshot victim bleeding profusely from the neck. He seized a T­ shirt from a bystander, placed it on the gunshot wound and applied pressure until EMS arrived, saving the victim’s life.

Lifesaving Award
Patrolman Brendan Sim
Belleville Local 28

On Feb. 8, 2020, Patrolman Sim was dispatched to a suicidal male who had a knife to his throat. Upon arrival, Sim found a man lying on the floor with several lacerations to his neck. Before the man could bleed to death, Patrolman Sim used QuikClot gauze, along with direct pressure, to stabilize the victim until EMS arrived.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Eric Knuttel
Atlantic City Local 24

On the night of Oct. 14, 2020, Officer Knuttel was sent to the Claridge Parking Garage for a man threatening to jump. Upon his arrival, he made contact with the distressed person, talking to him as he approached. The man then started to fall over the edge, when Officer Knuttel grabbed him and pulled him to safety.

Lifesaving Award
Patrolman Kenneth Panas
Brigantine Local 204

On June 5, 2021, Brigantine police responded to a local hotel on the report of a missing juvenile. As they searched the grounds, Patrolman Panas noticed the pool was very cloudy and that the bottom could not be seen. He entered the murkiness and located a young girl under the water. He removed her from the pool and performed CPR until EMS took over treatment.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Mark Grzeda
Union County Police Local 73
Patrolman Eric Pastore
Mountainside Local 126

On Sept. 13, 2020, Union County Police Officer Grzeda and Mountainside Police Officer Pastore responded to the report of a car crash. Upon arrival, they found a car had crashed into a pole, with downed power lines in the area. The two officers made their way to the smoke-filled car, where they found a disoriented man in the front seat. Just then, the engine compartment burst into flames. The officers extracted the man through the back seat, avoiding the fire and power lines, before the car became totally engulfed in flames.

Lifesaving Award
Officer Christopher Long
Plainfield Local 19

On Aug. 25, 2020, Plainfield Police units were responding to a ShotSpotter alert when they were advised of a gunshot victim. Officer Long arrived at the scene and located the victim, who had blood pumping from his leg. Long retrieved his tourniquet and placed it on the wound, stopping the bleeding. The victim was then transported to the hospital.

Lifesaving Award
Patrolman Kevin Canova
West Milford Local 162

On Jan. 24, 2020, Patrolman Canova was dispatched to the Monksville Reservoir to assist with a man who had fallen through the ice. Upon arrival, Canova learned that the victim was unresponsive and that two Ringwood Police officers, who were trying to assist, were also in the icy water. Canova retrieved a cold water rescue suit from his radio car. He swam out approximately 30 yards, took hold of the victim and brought him to shore, where EMS revived the man. He then went back in to assist the two wet, cold officers to shore.

Lifesaving Award
Correctional Police Officer Calvin Marks
State Corrections Officers Local 105

On Jan. 3, 2020, Officer Calvin Marks was off duty, driving on Route 22 near the City of Union, when he observed heavy smoke coming from a vehicle in the roadway. He pulled over to render assistance and as he advanced toward the vehicle, it became engulfed in flames. Seeing there was a person inside, he broke the passenger window and pulled the confused victim to safety.

Lifesaving Award
State Correctional Police Officer Ugur Akilli
State Corrections Officers Local 105

On June 18, 2021, Officer Akilli saw flames engulfing his neighbor’s house. He ran to the front door, yelling and knocking to get their attention. With no response, he made the decision to breach the door and enter the burning structure. He found a 5-year-old girl and took her to safety. He ran back into the house, which was filling with smoke and fire, in time to lead three more children, along with their two grandparents, to safety.