WASHINGTON - Two New York Police Department officers ambushed and killed responding to a 911 call and the rookie cop who took down the gunman are among those who will be honored Wednesday by President Joe Biden with the Medal of Valor, the nation's highest honor for bravery by a public safety officer.
The three NYPD officers, a Houston police officer, Colorado police official, Ohio sheriff’s deputy and three FDNY firefighters are the nine who will be receiving medals in a White House ceremony before Biden departs for Japan and the Group of Seven summit.
NYPD officer Wilbert Mora and his police partner Jason Rivera were shot Jan. 21, 2022, while responding to a call about a family dispute in a Harlem apartment. Officer Sumit Sulan shot and killed the gunman, ending the deadly encounter moments after it began. Rivera died that night, Mora was pronounced dead four days later.
This photo combo of images provided by the New York City Police Department shows NYPD Officers Wilbert Mora, left, and Jason Rivera. (Courtesy of NYPD via AP, File)
The fallen cops were no strangers to tensions between the NYPD and some of the communities they police; they'd both seen it growing up. Both sought to be catalysts of change when they became police officers, but neither got the chance they deserved, gunned down during a spate of shootings of police officers in 2022 in the city.
Biden, who recently announced he'd seek reelection, has spoken of the need to reform how police interact with communities, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the deaths of other Black people at the hands of police. But he also says law enforcement needs better funding and tools in order to do a highly stressful job that's only getting worse, particularly post-pandemic.
Rivera, 22, had been a police officer for barely a year. Mora, 27, was in his fourth year on the job. All three were promoted to detective — the fallen officers posthumously and Sulan in a ceremony where he was given detective shield No. 332 "symbolizing three brothers from the 32 (precinct)," New York Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said when she awarded him the shield.
The nation's largest police department has roughly 35,000 officers; the next largest is Chicago with 13,000.
Biden was also honoring other New York City bravery; three members of the Fire Department of New York. Lt. Justin Hespeler, who rescued a newborn baby from a burning house, firefighter Patrick Thornton who, aboard an FDNY boat, saved a man trapped under a capsized vessel in the waters off the coast of Staten Island and retired Lt. Jason Hickey who was on the FDNY's marine training unit when he got a distress call of a man in the Harlem River, a tidal strait that flows swiftly between the Hudson and East Rivers. Hickey jumped in and saved the man from drowning.
President Joe Biden, left, applauds New York police Officer Sumit Sulan, second from top right, during a roundtable to discuss gun violence strategies, at police headquarters, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, in New York, along with Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y.,
The other recipients are:
- Corporal Jeffrey Farmer of the Littleton, Colorado Police Department. Farmer was responding to a call of shots fired possibly out of a car window, and chased the suspect to the door of an apartment where the man opened fire, hitting one of the officers. Farmer worked to fend off the shooter in order to save his fellow officer, who survived.
- Deputy Bobby Hau Pham of the Clermont County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office. Pham saved a drowning woman who had driven her car into a lake, and was being honored for clear thinking and composure, according to the White House.
- Sergeant Kendrick Simpo of the Houston, Texas Police Department. Simpo was working a second job at the Houston area Galleria mall when he heard on the radio a heavily armed man was roaming the mall. Simpo tackled the suspect who was carrying a rifle and 120 rounds of ammunition. No one was injured.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.