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Highest honor given to Portland officer shot on duty

Photo Credit: KOIN 6 NEWS - Portland Police Officer John Romero accepting his awards Thursday.A school resource officer shot in the line of duty while contacting a kidnapping suspect was presented the police bureau’s highest award Thursday.

Officer John Romero, who is assigned to the bureau’s Youth Services Division, was honored with the Medal of Valor, Police Star and Life Saving Medal. He was on patrol around 4 p.m. March 12 near the Hillsdale Library, looking for a suspicious man driving a van. The man, later identified as Kelly Vern Swoboda, shot Romero in the hand and forearm with a .45 caliber gun.

Romero was able to return fire and shot and killed Swoboda. Despite his injuries, he was able to maintain focus and radio for help while keeping Swoboda contained until backup arrived.

The Police Star is awarded to members who sustain a serious physical injury or die while taking proper police action while protecting the life or property of another.

The Medal of Valor is the most distinguished award presented to a bureau member for an act of outstanding valor. Romero, police said, demonstrated in great degree the qualities of selflessness, personal courage and devotion to duty.

The Medal of Valor award was also presented to Retired Sgt. Lonn Sweeney and Officer Randy Vanderhoof.

Teresa Sweeney and Lenka Frank, Sweeney’s girlfriend, were presented the Civilian Medal for Heroism.

The four were fishing near the Columbia River’s entrance near Astoria June 20, 2014.

A boat carrying six occupants had capsized, and the passengers were struggling in rough water.

Vanderhoof took charge, notifying other boats and the Coast Guard. Teresa Sweeney threw flotation devices to survivors and kept debris from the propeller, police said.

Sgt. Sweeney maneuvered the boat through the pounding swells to the people in the water as Vanderhoof and Frank pulled them in one-by-one.

Five people were rescued. Despite the efforts, one man could not be saved.

Helping a family in need

Officer Carlos Ibarra was honored with the bureau’s Commendation Medal for his actions on July 13, 2014.

The East Precinct officer was dispatched to help a homeless family from Arizona. The family had lived in Portland before, but had returned looking for a place to live. Unsuccessful, the family returned to their old home. When they got there, their old neighbors had left. They turned to 911 dispatchers, who sent Ibarra.

The officer tried to call local shelters but, having occurred during the weekend, was unsuccessful. Finally, the officer found a motel that would let the family stay for $70. The family’s bill was paid for Ibarra personally.

Ibarra went to the bureau’s Sunshine Division to get the family food. The hungry children didn’t even wait to hit the soup before it could be heated.

Nationwide diamond heist

Assistant United States Attorneys Scott Kerin, Michelle Kerin, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Special Agents Karen Cunningham and Ronnie Walker and data analyst Jessie Parnell were awarded the police bureau’s Achievement Medal for their work in a nationwide diamond heist.

When Victor James Kupis walked into Margulis Jewelers in downtown Portland on December 15, 2010, police said he asked to see a 3-carat diamond ring that had a retail value of $52,500 and another ring worth $95,000. Kupis looked at both rings and then suddenly rang out the door.

As the investigation grew, the Detectives presented the case to Assistant United States Attorney Scott Kerin, and Special Agents Ronnie Walker and Karen Cunningham.

Detectives then learned of money laundering by two businesses in Florida as well an attempted murder plot, involving one of the suspects.

The FBI added an analyst, Jesse Parnell, to organize the evidence.

‘Detective dedicated’ to solving city’s most violent crimes

Gang Enforcement Detective Todd Gradwahl was honored with the Officer Mark Zylawy Distinguished Service Medal. Since 2007, Gradwahl has dedicated his career to investigating some of the most violent gang crimes. Gradwahl has developed an exemplary reputation among community members who are fearful of talking with police because of gang retaliation.

“Detective Gradwahl’s exemplary reputation throughout the community that he is able to gain the trust of so many, including those who live in fear,” Simpson said.

Everyday citizens, extraordinary feats

Ronald Dees, Lionel Sandoval and Al Simpson were awarded the bureau’s Civilian Medal of Heroism for their actions on Wednesday May 7, 2014.

The men came upon a man on the Hawthorne Bridge who wanted to end his life. Together, police said, they were able to pull the man from the railing and back onto the sidewalk.

“They placed their lives at risk in order to save another person, who they didn’t even know,” Simpson said.

Life Saving Medals

Officers Thomas Clark and Andrew Hearst responded to a December 15th, 2013 car versus pedestrian crash. When they got on scene they found the pedestrian’s leg was nearly amputated. They used a bureau-issued tourniquet to slow the bleeding. Because of their actions, police said, the victim survived and the leg was saved.

Officer Erin Anderson was off-duty and riding a TriMet bus on his way to work when the bus had stopped.A person had gotten out of their car on the Hawthorne Bridge mid-span and started to climb the bridge railing, police said.

Officer Anderson started talking with the man who asked if he was a psychologist. Anderson explained he was a police officer. The man was eventually taken to a hospital to get treatment.

Officer Kevin Allen responded to Southwest 13th and Southwest Taylor Street May 6, 2014 on a welfare check.

Allen, a CPR and first-aid instructor, found a man unconscious.

The man was transported to a local hospital where he was treated.

Officers Charles Asheim and Andrew Polas, who are assigned to the Gang Enforcement Team, responded to a shooting in the 6100-block of Northeast Ainsworth on July 12, 2014.

The victim had shallow breathing and was drifting in and out of consciousness, police said.

The officers worked together to apply the tourniquet to the victim’s leg and were able to stop the flow of blood from the wound.

Hospital staff later said the victim’s femoral artery had been completely severed, but that he would survive.

Officers Gail Alexander, John Hurlman and Romero responded to a 911 call for help of a 16-year-old boy who had handed himself. When the officers got on scene, they immediately removed the boy from the rope and started performing CPR. The boy was rushed to the hospital but was taken off life support two days later.

“These officers did everything they could on that fateful day to help a young man who obviously was determined to end his life,” Simpson said.

Police Chief Mike Reese said he is proud of all of those who were honored Thursday: “As first responders, we know how life can change in an moment’s notice. Though some of these stories are tragic, we must honor (the award recipients’) efforts.”