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With Heavy Hearts, the GGCC Honors UpCounty First Responders

On the morning after the greatest loss of life for police officers in our nation since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce honored UpCounty police officers, Special Operations Teams, Firefighters, and Paramedics at their 21st Annual Public Safety Awards Breakfast. The event was held on Friday, July 8 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.

The news of the previous night’s events in Dallas — where five police officers were ambushed and killed, and six others were shot by three men, while the officers attempted to protect marchers at an anti-police violence rally— hung heavy on the hearts of everyone gathered to honor the UpCounty’s first-responders.

In all 53 police and fire rescue service personnel were honored from the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service, Montgomery County Police, and Gaithersburg Police Departments.

Marilyn Balcombe, President, and CEO of the GGCC said, “The dedication and service of each of these individuals strengthen the quality of life in our community, and we are honored to be with you this morning. Our public safety breakfast often a light occasion where we can honor our first responders. Today, we start on a very somber note in light of the events of last night.”

Montgomery County Police Assistant Chief Daryl McSwain, speaking for Chief Thomas Manger, addressed those gathered at the Montgomery County Agricultural Center, Heritage Building on the fairgrounds saying, “As you might imagine our hearts are a little divided this morning. When we look at the national discourse, it is challenging for all of us.” He then asked for a moment of silence for all those who have lost their lives.

On Friday afternoon, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett released a statement on the shootings in Dallas saying, “It is with profound sadness that we learn of the despicable ambush of police officers in Dallas, Texas. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those slain and wounded, as well as to their fellow officers. We are all outraged by recent incidents involving deaths of African American men in Minnesota and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All people of good will, regardless of color, grieve their loss and want answers as to why they died. We need and expect thorough and transparent investigations of each loss of life.”

Leggett said, “The officers murdered in Dallas were on duty in connection with a peaceful protest and, in the end, sought to shield protesters as well as themselves against the deadly hail of gunfire. Violence is the problem, not the solution. It wasn’t in Ferguson. It wasn’t in Baltimore. It isn’t anywhere else, either,” said Leggett.

“We count on our men and women in uniform to protect us, and we also hold them to the highest standards of conduct. Tragically last night, the Dallas police force upheld the mission of all sworn officers, who literally put their lives on the line for us every day. We cannot thank them enough. And we join law enforcement officers across the land in paying tribute to those who fell in Dallas in the line of duty,” said Leggett.

Among the 53 first responders honored Friday morning were, nine police officers from the 5th District – Germantown and 13 officers from the 6th District – Montgomery Village.

“Policing is tougher today that it has been at any point in my 27-year career,” said Captain Gillespie, Commander of the 5th District. “To the folks receiving awards today, my hat is off to you because you are out there every day in one of the toughest situations. And to go out there every day and dedicate your lives to our communities.”

Gillespie presented a Meritorious Service Citation to Officer Marcus Dixon, for his work and dedication to mentoring children, providing support and guidance to at-risk students, and providing leadership training to the youth in the community.

“Anyone who has worked with Marcus knows that he is a dedicated police officer who has devoted his entire career to forging positive community relationships,” said Gillespie. “Marcus builds bridges and finds commonality with the diverse community that we serve in the UpCounty area. One only has to look at the news to know how important these relationships are to law enforcement. In the post-Ferguson era, and in the aftermath of incidents in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas law enforcement’s relationships with the community are more important than ever. It is in times like this that Marcus has done some of his best work. He genuinely cares about making a positive difference in this community.”

Gillespie also presented three 5th District offers with the Citation for Bravery for their arrest of three armed robbery suspects. Honored were Officer Andrew King, Officer Mark Hugi, and Officer Michael Murphy for their involvement in the arrest of three men who had beaten and robbed two victims near Pinnacle Drive in Germantown back on February 22, 2016.

After an initial search for the suspects did not turn up anything, said Gillespie, Officer Mark Hugi remained in the area an hour after the initial search by K-9 officers. Officer Hugi was able to locate the three suspects, but they darted into a nearby wooded area. At this point Corporal Jon Green located the suspects and officers converged on their location. Officer Drew King chased one suspect into the woods and was able to tackle and apprehend him. A loaded .40 caliber handgun and rounds of ammunition, along with the victim’s cell phone were located in the suspect’s pocket. The second suspect was apprehended by Officer Michael Murphy. That suspect was found with a credit card belonging to the victim. Officer Hugi pursued and apprehended the third suspect.

“As a result of the perseverance, tenacity, and bravery of these officers, three armed and dangerous suspects were apprehended,” said Gillespie. “The officers placed themselves in great danger pursuing the suspects on foot and into the woods knowing that one of the suspects was armed with a handgun. The actions taken by these officers greatly reflect the highest values and traditions of the Montgomery County Police Department.”

The Chamber also honored Officer Charles Ricucci with a Citation for Bravery for actions taken after an armed robbery at the 7-Eleven store on Crystal Rock Drive in Germantown on November 8, 2015.

