Illinois awards 28 Illinois officers with the prestigious Law Enforcement Medal of Honor
SPRINGFIELD, IL - Twenty-eight Illinois law enforcement officers received the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor today during a ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Springfield. The annual awards ceremony honors law enforcement officers who have distinguished themselves by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty.
“These officers are on the frontline everyday, protecting their communities and setting an example for others,” said Governor Rod R. Blagojevich. “We must take every opportunity to make sure they understand how much they are appreciated for the job they do every day.”
“Law enforcement officers across our state are ever vigilant, performing their duties around the clock, responding to calls for assistance or distress,” said Illinois State Police Director Larry G. Trent. “It’s a job that can be very rewarding, highly stressful and often risky. Today’s recipients of the Medal of Honor have gone one step further by taking on the challenge, sometimes risking their lives to save others. It’s an honor to recognize the acts they’ve performed and courage they’ve exhibited.”
Medal of Honor Award recipients include:
- Officer James P. Butler II, Chicago Police Department
- Gangs Crime Specialist Frank G. Vukonich, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Johnny R. Christian, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Timothy P. Finley, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Nick A. Olsen, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Eric B. White, Chicago Police Department
- Officer John E. Wrigley, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Luis A. Loaiza, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Todd M. Olsen, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Arnoldo Rendon, Jr., Chicago Police Department
- Officer Alphonsus A. O’Connor, Chicago Police Department
- Officer Hugh J. McCormack, Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Department
- Sergeant Richard J. Plotke, Jr., Chicago Police Department
- Detective Brian E. Fennelly, Morton Grove Police Department
- Detective Robert B. Zielinski, Morton Grove Police Department
- Trooper Stephen R. Coady, Illinois State Police
- Trooper Ryan K. Fuoss, Illinois State Police
- Special Agent John J. Nagle, Illinois State Police
- Patrolman Adam J. Thibo, Midlothian Police Department
- Patrolman Russell V. Zohfeld, Midlothian Police Department
- Patrolman Joshua L. Geltz, Newton Police Department
- Patrolman Lyle L. Gentry, Newton Police Department
- Chief Dwight A. Baird, Oswego Police Department
- Officer William R. Blessing, Oswego Police Department
- Officer Rebecca L. Hayes, Oswego Police Department
- Patrolman James A. Autery, Pontoon Beach Police
- Department Detective Maurice Roberts, South Holland Police Department
- Officer George S. Nissen, Stone Park Police
Officer James P. Butler II
Games Crime Specialist Frank G. Vukonich
Chicago Police Department
While searching for an individual wanted on warrants for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and forfeiture of a $500,000 bond on January 14, Chicago Police Officer James Butler and Chicago Police Department (CPD) Gangs Crime Specialist Frank Vukonich located an acquaintance of the subject who provided them with the address of a private garage the subject was known to visit. The acquaintance also advised the officers that the subject had previously stated he’d never be taken alive. After establishing surveillance at the garage, the officers observed the offender and another individual pull into the structure, which was then blocked in by Officer Butler’s vehicle. The offender, after initially obeying the officers’ orders to exit the vehicle, unexpectedly lunged at Vukonich, grabbing his weapon and struggling for control of the gun. Officer Butler, coming to assist Officer Vukonich, put one handcuff on the subject before being overpowered by the offender. The subject then gained control of Vukonich’s weapon, forcing the revolver into the officer’s stomach while repeatedly attempting to pull the trigger. Officer Vukonich was able to place a finger in the trigger area to block it from being depressed. As he was responding to Vukonich’s cry of “He’s got my gun,” Officer Butler was able to fire at the subject, striking him in the jaw. After disengaging from Vukonich and fleeing on foot, the subject was apprehended by Officer Butler and was subsequently charged with Attempted Murder of the Police and Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution.
Officer Johnny R. Christian
Chicago Police Department
On June 14, while undercover, Chicago Police Officer Johnny Christian was making a drug buy from a 17-year-old offender when the teen pointed a handgun gun at the officer and demanded more money. The offender then began searching the officer’s pockets for money. Fearing the subject would discover his duty weapon in one of the pockets, Officer Christian retrieved the gun and announced his office. The offender again pointed his gun at Christian, who shot the subject, placing him in the hospital in serious condition.
