Officers Honored During Annual Christmas Gathering
By Teresa Holloway
CROCKETT – The Crockett City Police Department held their annual Christmas gathering late in the evening of Dec. 15. Awards were the highpoint of the event.
While it is likely impossible to explain the deeply emotional levels of trust and friendship between uniformed service members, the leaders of the police department gave it a valiant effort with awards from leadership to courage.
Officer Andrew Allen received the Rookie of the Year award.
“He has done an outstanding job since he’s been here. He is very proactive on patrols and made numerous misdemeanor and felony arrests in that short period. He has proven he has what it takes to be a great officer for this department,” Chief David Cross said.
“The next award is for Officer of the Year. We have a great team of officers and I could give this award to every officer that works for me, unfortunately I can only give it to one,” Cross said.
Officer Abel Aguirre earned the Officer of the Year distinction. Aguirre had an uncle who works for Houston Police Department, which caused his interest in the career field, Cross told the crowd.
“He successfully completed his Field Training program, is bilingual and has worked hard since he’s been here,” Cross said. “He always volunteers to work extra duty regardless of what it is. He is a friend and a leader to all the officers on staff. He is definitely a team player.”
Crockett praised the supervisors in the office and lamented only being able to give one Supervisor of the Year Award.
Cross told the audience the officer caught his attention while working at the sheriff’s office. “When I became Chief I noticed him at the sheriff’s department and knew he was a good officer. I recruited him to work for me. He has great personal skills and is very good at his job.”
Cross appeared to become emotional and gestured Sgt. Jerrod Vickers forward to complete the award ceremony.
“He has a hand in everything done in the police department. I often challenge him to step up and do things no one else wants to do and he does it right each and every time. I could not do the job I do without his dedication and support. He has earned the right to be called a good leader and a supervisor in this department. Every major case solved in this department has his name all over it,” Vickers read.
Loyalty from his team and dedication to his job earned Lt. Clayton Smith the Supervisor of the Year Award. Smith holds an advanced law enforcement certification and has 12 years on duty.
Smith modestly turned aside the applause and did not make a speech beyond thanking his family and friends. Instead, he segued into awards he and Cross had developed during the year.
“I put a couple of slide shows together for different cases during the past year,” Smith said. “I couldn’t put the next part on the agenda, because Chief wouldn’t have done it,” he added, laughing.
Smith, Lt. Lonnie Lum and Sgt. Alfredo Fajardo surrounded Cross behind the podium. “We put together a gift basket so we could all benefit from it, mints and candies and stuff like that to be shared,” Smith grinned.
“Seriously, all the things Chief just said about Rookie of the Year, Officer of the Year … none of that would be possible without a great leader. I told you all last year when I gave this same speech, we all know what the department was before and what it is now – it is night and day,” Smith said.
Smith explained the work Cross had done as Chief of Police, securing further training for officers and organizing the department, bringing in dedicated officers, raising the bar on physical and mental standards and leading by example.
“We got you a little basket of candy and a gift card to take your wife out. We know she’s the real boss,” Lum said before handing over the gift basket.
Awards for bravery were prefaced by incident synopsis and framed by videos of high speed chases and armed perpetrators.
On Dec. 21, 2015, Lt. Lum and Officer Abel Aguirre and other CPD officers were dispatched to an Aggravated Robbery at Mike’s Corner Store on Goliad and Loop 304 in Crockett.
“The call came in that a black male subject went in brandishing a handgun and demanded all the money,” Smith said. “Of course everyone in our department was called out.”
“They got behind the suspect’s vehicle on South Fourth Street and attempted to initiate a traffic stop. The chase was on from there,” he said.
The fire department had also been following the suspect, relaying information to dispatch who relayed it to the officers. “Something about this particular night … it was inclement weather, very foggy and almost zero visibility,” Smith continued.
Lt. Lum was field training Officer Aguirre that night. “Aguirre was very new on the force. This entire pursuit went all the way into Trinity. They did a very good job, this was Aguirre’s first high speed pursuit and they were doing over 100 mph in some places in very dense fog,” Smith explained.
In the video Smith provided, the store cameras clearly captured the handgun the suspect wielded and dash cam of the patrol car captured the harrowing high-speed chase through heavy fog.
