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5 LAPD Officers Hailed by Chief

March 28, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

One police officer, despite being shot in the stomach, engaged in a deadly gunfight in a pitch-black nightclub. Two others entered a burning, smoke-filled house to save a 92-year-old woman.

Those Los Angeles police officers are among five whom Chief William J. Bratton has recommended for the Medal of Valor this year. All five were assigned to gang-enforcement duties at the time of the incidents.

The medal, the department's highest honor, is given each year to officers who display "extreme courage while consciously facing imminent peril," Bratton said in a letter to the Police Commission, which is expected to approve the award recommendations today.

The officers will receive their medals at a Sept. 16 ceremony.

The officers that Bratton recommended for the Medal of Valor include Det. Richard Record, who responded to the scene of a February 2004 shooting in the Newton Division area.

Officer Ricardo Lizarraga and another officer had responded to a call from a woman who wanted to be escorted from her apartment because her boyfriend, Kenrick Johnson, refused to leave.

As Lizarraga moved to search Johnson, the man fired several shots at the officers, according to police, hitting Lizarraga in the back and the side.

When Record arrived, he concluded that Johnson had gone back into the apartment but that Lizarraga, who had collapsed after returning fire, was in danger of being shot again.

"Without regard for his own safety, Record exposed himself to potential gunfire, ran to Lizarraga and dragged Lizarraga to safety," Bratton's report said. The wounded officer later died.

Johnson was found hiding in the trunk of a car in a nearby alley. He was arrested.

Record said Monday that he wasn't thinking of the danger as he rushed to help Lizarraga.

"All I thought about was going to his aid. That's part of the job. I just thought about him and his partner and getting them out of there," said Record, who continues to work on a gang detail, but in the Southwest Division.

Bratton also recommended the Medal of Valor for Officers Mario Cardona and Matthew Cundiff, who were working on a gang enforcement detail in the 77th Street Division in November 2004, when they received a call about an illegal rave party.

As Cardona peered into the building, he saw partygoers fighting, and watched as one man, later identified as Jeremy Cervantes, shot a teenager in the upper torso after pistol-whipping him, and then shot another person in the stomach and pointed his gun at the person's head.

"Knowing that at least two individuals' lives were in peril and many others could be in danger, Cardona kicked open the security door," the report says.

"Cardona and Cundiff made entry into the building without regard for their own safety."

As Cardona moved to where he had last seen Cervantes, the gunman turned and shot the police officer in the stomach, the report said.

Knowing there were many innocent people in the dark near Cervantes, Cardona held fire and moved in the direction where he had last seen the suspect.

When the gunman fled, Cardona chased him and grabbed his shoulder.

Cervantes pointed his gun at the officer and Cardona shot him three times at close range, killing the gunman.

Cundiff, a trained emergency medical technician, took Cardona outside and administered first aid until help arrived.

Bratton also recommended the medal for Officers Christopher Vasquez and Carlos Figueroa, who were assigned to a Northeast Division gang enforcement detail in May 2005, when they responded to a call of an assault, possibly with a deadly weapon.

When they arrived at the address, they spotted a fire at a home across the street, with thick black smoke pouring from an open window, the sound of small explosions and a woman crying for help.

"Both officers, without regard for their safety, entered the house and discovered a 92-year-old female in a state of shock and confusion, gasping for air," the chief's report said.

The woman was incapacitated, so the two officers helped her outside the burning house.

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