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Extraordinary Service of Local Law Enforcement Recognized at H. Thomas Guerry Awards

This year’s awards recognized 20 of the county’s law enforcement personnel for their courageous service and unyielding actions

Recipients of this year’s H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor from the Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime pose for a group photo at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Click to view larger
Recipients of this year’s H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor from the Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime pose for a group photo at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Last November, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies Ray Gamboa, Brice Bruening and Jesus Gutierrez responded to a report of a vehicle over the side of southbound Highway 101 near Buellton.

When the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene in the Three Bridges area, they found the vehicle down a steep embankment.

The men scaled down the hillside to find an unresponsive driver trapped inside her car. 

Flames and thick smoke began pouring from the vehicle’s engine compartment, diminishing the visibility within the passenger compartment.

The deputies worked alongside California Highway Patrol officers and Santa Barbara County fire personnel in an attempt to remove the driver from her vehicle after recognizing the immediate life-threatening danger she faced.

Bruening was able to gain access from the rear hatchback of the car, and the officers rotated turns attempting to extricate the driver physically.

“It was a big group effort,” Bruening said. “It’s great to see people from different disciplines come together.” 

The on-scene Santa Barbara County Fire Battalion Chief noted that if it were not for the quick-thinking actions of the deputies and CHP officers, the driver  likely would have succumbed to her injuries or the fire. 

Gamboa, Bruening and Gutierrez were recognized Wednesday afternoon with the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor from the Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime. 

This year’s awards recognized 20 of the county’s law enforcement personnel who received decorations for their courageous service and unyielding actions taken during life-threatening circumstances. 

Winners represented the California Highway Patrol, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, the police departments of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Lompoc, and the Santa Barbara County Probation Department.

Those recognized before a standing-room-only crowd at the County Administration Building were acknowledged for their service during a variety of duties.

“We are here to honor some superior excellence within law enforcement,” Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime president Bob Hart said. “It helps show the community the wonderful actions happening on a daily basis from the men and women with law enforcement from Santa Barbara County.”

Last June, Santa Barbara Police Department Sgt. Todd Johnson displayed bravery by stopping a potentially violent and deadly assault while off duty.

Johnson had finished his more than 12-hour shift and was riding his bicycle on East Anapamu Street when he heard a man yelling racist remarks and attempting to slash a victim with a large double-bladed knife. 

Maintaining the victim’s safety and the general public’s protection became an immediate concern to Johnson. 

Johnson, who did not have his standard patrol equipment, was armed with his off-duty handgun. He stopped his bicycle and moved into a spot to protect the victim. He drew his firearm, pointed it at the suspect and identified himself as law enforcement. 

The suspect challenged Johnson, but dropped the knife after multiple commands to surrender.

“If there’s any nervousness or adrenaline — it comes after the situation,” Johnson said. “There’s similar versions of this that happen all the time. It’s nice that this is a chance for the public to see the work law enforcement provide.”

Johnson’s nomination form noted that his decision to confront the armed suspect helped save the life of the victim, and ensured community members in the area were protected, as well as instilling the confidence that law enforcement officers are there to protect and serve both on and off-duty. 

The H. Thomas Guerry Award are given in honor of Santa Barbara police officer Thomas Guerry, who was killed in the line of duty in 1970. 

More than 500 officers from a handful departments have been acknowledged for superior performance, said Jane Grand, Guerry’s widow. Some have received the award twice in their career.

The ceremony followed a press conference with a handful of the Valor award recipients gathered at the county courthouse.

The H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor winners were: 

» Sgt. Todd Johnson of the Santa Barbara Police Department

» Officer Kyle Rapp of the Santa Barbara Police 

» Sgt. James Zbinden of the Sheriff's Department

» Senior Deputy Michael Harris of the Sheriff's Department

» Deputy Justin Dipinto of the Sheriff's Department

» Deputy Michael Hollon of the Sheriff's Department

» Deputy Ray Gamboa of the Sheriff's Department

» Deputy Brice Bruening of the Sheriff's Department

» Deputy Jesus Gutierrez of the Sheriff's Department

» Officer Steve Bennett of the California Highway Patrol

» Officer Toby Hall of the California Highway Patrol

» Officer Clifford Powers of the California Highway Patrol

The superior performance recipients were:

» Supervising Investigator Greg Wilkins of the District Attorney’s Office

» Chief Deputy Sam Gross of the Sheriff's Department

» Officer Adrian Gutierrez of the Santa Barbara Police Department

» Detective Scott Casey of the Santa Maria Police Department

» Detective Michael Huffman of the Santa Maria Police Department

» Detective David Lamar of the Lompoc Police Department

» Sgt. James G. Richards, Jr. of the California Highway Patrol

» Senior Deputy Probation Officer Harry Wright of the Santa Barbara County Probation Department

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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