AUSTIN – The Texas Public Safety Commission (PSC) and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw presented four Medals of Valor, three Purple Hearts and four Director’s Awards to current and retired employees, as well as officers from other agencies and a civilian for their exemplary service and courageous actions. The Medal of Valor is the highest award presented by the department.
“Keeping our communities safe depends on the shared efforts of law enforcement and Texas residents, and today DPS is proud to honor these outstanding individuals who truly take that sentiment to heart,” said Director McCraw. “Each of these award recipients embody what it means to protect and serve, and the state of Texas appreciates their willingness and dedication to help others.”
The following awards were presented today:
Sgt. Gregg Castillo, Texas Rangers SWAT in Austin; Trooper Hector Gonzalez, Highway Patrol in Mission; Special Agent Leo Sanchez, Criminal Investigations Division in Weslaco; Special Agent Steve West, Criminal Investigations Division in Corpus Christi, all received a Medal of Valor. In addition, Edinburg Police Department Assistant Chief Oscar Trevino and Lieutenant Orlando Garcia each received a Director’s Award. On July 22, 2014, La Joya Police were tipped off that a capital murder suspect was located at a La Joya residence. When La Joya Police Department and Edinburg Police Department officers arrived, the suspect began shooting at officers from inside the residence. Edinburg officers Garcia and Roberto Vallejo were both wounded. While Vallejo was incapacitated and still in the line of fire, DPS’ Gonzalez and Sanchez along with Edinburg Police Department officers Garcia and Trevino provided cover and moved Vallejo to safety. The suspect then barricaded himself in the residence. After several hours, the suspect exited the residence and again fired at officers. At that point, DPS’ West and Castillo exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who died at the scene.
Trooper Tim Keele, Highway Patrol in Paris, received a Purple Heart. While on patrol Sept. 21, 2015, in Lamar County, Keele observed a suspicious person sitting on the concrete barrier in the middle of Loop 286. When Keele made contact with the suspect on the property of a nearby hospital, the man became belligerent and a struggle ensued. Keele subsequently deployed his Taser, but it was ineffective; and the man again attacked Keele, dislocating the Trooper’s shoulder. Fearing for his life, Keele shot the suspect, who died at the scene.
Retired Agent David Hammonds and Retired Agent Jeffrey Mitchel each received a Purple Heart. On August 16, 1980, DPS Narcotics Agents Hammonds and Mitchel were working in an undercover capacity in Houston when they were approached by a man who offered to sell them a large quantity of amphetamines. The suspect then lured the agents to a parking lot under the pretense of showing the agents the drugs. While in the parking lot, the suspect produced a revolver that he pointed at the agents, who then identified themselves as officers. The suspect ultimately fired his weapon injuring both Mitchel and Hammonds and then fled to avoid apprehension.
Richard Barnett received a Director’s Award for his efforts to assist a DPS Trooper. During a traffic stop on March 19, 2016, Trooper Gary Reed attempted to arrest a driver who was suspected of being intoxicated. The driver resisted arrest and struggled with Reed. The struggle was still underway several minutes later when Barnett, a nearby resident, approached the scene to offer assistance. Barnett helped the Trooper control and handcuff the driver.
Garland Police Department Officer Gregory Stevens received a Director’s Award. On May 3, 2015, Stevens and an unarmed Garland Independent School District (GISD) security officer were working outside the Curtis Caldwell Center during a scheduled event when a vehicle drove up. The occupants of the vehicle exited their vehicle and began firing at the two officers, wounding the GISD security officer. Stevens returned fire and wounded both suspects, who then attempted to obtain additional weapons from their vehicle. Garland SWAT officers responded to assist, ultimately killing the attackers. It was later determined that the heavily armed attackers were domestic sympathizers of a foreign terrorist organization known as the Islamic State and had driven from Arizona to stage a mass-casualty attack.
In addition to the awards above, the FBI National Data Exchange (N-DEx) Program Office presented the department with the Excellence in Information Sharing Award, which recognizes individuals and agencies for their accomplishments in information sharing. The award highlights a September 2015 incident involving DPS Intelligence and Counterterrorism analysts who were preparing to add a fugitive to the Texas 10 Most Wanted List. Before adding the fugitive to the list, the analysts searched the N-DEx system first and obtained information that ultimately led to the fugitive’s apprehension.