About 100 Tustin Police Department employees, volunteers, and family members enjoyed a relaxing and fun evening during a long-awaited awards ceremony at Rock and Brews hosted by the Tustin Police Officers Association and Tustin Police Support Services Association.
Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg recognized the extraordinary acts of bravery and community service by officers and civilian employees. Thirteen police officers and dispatchers were honored with the Distinguished Service Award for their roles in responding to the Chatham Village fire, the largest apartment fire in Tustin history.
Around 3 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2020, officers were dispatched to Chatham Village, where they found a burning apartment building with an unknown number of residents inside.
“Before the arrival of OCFA and with no regard for their own lives, officers ran into the burning building, evacuating residents and pets from both floors of this 40-unit apartment complex,” Greenberg said.
News reports quoted residents recalling how officers carried elderly residents down the stairs and helped get injured family members to safety.
“As a result of their quick actions, shockingly no one died in the Chatham Village Apartment fire,” Greenberg said.
The Distinguished Service Awards recipients included Officer Joshua Yuhas, Officer Cody Hense, Officer Joshua Schlesinger, K9 Officer Leah Barrett, Field Training Officer Taylor Ryan, Field Training Officer Rob Ward, Communications Officer Kacia Gist, Communications Officer Carly Watson, Sgt. Robert Nelson, Sgt. Royce Del Merari, Sgt. Jason Wonser, and Sgt. Jeremy Laurich.
Officer Andrew Ok, president of the TPOA, said it felt amazing to recognize these hard-working members.
“2020 and 2021 have been difficult not only for us, but for everybody, and we’ve had to postpone this event multiple times. However, being able to recognize and acknowledge the people who work hardest in our department is extremely important to us,” he said.
Ok expressed gratitude for police employee’s family members and all they’ve done to support the department in a challenging era.
“I can’t thank our families enough,” Ok said. “There were multiple times when we had to work extra shifts. We barely even sleep at home because we have to cover the City amidst the pandemic and if it weren’t for our families holding things down at home we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
In recognition of his work to crack a 2021 auto theft/carjacking scam, Det. Shonn Rojas received the Crime/Traffic Analysis and Policing Strategies Award. By working with the FBI’s San Diego Field Office, Rojas apprehended a woman involved in the scam that targeted cars advertised on Facebook and immediately drove them across the U.S.-Mexico border, where the VIN was switched. Through evidence compiled by Rojas, FBI agents convinced the female suspect to inform on the scam’s coordinators.
TPOA members elected Field Training Officer Taylor Ryan as the 2020 Officer of the Year.
“Thank you guys for always having my back and to my number one, my wife, thank you for always keeping me balanced and supporting me through the crazy schedule and hours,” Ryan said.
Det. Javon Smith of the Gang Reduction and Directed Enforcement Unit, was elected 2021 TPOA Officer of the Year and also received the 2021 Case of the Year Award. Smith opened his remarks by thanking his wife for taking care of things at home while he’s on the job.
“I just love the work. There’s no case too small or case too big that I’m not willing to knock down,” Smith said. “As long as I’m an officer, I’ll always be willing to catch a bad guy.”