NB Police Department Bestows Annual Employee Awards

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Photo (left to right): Chief Jon T. Lewis, Kjersti Martini, Michael Fletcher, Heidi Moss, Brad Miller, Susan Fritts, Mayor Will O’Neill

Each year, nominations for the Police Department Awards are collected by committees for each award category. Members of the Police Department who receive award nominations are discussed by those committees and then recommendations are submitted to the Chief of Police for consideration.

The following members of the Police Department received recognition in the listed categories:

  • Detective Michael Fletcher, 2019 Officer of the Year
  • Sergeant Brad Miller, 2019 Sworn Supervisor of the Year
  • Parking Control Supervisor Heidi Moss, 2019 Civilian Supervisor of the Year
  • Civilian Investigator Kjersti Martini, 2019 Civilian of the Year
  • Volunteer Susan Fritts, 2019 Volunteer of the Year

Additional awards

Lifesaving Award: Officers Ricardo Adame and Brandon Boehme-Decew

On June 10, 2019, the Police Department received a 911 call from the Newport Beach Central Library, reporting that a man had experienced a cardiac event and collapsed. Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp and Executive Assistant to the City Manager Shirley Oborny were nearby and quickly took action, retrieving an Automatic External Defibrillator from Library staff.

Dispatchers alerted Fire and Police personnel about the medical emergency. Police Officers Ricardo Adame and Brandon Boehme-Decew were nearby and immediately responded to the Library to assist in life-saving efforts. Upon arrival, they initiated CPR on the collapsed subject, who had no pulse and was not breathing. Newport Beach Fire personnel arrived to provide advanced life-saving measures.

After using an airway bag provided by the officers, fire personnel confirmed that the man’s pulse had returned. They transported him to Hoag Hospital, where he made a full recovery.

Lifesaving Award: Officer David Darling

On January 16, 2019, during a rainstorm, the Newport Beach Police Department received numerous calls about a traffic collision that had just occurred on the 73 Freeway. Callers reported that a car had gone off the side of the freeway and landed upside down, with several occupants still inside, in a drainage ditch that was filled with water.

Although the freeway is in the jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol, Newport Beach officers often go to major accidents there. The officers can respond quickly and, when someone’s safety is at risk, minutes count. On this day, Officer David Darling was the first to arrive on scene. He found that the calls about the collision were not quite accurate: the vehicle (a Tesla) was in a ditch, but it was right-side up and had a single person inside. The woman who was driving the Tesla was now stuck inside it, unable to escape as the water level in the ditch was rising around her.

Recognizing the risk from both the rising water and the possibility of fire (due to the vehicle’s batteries), Officer Darling entered the now waist-high water and helped the woman out of the vehicle and ditch. With the assistance of additional officers, he was able to deliver her without injury to Newport Beach Fire personnel, who had arrived at the crash site.

Lifesaving Award: Sergeant Michael Striek and Officer Isaac Furnari

On October 26, 2019, before his promotion to the rank of Sergeant, Officer Michael Striek was on patrol with Officer Isaac Furnari when they were flagged down by a passing motorist. The man reported that a bicyclist had collapsed nearby, in the area of Pacific Coast Highway and Highland Street.

The officers found the man lying on the sidewalk. A citizen had tried to perform CPR on him, but the officers confirmed that the man had stopped breathing and had no pulse. Officer Striek began CPR while Officer Furnari retrieved the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) from their police car. The officers continued to administer CPR, but the man suffered repeated cardiac arrests and went in and out of consciousness several times. Eventually, the AED delivered a shock and recommended additional CPR, which the Officers continued to provide until the man was revived.

When Newport Beach Fire personnel arrived at the scene, they transported the patient to Hoag Hospital. There, he underwent emergency surgery to clear two blockages in his heart, after which he would make a full recovery.

Lifesaving Award: Officer Sean Esswein and Mark Fasano

On October 24, 2019, Officers Sean Esswein and Mark Fasano were dispatched to the area of 18th Street and the beach regarding a man who was found in the ocean – possibly dead. When the officers arrived on scene, they assisted in pulling the man to the shore. Once back on dry land, they found that the man was unresponsive, was not breathing, and had no pulse.

Officers Esswein and Fasano immediately began CPR. Newport Beach Lifeguards arrived on scene and confirmed that the man was in full cardiac arrest. Officers Esswein and Fasano continued administering CPR and used an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) to deliver two separate shocks to the man’s heart. After these efforts, the man’s heart rate returned to a weak but sustained pulse. Although he was transported to Hoag Hospital in critical condition, this man would later make a full recovery.

