Several members of the Murrieta Police Department and two Murrieta citizens were recently recognized for their work—on and off the clock.
There were 13 recipients when the department held its annual awards ceremony on March 13 at Murrieta City Hall.
Officer of the Year went to Ontario Williams, who serves as the school resource officer at Murrieta Mesa High School. Detective Danny Martin was named Investigator of the Year. Tina Jones, Dispatcher of the Year, and Julie Shannon, Civilian of the Year. Volunteer of the Year was Judy Robinson.
Employees of the year are selected by a committee comprised of their peers, supervisors and management, according to Murrieta police Lt. Rob Firmes.
“It is important to recognize our employees because we care about the contributions they make,” Firmes said.
This year, for the first time, Firmes said the department also gave out the Leanna McConnaughey Service Excellence Award. McConnaughey was a police dispatcher for Murrieta when she suffered a pulmonary embolism and died suddenly in February 2010. McConnaughey was the department's Civilian Employee of the Year in 2006 and was named the California Public Safety Radio Association's Dispatcher of the Year in 2007.
Receiving the Leanna McConnaughey Service Excellence Award was Sgt. Sandra O’Donnell, who spends much of her time supporting the Special Olympics and other causes such as Tip-a-Cop, Firmes said.
Three Distinguished Service Awards went to Detective Andy Spagnolo, Officer Sandra Valle and Officer Scott Montez, based on multiple contributions they made during the past year, Firmes said.
Chief Mike Baray also handed out four Chief’s Citation awards.
The first went to Dr. Donald H. Chapton, a Murrieta dentist who recently retired. Chapton served as a reserve officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for several years, and flew on their search and rescue missions. He was also known to spend family vacations in Mexico, doing pro bono dental work.
Another citizen, Walter Smith, was presented a Chief’s Citation. Smith, a local barber, called police out of concern one day when a regular customer of his appeared despondent—possibly even suicidal. Based on Smith’s call, dispatchers were able to locate a Murrieta address for the man.
The responding officers, Heather Adams and David Hernandez, also received Chief’s Citations for their handling of the call.
“They found him in his room,” Firmes said. “He was lying in his bed...he had a gun pointed at his head and was just seconds away from pulling the trigger. They talked with him, talked him out of it and saved him.”