Commander Gillespie said that in this incident a male victim was lured to a wooded to the rear of the 7-Eleven to meet a female, once there the female and two other male suspects attacked the victim. One suspect pistol whipped the victim with a handgun, while the others began punching and kicking him. They then stole his wallet and cell phone and fled the scene.

The victim made his way to the Rite Aid at Germantown Road and Crystal Rock Drive to call the police, according to Gillespie. Officer Ricucci observed the female suspect and the armed male suspect in the Taco Bell parking lot near the Rite Aid store. The armed male suspect took off running, and Officer Ricucci gave chase on foot past the Transit Center, across Aircraft Drive and behind the auto repair shops where the suspect discarded his jacket and met with the other male accomplice. Officer Ricucci continued giving chase, and both were eventually apprehended near the Regal Germantown movie theater and taken into custody. A search of the suspect’s jacket revealed a .38 caliber semi-automatic handgun.

“Officer Ricucci is to be commended for his bravery for chasing the armed suspect and placing himself in serious danger to make the apprehension,” said Gillespie.

Commander Dinesh Patil of the 6th District awarded a Meritorious Service Citation to Officer Amber Richard. On December 2, 2015, a 7-year-old Clarksburg boy was brought into Shady Grove Hospital by his father and step-mother with multiple injuries to his body and possible seizure. Officer Amber Richard was arrived at Shady Grove Hospital she was told by medical staff that they believed that this was a case of child abuse.

Once the boy was stable, he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC for further care. While at Children’s Hospital the boy told investigators that his father is the wraps him in plastic wrap and uses zip ties to keep him in place. According to charging documents, the boy told investigators that he was wrapped in plastic wrap almost the entire day before Thanksgiving, and was wrapped on Thanksgiving Day until right before it was time to go to dinner.

As a result of this incident, the boy’s father and step-mother were arrested. On December 4, Craig Williams, 42, and Nicole Williams, 39, both of the Clarksburg Square Road in Clarksburg were arrested and charged with child abuse.

But it is what Officer Richard did for the victim after the boy’s parents were arrested and charged that makes her special. According to Commander Patil, almost immediately Officer Richard has been very involved in the victim’s welfare beyond taking initial reports and starting the investigation. She started to drive down to Children’s Hospital on her own time to visit him. “These visits would brighten the victim’s day, especially since he didn’t have any family visiting him,” said Patil. “Officer Richard used her own money to buy the victim clothes and other necessities, and she would also use her own money to buy him lunch and dinner several times.”

“With Christmas coming,” continued Patil, “the child told Officer Richard that he had never received a gift in his whole life. This really struck a chord with her, and she sprang into action rallying the troops to come to this little boy’s aid.” She also started contacting other police officers throughout the department and telling them of the little boy’s plight. “This was when the toys started to pour in,” said Patil. “Every day there were more and more toys. Officer Richard and other officers wrapped the toys, and she would drive them down to the boy on her time off.”

“On Christmas Eve,” said Patil, “officers, including Officer Richard, drove down to Children’s Hospital with a trunk load of toys and a police sergeant dressed as Santa Claus. The victim got to wake up on Christmas morning and see Santa, receive a bunch of toys, and be showered with love. Something that he had never had in his life,” said Patil.

“Officer Ricard’s actions have changed this boy’s life forever,” said Patil,” and Montgomery County is truly lucky to have her serving the community. For showing the love, Officer Richard is awarded the Meritorious Service Citation.”

Four officers from the 5th District, six officers from the 6th District and seven officers from the Gaithersburg Police Department were awarded the Distinguished Service Citation for their actions in apprehending fugitives from justice from the Southern Regional Police Department in Pennsylvania who were living in Montgomery County.

Southern Regional Police in York County Pennsylvania issued warrants for three Montgomery County individuals after one of their officers was injured after he approached a suspicious car parked in the parking lot of the convenience store in Glen Rock, Pa., on November 4. Police say Officer Michael Storeman was called to investigate suspicious people in a vehicle. He approached the vehicle and observed a female slumped over in the back and two male subjects in the front. The male subjects began to make movements, and the officer attempted to open the passenger door.

The passenger in the car grabbed Officer Storeman’s arm and pulled him towards the vehicle while the driver rapidly accelerated. The officer was dragged 50 yards down the street, and his body struck a stopped vehicle causing him to slide across the roadway. He was taken to the York Hospital Trauma Room and was later discharged with multiple injuries.

At Friday’s awards ceremony, Gaithersburg Police Chief Mark Sroka honored MCPD 5th District Officers Manuel Gomez, Robert Zaal, Douglas Styles, and Vincent Sylvester, along with 6th District officers Richard Hillman, Robert Atack, Drew Abbamonte, Dana Bunge, Cpl. Neil Mohardt, and Sgt. Eric Wood. Citations were also given to Gaithersburg Police Officers Gregg Johannesen, Mark McGinnis, Larbi Dakkouni, Noah Grubic, Sgts. Shawn Eastman and Raul Delgado, and Cpl. Shane Eastman.

“The cooperative effort between the involved agencies and specifically the efforts of many dedicated officers resulted in the apprehension of three violent offenders,” said Chief Sroka. “They are all awarded the Distinguished Service Citation for their excellent teamwork.”