Officer Timothy P. Finley
Officer Nick A. Olsen
Officer Eric B. White
Officer John E. Wrigley
Chicago Police Department
Chicago Police Officers Timothy Finley and John Wrigley, while on patrol February 21, heard a gun shot. After investigating the area, they observed a mini-van with its lights off and traveling in the wrong direction on a one-way street. After activating their emergency equipment, they were able to stop the van. Hearing the call of shots fired, CPD Officers Nick Olsen and Eric White arrived on the scene and observed the driver exit his vehicle and become loud and belligerent toward the other two officers. Olsen and White then approached the subject to offer assistance. The driver started struggling with the two officers and produced a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and began firing. An exchange of gunfire took place with Officers Wrigley, Olsen, and White being shot and wounded. The driver was also wounded and subsequently arrested and charged with four counts of Attempted Murder of a Police Officer.
Officer Luis A. Loaiza
Officer Todd M. Olsen
Officer Arnoldo Rendon, Jr.
Chicago Police Department
On April 6, while on a specialized patrol due to an insurgence of drug-related shootings by gang members, CPD Officers Luis Loaiza, Todd Olsen, and Arnoldo Rendon, arrived at the scene of a gun battle between two males. As one of the offenders noticed the officers’ presence, he fled the scene. As the other offender was running from the officers, he began firing his semi-automatic handgun at them, with Officer Olsen returning fire and Officer Loaiza continuing the pursuit. The subject then turned and fired again at the officers. The officers caught up with the offender in an alley, where he again aimed his weapon at them. Again, Officer Olsen fired at the subject, who was able to jump a fence and drop his weapon. Olsen secured the weapon and continued the pursuit with Officer Loaiza, with Officer Rendon joining the pursuit. The subject was eventually taken into custody.
Officer Alphonsus A. O’Connor
Chicago Police Department
Officer Hugh J. McCormack
Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Department
On March 27, Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Officer Hugh McCormack was touring railroad property when he observed a male subject being chased by another male armed with a handgun. As the pursued subject slipped and fell to the ground, the armed offender executed him at point-blank range. As Officer McCormack was chasing the subject, the gunman turned and fired at the officer numerous times, striking him in the lower abdomen and left arm. While on his way to work, Chicago Police Officer Alphonsus O’Connor, witnessed the shooting and immediately took position in his vehicle to avert the gunman’s actions away from McCormack. The offender then turned his weapon on Officer O’Connor and a gun battle ensued, with the offender being fatally wounded.
Sergeant Richard J. Plotke, Jr.
Chicago Police Department
Detective Brian E. Fennelly
Detective Robert B. Zielinski
Morton Grove Police Department
Detectives Brian Fennelly and Robert Zielinski of the Morton Grove Police Department were investigating a home invasion in which the victim had been battered and pistol-whipped before the offender fled the scene. After identifying the offender, the detectives were able to locate an address for him. As they attempted to serve a search warrant, Detectives Fennelly and Zielinski, along with Sergeant Plotke, were immediately confronted by the armed offender at the front door. As the gunman aimed at the officers, Sergeant Plotke instantaneously stepped toward the gunman and deflected his pistol. However, the offender was able to fire upon the officers who returned fire, fatally wounding him. As a second armed subject attempted to exit the rear of the residence, he was confronted by officers who ordered him to drop his weapon. He immediately returned to the front door where he was met by Fennelly, Zielinski, and Plotke. He then began shooting at the officers, striking Detective Fennelly at point blank range in the chest that was protected by body armor. As the offender continued to fire on the officers, Detective Fennelly was able to return fire, striking the offender with multiple rounds. After being transported to a local hospital, he later succumbed to his injuries.
Trooper Stephen R. Coady Trooper Ryan K. Fuoss
Illinois State Police
Illinois State Police Troopers Stephen R. Coady and Ryan K. Fuoss were on patrol January 28, when they observed a vehicle traveling north in the southbound lanes of a divided highway. After stopping the vehicle and approaching the suspected DUI driver, he drove away from the scene and continued north in the southbound lanes where he struck a box van/delivery truck head-on, trapping him inside his vehicle. As the Troopers tried to extricate the driver from the wrecked vehicle, it erupted into flames. After trying to douse the flames with fire extinguishers, which failed, the officers made another effort to extricate the victim despite the intense heat, smoke, and flames. The Troopers were finally able to free the driver and remove him to a safe location.
Special Agent John J. Nagel
Illinois State Police
While off duty on May 5 recovering from outpatient surgery, Illinois State Police Special Agent John J. Nagel heard the sound of a car crash and was the first to arrive at the scene. Upon his arrival he noticed several critically injured subjects in a burning vehicle. After calling for emergency assistance, he noticed two of the occupants had suffered tremendous injuries and were not conscious, while the third occupant was alive but trapped inside. With the assistance from local citizens, the two men were extricated, while the third person had to be extricated using the “jaws of life.”
