The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor recipients this year, of which there are18 from across our nation, have among them five cops from the St. Petersburg Police Department in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. The awards ceremony on Wednesday, 20 February 2013, at the Eisenhower Executive Building of the White House was broadcast via C-SPAN and the White House channel, www.whitehouse.gov.
Four officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department, and the widow of one other officer, were present stemming from the same horrific incident which occurred on 24 January 2011.
U.S. Marshal Scott Ley received the U.S. Marshal Service Valor award from the U.S. Marshal's Service in Washington, DC in May 2012.
Seeking to arrest on a warrant a fugitive holed-up in a St. Petersburg neighborhood, officers from the St. Petersburg police force, accompanied by U.S. Marshals, made contact at an address in the city. Via police intelligence, this particular home was believed to be that of the perpetrator. A standoff ensued in which a gun battle broke out. With bullets flying and whizzing in a firestorm akin to the robustly violent front lines of military battles, Sergeant Thomas Baitinger, attempting to facilitate rescue efforts regarding a fellow officer who was shot and felled by bullet wound(s), also took gunfire, and was ultimately struck and killed on scene.
In the aftermath, the fellow officer, whose life Sgt. Baitinger was trying to save, perished.
That officer volunteered to work for fellow-officer Joe Lehmann who was initially assigned to work that day. However, Officer Lehmann, with an injured hand sustained during a remodeling job of his bathroom, asked for the day off.
That officer, assigned to the police Canine Unit had just concluded his assigned shift and was headed home. However, he overheard the call go out via police radio and opted to respond, to provide help...even when his shift was up and therefore had no obligation to do so.
Officer Yaslowitz and U.S. Marshal Scott Ley were the first to discover the fugitive hiding in the attic and, with the perpetrator seemingly compliant, attempted to go "hands-on". This is the segue' moment whereby the fugitive exhibited resistance; from there it all went horribly wrong, as stipulated among various St. Petersburg police reports.
Officer Yaslowitz was shot and lay wounded. U.S. Marshal Ley deployed his Tazer and was also shot, twice, causing him to fall through the opening from the attic, thudding onto the floor below, according to St. Petersburg police records.
The fugitive, listening for movements below, kept firing gunshots down, through the ceiling, effectively spraying firepower to the ground floor where other officers were positioned, and where Marshal Ley lain, wounded.
St. Petersburg police officer Timothy McClintick assessed the situation and, upon observing Marshal Ley wounded and bloodied with firepower raining down in close proximity, grabbed Marshal Ley's foot in efforts to drag him from the fugitive's line-of-fire; he was unsuccessful in those attempts, lacking leverage. Thus Officer McClintick courageously opened himself up to potential gunfire by exposing himself, bodily hoisting Marshal Ley, and carrying him away from the barrage, then into a nearby bathroom, per reports generated by St. Petersburg officers within the home.
Officer McClintick immediately set out to further maintain cover for himself and Marshal Ley, as well as to cater first-aid for Ley's bleeding wounds. Officer McClintick's selfless actions effectively saved the life of U.S. Marshal Ley.
Subsequently, the assailant positioned the body of mortally-wounded Officer Yaslowitz to where one of his legs was deliberately placed, dangling from the attic's opening, so as to lure officers closer, remaining out of sight, as it was explained in subsequent police records written by thise officers involved.
An assemblage of additional St. Petersburg police officers, highly-skilled and particularly trained/assigned to the department's Rapid Response Team--Sergeant Thomas Baitinger had arrived concurrently with Sergeant Karl Lounge. Officer Max McDonald was on scene. Officer Doug Weaver was also within the ranks of those officers on scene. Sergeant Lounge, armed with his agency-issued AR15, carried a police ballistic shield from his cruiser.
A St. Petersburg police sergeant, positioned at the home's front door threshold, informed the assemblage of the logistics and offered his cumulative assessments. A foot-stool stood directly below the attic opening. Sergeant Baitinger, a well-qualified Rapid Response Team instructor, assumed the lead role and handled the shield; he lead the group of officers, the very final role he would play as a public safety officer.
Sgt. Baitinger hauled the protective shield up and over his head as he peered up into the ceiling/attic opening. A hail of bullets rained down upon him. With the deluge of bullets from the assailant in the attic above, a round had caught him in the back, but his vest saved his life with that infliction, as was described in police records. However, Sgt. Baitinger was spun around by that round and thus was repositioned, a bullet circumventing the ballistic shield by skirting its edges, striking Baitinger's body, per St. Petersburg police reports.
Each of these public safety officers selflessly engaged the reign of terror inflicted by a crazed, demonstrably-violent, well-armed assailant, resulting in the loss of two public safety officials. Their efforts are extraordinarily valiant.
The conclusion of this incident resulted when the assailant was killed during a volley of gunfire with the St. Petersburg Police TAC Team on scene.
There is no denying the deeply-rooted fabric of the mutual reliance public safety officers have for one another. Although the title for a TV series in the mid-90s, and a film documentary in the late 80s, The Thin Blue Line is not some trendy new rock band, nor a fancy light show in town at the theatre, yet a nationally-recognized and colloquial icon of what it means to be part of the very essence of life within the public safety family.
This gunbattle remains a phenomenally haunting event for the St. Petersburg Police Department and underscores the tragic incidents public safety officers face daily, often resulting in self-sacrifice in exchange for the lives of others.
Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder presided over the ceremony and draped each Medal of Valor around the recipients' necks. Surviving spouses were given the iconoclastic award on behalf of their fallen loved-ones., and photographed with both V.P. Joe Biden and AG Eric Holder.
Albeit a microcosm of the more-numerous public safety officers who succumb to the constraints of duty and fulfillment of oath, we suffer a far worse cry when we examine the loss of lives of public safety officers nationally, in the aggregate. Nevertheless, although 18 were chosen as honorees at the federal level, countless others have performed valiantly and galliantly under fire with grave danger to themselves.
To each of these: We salute you.
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