On Feb. 20, 2020, Sheriff Don Barnes and his command staff honored nine individuals and two county agencies at the Sheriff’s Special Recognition Awards.
The ceremony was held in a conference room on the fifth floor of the Brad Gates Building in Santa Ana, with loved ones, colleagues, and friends of the honorees in attendance.
Barnes mentioned many successes the OCSD recently has had, including the successful cleanup of the Santa Ana riverbed homeless encampments and ending an 11-year U.S. Department of Justice probe into OCSD jail operations. Barnes also mentioned the appreciation he feels with partners such as the County Counsel’s Office and O.C. Board of Supervisors.
“We worked lockstep shoulder-to-shoulder and collaboratively together,” Barnes said.
The honorees, nominated by their peers in an agency with 4,000 employees and 800 volunteers, were selected following a highly competitive vetting process.
“This is a tremendous success for you to be recognized the way you have,” Barnes told the honorees. “It’s not an easy field of nominees to narrow down. I wish we could give a hundred of these (awards) out.”
Barnes gave a special shout-out to relatives of the OCSD honorees.
“Please know that who they are, the character they have, would not have happened without a support system away from the department,” Barnes said. “I’m proud to serve as your sheriff, and congratulations to all department members.”
The criteria for nominations include overall contributions to the organization, teamwork, quality of work, customer service, communication, community engagement, community feedback, and attitude toward the job, Undersheriff Bob Peterson said.
The 2020 Sheriff’s Special Recognition Awards winners are:
Deputy of the Year Davida Tidwell
Deputy Sheriff II, South West Operation, City of Dana Point
Tidwell is an administrative deputy who serves as the right hand of the Chief of Police Services. Among her duties are helping to coordinate community and volunteer events, working closely with the OCSD financial staff on grants, handling fleet obligations, and working patrol.
Employee of the Year Marco Salazar
Correctional Services Technician, North Operations/Headquarters
Salazar maintains the fleet for North Patrol, Stanton, the Homeless Outreach Team, North Investigations, and executive command. He often works weekends to minimize the impact on day-to-day operations.
Reserve Deputy of the Year John Messina
Reserve Captain, Reserve Bureau
Messina started working in North Investigations on Feb. 1, 2010. In his first 11 months, he handled 360 cases. In 2019, Messina volunteered 610 hours, which saved the OCSD nearly $36,000.
Training Officer of the Year Robert Blackburn
Deputy Sheriff II, Southeast Operations, City of Lake Forest
An active FTO (field training officer) in Lake Forest for four years, Blackburn has trained 23 deputies (over 4,000 hours of training). In 2019, he trained seven trainees.
Investigator of the Year Maria Bowman
Investigator, South Investigations, City of San Clemente
Bowman manages a diverse caseload involving hundreds of cases and has assisted special units like Homicide, Special Victims Unit, Cyber Crimes, and Detectives. She is a mentor to many, a member of the Crisis Negotiations Team, and a leader of the women’s shooting team.
Sergeant of the Year Alexandra Flores
Sergeant, Custody Operations, Intake Release Center
Flores stays late to ensure incidents are handled correctly and spends time training deputies who are on the patrol list. She is described as someone who cares for her deputies and leads from the front.
Supervisor of the Year Elyce Heppner
Administrative Manager I, Financial/Administrative Services
Heppner coordinates all agenda staff reports and works with a variety of ranks to ensure successful passage of items that require approval from the Board of Supervisors. She is described as an advocate of the department who provides vigilant leadership.
Manager of the Year (Sworn) Tom Graham
Lieutenant, Air Support Bureau/Homeland Security Bureau
Graham last year was selected to oversee and evaluate the Air Support Unit and make necessary changes. He had to focus on limited staffing, a complex budget, unique training records, and maintaining a multi-agency collaboration.
Manager of the Year (Professional Staff) Donna Boston
Administrative Manager III, Emergency Management Division
Boston displayed an exceptional commitment to the department, county, and emergency management. She encourages staff to “change for the better” and she recognized them for their contributions.
Commander Joe Balicki handed out the following two awards:
Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award: Nicole Sims, Steve Miller, Wendy Phillips, Saul Reyes
Office of County Counsel, County of Orange
Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award: Kerri Gardner
Correctional Health Services Program Manager