Patrolman Adam J. Thibo
Patrolman Russell V. Zohfeld
Midlothian Police Department
While on patrol, Midlothian Police Officers Adam Thibo and Russell Zohfeld were flagged down by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee alerting them of an employee being beaten by a man with a gun at the donut shop. The offender had attempted to rob the donut shop by climbing through the drive-up window, taking money from the cash register, and demanding employees open the safe. After arriving at the scene, Officer Thibo fired two shots at the offender who, as he was fleeing the scene, turned and pointed his gun at the Officers. Officer Thibo and Zohfeld returned fire, mortally wounding the offender.
Patrolman Joshua L. Geltz
Patrolman Lyle L. Gentry
Newton Police Department
Responding to the report of a house fire on October 16, Newton Police Officer Lyle Gentry arrived at the scene and saw flames and heavy smoke coming from the structure. A man exited the house yelling that there were children still inside. Officer Gentry ran to a bedroom window where the children had been sleeping and pushed the window open. Through heavy smoke, he shined his flashlight in the opening and couldn’t see anything but smoke. As Newton Police Officer Joshua Geltz and a Jasper County Sheriff’s Department Deputy arrived at the scene, they helped Gentry up into the window while holding onto his legs. Holding his breath and searching the area with his hands, he felt a small human body and grabbed it as the officers pulled him and a moaning six-year-old boy to safety. Wade Fire Department Firefighters arrived shortly afterwards and located another child in the northeast bedroom who, unfortunately, did not survive the fire.
Chief Dwight A. Baird
Officer William R. Blessing
Officer Rebecca L. Hayes
Oswego Police Department
On May 23, while sitting in his squad car completing paperwork, Oswego Police Officer William Blessing observed an individual walking toward him with a machete knife in one hand and an eight inch straight knife in the other. The subject, without saying a word, slammed the machete knife through the driver’s side front window, narrowly missing the officer. Blessing exited his squad, and with his service weapon drawn, yelled for the suspect to stop, but he continued toward the officer, ignoring repeated commands to stop or be shot. Officer Blessing then retreated to his squad and observed the suspect walk to a nearby motel and sit down in a lawn chair outside of his room. Oswego Police Chief Dwight Baird arrived at the scene and approached the subject to initiate a conversation. Without saying a word, the subject stood up, banged the two knives together, and moved toward Chief Baird, who continued talking to the suspect while walking backwards. Oswego Police Officer Rebecca Hayes had also responded the scene and began yelling at the suspect to stop. As the suspect turned his attention on Officer Hayes, she fired at the subject, striking him in the chest. He continued advancing toward the officers. While backing away from the perpetrator, Officer Hayes, due to the incline of a ditch, fell to the ground in front of the suspect. As she was falling, Hayes shot the suspect in the shoulder while Chief Baird struck him in the chest. The suspect fell to the ground and was transported to the hospital where he later died of his injuries.
Patrolman James A. Autery
Pontoon Beach Police Department
On January 1, Pontoon Beach Police Officer James Autery was flagged down by a pedestrian who said a car had crashed into a nearby lake. Without hesitation, Autery jumped into the icy-cold water and swam to the submerged car. He was able to free the passenger by cutting through the seat belt. After regaining consciousness, the passenger told the officer that the driver of the vehicle was still trapped in the car. Officer Autery returned to lake and searched the murky water with his hands until he was able to locate the driver and pull him to safety.
Detective Maurice Roberts
South Holland Police Department
Responding to a disturbance in a motel parking lot, South Holland Police Detective Maurice Roberts was alerted by a female bystander that there was a man with a gun. Detective Roberts had come upon an armed robbery where the offender and victim were struggling over a gun. After ordering the perpetrator to drop his gun, he turned toward Roberts, pointing a gun at the officer. Roberts then fired at the offender, striking him in the abdomen. The subject was treated for his wounds and charged with Armed Robbery.
Officer George S. Nissen
Stone Park Police
Part-time Stone Park Police Officer George Nissen and other Stone Park Police Officers responded to a call of a large disturbance outside a town bar on February 13. While attempting to disperse a large crowd and restore order, one of the subjects threw Officer Nissen over a car where he struck his head on a curb. At the time, none of the officers believed anything was wrong since Nissen was able to get up quickly and say he was okay. The next day Nissen was rushed to the hospital where he has had two major brain surgeries and remains hospitalized. His future is uncertain.
The Law Enforcement Medal of Honor committee, created by statue, reviews nominations submitted annually for events occurring during the preceding year. The Director of the Illinois State Police chairs the committee. Other committee members consist of the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, the Executive Director of the Illinois Local Governmental Law Enforcement’s Training Board, and the following individuals appointed by the Governor: a sheriff, a chief of police other than Chicago, a representative of a statewide law enforcement officers organization and a retired Illinois law enforcement officer.