ELYRIA — The 2019 Elyria Police Department Awards Ceremony saw dozens of Elyria’s finest honored for their law enforcement, life-saving and community service efforts in the past several years.
Multiple different medals and commendations — including the Medal of Merit, Police Commendation Medal and Life Saving Medal — were handed out to officers and dispatchers who distinguished themselves in the past year, or who saw major investigations or incidents resolved by their hard work.
Following the presentation of awards during an hourlong ceremony at City Hall, Police Chief Duane Whitely said he was honored to serve with all the employees of the Elyria Police Department, whether dispatchers, officers or support staff.
“What you got tonight is a sample of what they do every day,” he told the gathering of officers, their families and supporters.
A total of 16 officers received Medals of Merit, including two Narcotics Unit detectives honored for their “tireless dedication and essential role” in leading the unit in a two-year investigation and prosecution of the violent MOET, or “Money Over Every Thing,” gang.
The gang was responsible for multiple drug overdoses, a double homicide, robberies and felonious assaults, according to Elyria police. In October, the investigation resulted in 17 search warrants that led to the seizure of 1,300 grams of cocaine and heroin, five guns, $40,000 in illegal drug profits and the conviction of 42 criminal suspects to state or federal prison.
The MOET gang’s two leaders each received nine years in prison, and a third member is facing murder charges for the double homicide, Capt. Chris Costantino said.
“This was a very, very dangerous group of individuals” that were taken down “because of the courage of these officers,” he said.
Eleven Medals of Merit went to members of the Elyria Police Special Response Team for aiding in the March 2, 2018, capture of Perth Earl, a man wanted for murder in Georgia who had made his way to Elyria. As 14 officers set up a perimeter around Earl’s hiding place — a car parked on Park Meadow Drive — SRT members set their plan in motion.
In a vehicle assault takedown — “which by the way is pretty cool,” Whitely said — SRT threw flashbang distraction devices, punctured the vehicle’s tires and broke its windows while other officers covered them with long guns. Earl was “startled and confused” and gave up without a fight, Whitely said.
The 14 officers who found Earl based on the location of his cell phone and who made sure he did not escape before SRT arrived were among the 22 officers and one emergency dispatcher who received Police Commendation Medals.
Six detectives received their Police Commendation Medals for the MOET gang investigation, with Detective Lt. James Welsh and Detective James Homoki honored both for that case and for their roles in Earl’s arrest.
Officer Nicholas Chalkley received a Police Commendation Medal for capturing a murder suspect wanted by Lorain police and recovering a .40-caliber handgun the man tried to throw away following a June 13 traffic stop and foot chase. The man was in possession of “a large sum of money and drugs” and also was wanted for questioning in a shooting on Middle Avenue the previous night, Sgt. Jeffrey Currier said.
A Police Commendation Medal also was presented to Officer Zachary Kasperovich, who aided a gunshot victim dropped off at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center on Jan. 23 but whose actions also resulted in detectives filing charges against those connected with his fatal shooting.
Kasperovich detained a man in the vehicle that dropped off the shooting victim, and information he gathered led detectives to investigate and later criminally charge numerous people involved in the shooting of the victim during a drug deal gone wrong, according to Elyria police.
Kasperovich also was awarded a Medal of Merit, Lt. Deena Baker and Officer Ryan Conway received Police Commendation Medals and Officer James Wise got a Letter of Recognition for developing and running the department’s Quick Response Team, a program the department rolled out in 2018 to assist victims of drug overdoses.
Certificates of Appreciation also went to Firelands Counseling and Recovery Service clinicians Darci Tellep and Brandice Hunt, the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County and Firelands for helping Elyria officers make contact with drug overdose survivors, enabling them to provide information on recovery and social services.
Dispatcher Stacy Witt received a Police Commendation Medal for her actions Nov. 12 when she made contact with a suicidal man who had threatened to shoot himself. Witt determined the man was in a car outside a Cleveland hospital, spoke with him for 20 to 25 minutes and kept him on the phone until help arrived, according to her commendation.
Witt’s actions, which Sgt. Bill Lantz said he personally witnessed, went “far beyond what typically is trained in handling such events” and reflected positively on her and on the Elyria Police Department,” he said.
A Medal of Merit went to Detective Dan Sumpter for his work on computer and cell phone forensics and online child pornography investigations. Sumpter’s work is so comprehensive, and so widely recognized and valued by officers across the state that employees of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation crime lab have said “If Detective Sumpter can’t do it, then the neither can we,” Elyria Police Capt. William Pelko said.
Life Saving Medals handed out Thursday went to 15 current officers and one retired officer. One went to Officer Jordan Stephenson who, on Aug. 10 successfully located and gave first aid to a suicidal man he found under the Third Street bridge.
The man, who was hepatitis C positive, had cut his arm, but Stephenson managed to control the bleeding with a tourniquet until paramedics arrived. For that call, Stephenson also received a Medal of Merit.
The other 15 officers awarded the Life Saving Medal each saved at least one life at various times over the past four years by administering naloxone to people who overdosed on opioids. In 2016 alone, Officer Dustin Thacker saved three lives with naloxone, a drug that halts opioid overdoses and is now standard equipment for many Ohio police officers.
Numerous other officers and dispatchers who completed specialized training as field training officers, communications training officers, Special Response Team members, evidence technicians and did community service as auxiliary police officers also received awards and were named by Whitely at the beginning of the event.
Officer Patrick Jama also was mentioned by the chief for being named the Lorain County Crisis Intervention Team Officer of the Year for 2019 by the Lorain County Board of Mental Health and National Alliance on Mental Illness of Lorain County. Jama received that honor in April during an event at Lorain County Community College.