H. Thomas Guerry Award ceremony.
Lompoc Police Chief Kevin Martin, at podium, speaks about the work of Detective Elizabeth Renner, Sgt. Jorge Magana and Officer Sergio Peralta as he honors them with the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor on Thursday. Credit: Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo

Law enforcement officers never know what will happen on a call, but when Lompoc Police Department Sgt. Jorge Magana, Detective Elizabeth Renner and Officer Sergio Peralta arrived to the scene of a father-son disturbance last June, they certainly weren’t expecting the suspect to set his father on fire.

However, that’s what happened on June 11, 2022, and three officers involved in that response and criminal investigation were honored with this year’s H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor.

The Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime hosted the 53rd annual H. Thomas Guerry Awards — named in honor of Santa Barbara Police Department Detective Tom Guerry, who was shot and killed in the line of duty by two robbery suspects in 1970 — Wednesday afternoon to recognize valor and superior performance in Santa Barbara County’s law enforcement.

“Evil is real, it exists, and anyone that wears a badge, works as a district attorney investigator or as a DA will cross paths with true evil at some point in their career,” Lompoc Police Chief Kevin Martin said. “And that’s what happened with these officers in June of last year.”

H. Thomas Guerry Award ceremony.
Sheriff Bill Brown speaks about Deputy Leslie Avila’s work during the past 36 years at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office as she receives the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Superior Performance on Thursday. Credit: Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo

According to the Lompoc Police Department, when the officers arrived at the scene of the disturbance and tried to gain entry to check on the father — who they suspected was in distress and in danger — the suspect slammed the door and security screen on them. 

After hearing the victim screaming for help, Magana forced the door open to gain entry and the officers found the suspect had set his father on fire. Renner and Magana put the fire out and tended to the victim, while Peralta held the suspect at gunpoint until he could safely handcuff him and take him into custody.

Although the victim was able to receive medical care, he later died because of the level of his injuries.

“Not one officer that ever puts the badge on ever expects to encounter this type of evil, but knows it exists,” Martin said. “The officers’ great bravery, decisiveness and actions are more than worthy of commendation, and these actions are a true meaning of the oath every law enforcement officer takes. As their chief of police, I am so very proud of every one of these officers. They did something extraordinary that day that many people may not have had the ability to do.”

Other honorees came from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office; the California Highway Patrol, Buellton and Santa Barbara; the Santa Barbara Police Department; and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

H. Thomas Guerry Award ceremony.
Santa Barbara Police Chief Kelly Gordon speaks about Officer Matthew Tonello, a recipient of the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Superior Performance on Thursday. Credit: Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo

Those honored with the Superior Performance Award include sheriff’s Deputies George Hendricks ­— community resource director at Dos Pueblos High School and Goleta Valley Junior High — and Leslie Avila, who recently retired after more than 36 years with the Sheriff’s Office — nearly 15 years of which working in the DARE program; and Santa Barbara Police Department Officer Matthew Tonello, who spent two hours last May negotiating and talking with a suicidal man threatening to jump off the Olive Mill Road overpass, and later drove him to Cottage Hospital to receive help.

Other recipients of the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Superior Performance were Santa Barbara Police Department Sgts. Ryan DeJohn and Christopher Payne, Officers John “Jay” Duffy, Justin Hesketh, Kelsea King, Marc Renaud, Dennys Reyes and Thomas Van Eyck — all part of the department’s Community Action Team — CHP, Buellton Officer Kevin Taulbee; CHP, Santa Barbara Officer Ronald Hensic; and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office Senior Deputy District Attorneys Ann Bramsen and Lynmarc Jenkins, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Duncan, DA Investigator-Commander Ed Olsen, and DA Investigator Michael Huffman — the team that prosecuted 12 MS-13 gang members.

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Serena Guentz, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at sguentz@noozhawk.com.