Eight officers whose bravery and quick thinking on the night May 23, 2014 prevented future tragedy received one of the most prestigious honors in law enforcement this week: the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor. Before being recognized at an official ceremony held at the County Administration Building, the eight men spoke with the media at the County Courthouse Sunken Gardens, commenting on what the award meant to them and what they recalled most from that horrific night, which took the lives of six UCSB students.
• Sergeant Brad Welch: Welch, who joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1999, called the honor “humbling” and championed his co-honorees for being “consummate professionals” that tragic night. He had never been involved in a shooting prior, said Welch, who was near Little Acorn Park with three colleagues when the gunman started shooting at them, at which point they returned fire. “I think it’s changed all of us for the better. We don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said. A father himself, Welch said he feels for the parents who lost their children that night.
• Detective Brian Flick: “I’m honored to be here, especially with this group of guys,” said Flick, who has been with the Sheriff’s Department since 2003. He was about to head out to patrol the party scene that night, he recalled, when he heard the gunfire. “It was really surreal when those first shots rang out,” he said. “We knew it wasn’t fireworks.” Flick was one of the four who shot back at the shooter.
• Deputy Jorden Walker: The near-year since the tragedy occurred has presented a “whirlwind of emotions,” said Walker, another of the four who returned fire and has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2012. What he recalled most strongly, Walker said, was the speed by which the incident started and ended. What Walker’s wife, Lauren, said she recalled most was hearing her husband tell her over the phone that he’d been involved in a shooting. “There are no words to describe what he went through,” she said. “It was an experience we’ll never forget.”
• Deputy Wayne Johnson: Hearing the sound of gunfire and feeling “a sudden explosion of adrenaline” still sticks in his memory, said Johnson, who joined the other three in shooting back at the gunman. A member of the Foot Patrol who’s been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2007, Johnson said working in the seaside college town since can bring back memories of that night.
• Deputy Adrien Marquez: “It would have been nice to accept this award under different circumstances. I’d rather not get an award at all if it meant that night never happened,” said Marquez, a Sheriff’s Office veteran since 2002 and member of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol. His most vivid memory, he said, was seeing the shooter’s car parked and then seeing it accelerate toward him, shooting, which prompted him to return fire.
• Corporal Bradley Prows: “The memory is definitely fresh,” said Prows, who joined other authorities in administering CPR to three gunshot victims, one of whom survived. Prows — whose career has included two years with the UCPD, 31 years with the CHP, and time spent serving on motorcades for presidents — said he was humbled by the award. “My mindset is, ‘I’m just doing my job.’”
• Corporal Gregory Pierce: “It’s a little bit of closure for the officers involved,” said Pierce of the award. He and another colleague drove into Isla Vista after hearing the shots, and he and Prows started lifesaving measures. An army veteran and member of the UCPD team for eight years, Pierce said the “painful” memory still lingers. “Time will heal.”
• Sergeant Dan Wilson: While on patrol that night, he heard the gunshots. “We knew something was wrong,” Wilson said. He and Pierce drove into the heart of Isla Vista, where they encountered three victims. While officers were trying to save the three lives, more shots were heard, prompting Wilson to secure that one area with patrol cars. Wilson, a 14-year veteran of the UCPD, said the tragic events feel like they happened yesterday and there are “images and voices” from that night that he’ll “never forget.”
Seventeen other law enforcement officials were recognized this week with the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Superior Performance, stemming from a variety of incidents. Receiving that honor were Ann Bramsen, senior deputy district attorney; Timothy Roberts, investigator for the District Attorney’s Office; Detective Joseph Schmidt of the Sheriff’s Office; Detective Gary Siegel of the SBPD; Detective Oscar Gonzales of the SBPD; Detective Benjamin Ahrens of the SBPD; Detective Christina Marshall of the SBPD; Sgt. Todd Johnson of the SBPD; Officer Rick Cipres of the SBPD; Officer Kyle Crooks of the SBPD; Officer Kyle Lowry of the SBPD; Officer Andrew Merrett of the SBPD; Detective Andy Magallon of the SBPD; Sgt. Matthew Dawson of the CHP; Officer Mark Naylor of the CHP; Erin Cross, supervising probation officer for County Probation; and Detective Gregory Smorodinsky of the UCSB Police Department.