Award of Merit: Officer Kyle Markwald

On October 28, 2019, the Newport Beach Police Department received a 911 call from a woman who needed help. She reported that she had been violently attacked, choked, and kicked in the chest by her boyfriend, but that she was able to escape from the house after he fell asleep. She warned dispatchers that her boyfriend was intoxicated, that he did not like the police, and that he would likely respond with violence if contacted by officers. To complicate matters further, the suspect was sleeping in a room where he had access to several firearms and there were two little girls with him in the home.

Officer Markwald was one of many officers who responded to this call, and his leadership and critical decision-making were instrumental in the successful resolution that followed. He communicated effectively with his supervisors, used his tactical experience to organize a perimeter and contain the incident, coordinated the evacuation of nearby residents, and analyzed the situation to develop a plan of action for getting the children out of the home safely.

After officers were able to enter the house and remove the girls, they roused the suspect. After a short stand-off, the man exited the home and surrendered. Three firearms were recovered from the home.

While all Newport Beach Police Department personnel involved in this event performed commendably, it was Officer Marlwald’s meritorious actions that were critical to the success of the entire incident. His guidance and planning led to the apprehension of the suspect while minimizing risk to the responding officers, the children in the home, and the surrounding community.

Award of Merit: Lieutenant Steve Rasmussen, Sergeant Court Depweg, Officers Michael Fletcher. Rick Henry, Jason Prince, Marie Gamble, Kelley Maslin and Cold Case Detectives Michael Dugan and Bryan McMahon

On July 20, 2017, Lieutenant Rasmussen assigned Sergeant Depweg to explore new investigative technologies in the pursuit of closing cold cases. This included the use of genetic genealogy, a promising technique that would become more widely known after it led to the capture of the “Golden State Killer” the following year.

On July 6, 2018, the Newport Beach Police Department launched the groundbreaking Linda’s Story Twitter campaign in an effort to generate leads in the cold case homicide of Linda Ann O’Keefe. On the 45th anniversary of her abduction and death in 1973, tweets in the “voice” of 11-year-old Linda told the story of her last day alive.

Within months, Sergeant Depweg, along with Civilian Investigators Michael Dugan and Bryan McMahon, received a long-awaited break in the case. Through genetic genealogy techniques, after receiving an investigatory lead from FamilyTreeDNA’s Gene-by-Gene Laboratory of Houston, Texas, and with further assistance from genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of Parabon NanoLabs, Inc. of Reston, Virginia, investigators had a name: James Alan Neal.

In late January 2019, Detectives Michael Fletcher, Rick Henry, and Jason Prince conducted surveillance of Neal in Colorado Springs, Colorado in order to obtain a DNA confirmation sample. Ultimately, a discarded and recovered cigarette confirmed that his DNA was a 100 percent match to the suspect in Linda’s murder, and a warrant was issued Neal’s arrest.

On February 19, 2019, after extensive coordination and planning with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office-Major Crimes Unit and other law enforcement agencies in Colorado, James Alan Neal was taken into custody without incident. The Linda’s Story campaign, which had produced hundreds of tips for investigators, also provided them with a path to obtain search warrants. While Sergeant Depweg and Detective Fletcher transported Neal to the El Paso County

Sherriff’s Office to interview him, Detectives Henry and Prince recovered evidence at Neal’s home. Detectives Marie Gamble and Kelley Maslin of the Special Victims Unit also conducted numerous interviews of Neal’s family members.

These interviews gained important background information for the cold case, and also established Neal’s behavior as a sexual predator.

On March 11, 2019, Neal was extradited back to California. Ten days later, he was arraigned at Orange County Central Court where he faced one count of murder related to Linda O’Keefe and five counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor in connection with other victims unrelated to the cold case murder.

In addition to this remarkable investigation, the Crimes Against Persons Unit handled an extraordinary number of complicated cases last year, including Peter Chadwick. In addition, investigators handled a triple homicide where a man killed his parents and their housekeeper, solved the double homicide of Darren Partch and Wendi Miller, and, in June, they identified the killer in the 1983 cold case homicide of Steven Balogh.

At the Awards Ceremony, the Police Department also premiered a video entitled “We’ve Got You”. The video can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjWVn2NqPGk

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