The pursuit ended when the suspect crashed his vehicle. He was taken into custody with the handgun on his person and the money from the store. The suspect was captured about one hour after the robbery.
“Most of the time, that’s not the case. Most of the time, the robbers aren’t caught. But these two officers were relentless in their pursuit. They put their own lives in danger to capture the suspect and take him off the street,” Smith said. “If you asked them, they probably didn’t even think about that.”
For their courageous actions that night, Lt. Lonnie Lum and Officer Abel Aguirre were awarded Police Medals of Valor. These coveted awards are scarce and rarely given, according to Smith.
The March 6 pursuit and capture of Earl Williams and Kayleigh Davis earned Officer Todd Little and Sgt. Alfredo Fajardo Awards of
The two officers were dispatched to a suspicious vehicle call in Snyder Trailer Park. Little and Fajardo arrived on scene at 3:18 a.m. and made contact with the vehicle in question.
While speaking with the occupants of the vehicles, Fajardo noticed a shotgun in the front seat and notified Little.
When Little asked the suspects to step out of the vehicle, the driver gunned it and fled. “On this night, these two officers pursued this vehicle all the way through Grapeland into the county just outside the city limits,” Smith said.
The pursuit speeds reached 120 and 130 mph, according to Smith, and one of the occupants began firing a shotgun at the officers in pursuit. Several pellets impacted in the windshield immediately in front of the lead officer’s face.
“Did these two officers stop? No, they did not. They continued the pursuit. They knew at that point these people needed to be taken off the streets. If they fire at police officers, what else could they be capable of?” Smith said.
Smith played a video composed of body and dash camera footage clearly showing the impacting pellets from the shotgun being fired at the pursuit vehicles, as well as still footage of the inside of the suspect’s vehicle where a shotgun with a jammed shell rested against the bench seat.
“These officers chose to continue pursuit, even after being fired at, until these suspects were taken off the street,” Smith said.
The suspect’s vehicle crashed into a fence outside Grapeland and both occupants narrowly avoided injury as a fence post impaled itself into the windshield.
A foot pursuit followed ending in the capture and arrest of both suspects. The perpetrators were tried and sentenced and the Crockett Police Department thanked the District Attorney and her team for the work and effort they put into the case.
Fajardo and Little were awarded Medals of Valor for their courageous performance of duty and selfless service, Smith said.
There are now four officers in the Crockett Police Department with Medals of Valor, making the city one of an elite number of municipalities with such honored officers.
Smith became quiet as he considered the next award. “Corporal Isaiah Rodriguez is laid back,” Smith joked. “Nothing gets him wired up.”
Smith said he knew something wasn’t right that day. “When he arrived on the scene of his welfare call, he called for backup in a tone I’ve never heard. Of course, we all ran out of the office. I knew something wasn’t right.”
Rodriguez had answered the welfare check to find a female victim, bound, bloody and unresponsive in her home. “We went in, blood was everywhere. The victim had been bound with duct tape.
This was Rodriguez first harsh case. “He’d never seen anything like that,” Smith said. When the Lieutenant got his attention, the officers cleared the house.
Smith explained the devastating condition of the victim. “At the time, we didn’t know she was pregnant. She later lost her baby due to the severity of the injuries.”
The horror and widespread nature of the crime meant it would, by necessity, incorporate different law enforcement agencies, including the famed Texas Rangers.
Several locations were in play, including a seven-acre piece of property just outside of Grapeland where the suspect, Juan Gutierrez-Cortes was living.
“After the judge signed the search warrant,” Smith said, “Sgt. Vickers went on the hunt.”
“Sgt. Vickers was out on the scene at seven-acre location and noticed boot prints … he was on to something and we knew he wasn’t leaving until he found it,” Smith said. “Vickers notices everything.”
After an exhaustive search and trailing footprints over much of the entire property, Vickers found a spot on the ground, far off the beaten path, where the dirt had been turned up recently, Smith explained.
Wearing gloves, Vickers carefully uncovered the disturbed area. Buried elbow deep was a partially used roll of duct tape – soaked in the victim’s blood.
That crucial piece of evidence was a key factor in the successful prosecution of the perpetrator of the heinous crime.
For his persistence and dogged determination in the search for key evidence in the crime, Vickers was awarded the coveted Medal of Merit, one of the highest awards an officer can receive.
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