Local public servants received top honors for bravery and much-deserved praise at the 2020 Valor Awards on Tuesday, July 28, held at the Infinite Energy Forum. The event, hosted by Gwinnett Chamber and presented by Mobile Communications America and Motorola Solutions, honored the men and women who have performed heroic and extraordinary acts to protect and serve the citizens of Gwinnett.
Top honors included:
- Master Police Officer Ashley Wilson, with the Gwinnett County Police Department, was awarded the highest honor, the Gold Medal of Valor. While Officer Wilson was working an off-duty job in November 2019, an aggravated domestic disturbance call was dispatched, and Officer Wilson took it upon herself to respond to the call. Dispatch advised that a man with a gun was going to shoot his wife. The caller also stated that the man would shoot the police when they arrived.Upon arrival, Officer Wilson was the first unit on the scene. As she approached the house, she was surprised to find a man (later identified as the suspect with a gun) lying on the front porch fully engulfed in flames. Without hesitation, she dragged him off the porch, found a rug nearby and extinguished the fire. The house was also on fire. With only limited information at the scene, Officer Wilson and two other officers entered the burning home to search for more victims before they were forced out by heavy smoke. Fortunately, there were no other victims inside the house as the man’s wife had escaped without injury before the fire began. Although the man later succumbed to his injuries, Officer Wilson is commended for her quick thinking and bravery in attempting to save his life.
- Driver Engineer Stanley Bowers, with the Gwinnett County Department of Fire & Emergency Services, received the Silver Medal of Valor for his response to a call with report of 11 swimmers trapped near the dam on the Alcovy River at Freeman’s Mill Park after a sudden rainstorm caused a flash flood. Driver Engineer Stan Bowers and the other crew members, who arrived on scene first, had to act quickly since the Swift Water Rescue Team had yet to arrive.One teenage boy was in imminent danger of drowning as his head was just above the water, and he was quickly being pushed towards the top of the falls to an approximate 10-foot drop into raging waters. Without hesitation, or concern for his own safety, and knowing time was the most important factor, Bowers donned his personal flotation device and entered the rapid water to gain access to the boy. Bowers and another crew member were able to move above the dam, tethered to a rope, allowing him to grab and rescue the teenage boy and bring him to safety.
The following public safety professionals were honored in the program’s subsequent award categories:
- Sergeant Scott Kannigiser, with the Gwinnett County Police Department, was awarded the Medal of Merit for his work teaching gang awareness classes all over the state of Georgia to civilians and police officers. In 2019, Sergeant Kannigiser taught approximately 70 gang awareness classes to more than 2,400 students—all on his personal time.
- Deputy Sheriff Steven Cooley, with the Gwinnett County Sherriff’s Office, was awarded the Medal of Merit. Deputy Cooley is the CEO and founder of STRAP, which is short for “Seeking the Right Amendable Path,” which is a youth interventional/educational mentoring program that came about as Deputy Cooley saw the need while he was working as a Sheriff’s Deputy in the Gwinnett County Juvenile Court.
- Master Police Officer Joshua Keeling, Police Officer Senior Reza Lindsey, Police Officer Senior Christian D’Allaird and Police Officer Senior Frank Gomez, all with the Gwinnett County Police Department, received the Lifesaving award for remaining calm during a chaotic incident and, without hesitation, entering into unknown danger, to assist the victims.
- Lawrenceville Police Department’s Detective Dena Pauly received the Public Safety Person of the Year for exemplifying what community service in law enforcement is all about by leading by example both on and off duty.
- The Gwinnett County Police Department’s Gwinnett County Gang Task Force was awarded the Unit of the Year for conducting numerous operations that involved violent gang members who committed felony crimes, ranging from armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, trafficking narcotics, human trafficking, and various other felonies. One of the primary goals of the Task Force is to assist all the units of the Gwinnett County Police Department or any surrounding agencies to the best of their ability. The Gang Task Force not only enforces laws and makes arrests, but they are also dedicated to the education of the public and officers alike.
- This year’s Leadership honoree was Gwinnett County School Police Chief Wayne Rikard, who began his law enforcement career in 1984 with the Gwinnett County Police Department and then was hired by the Gwinnett County School Police in 1994. Being responsible for the safety of more than 180,000 students and faculty at more than 140 schools and facilities is no small feat. Chief Rikard has fostered collaborative relationships with the Gwinnett County Police Department, Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, and local jurisdictions to ensure mutual support in any situation that may arise at a school or in the community.