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For Immediate Release: 9/16/2019
State of New York | Executive Chamber
Andrew M. Cuomo | Governor

Governor Cuomo announces New York State's Police Officer of the Year Award recipients

Three Members of the Syracuse Police Department Honored for Courage and Bravery

Officers Responding to Call Faced Gunfire Before Taking Suspect into Custody

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that three members of the Syracuse Police Department are the recipients of the New York State Police Officer of the Year Award. Lieutenant James Milana, Officer Victoria Losurdo and Officer Travis Rheinheimer were honored for their apprehension of a gunman who shot at Lieutenant Milana - the bullet struck his vehicle's windshield near his head - and continued firing at him and the other officers after they responded to a call of an individual with a gun on February 4, 2018.

"This incident illustrates the danger that illegal firearms pose for police officers and the community and the unpredictability that officers face whenever they respond to a call for service," Governor Cuomo said. "These three officers exemplify what it means to serve and protect. As we recognize them today, we also honor the thousands of police officers whose work every single day contributes to New York's standing as the safest large state in the nation."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul presented the officers with the award on the Governor's behalf during a ceremony at Syracuse Police Headquarters this morning. Joining her to present the award were Michael C. Green, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Division of Criminal Justice Services and Chairman of the Police Officer of the Year Selection Committee, and Syracuse Police Chief Kenton T. Buckner.  Lieutenant Milana and Officers Losurdo and Rheinheimer join Syracuse Police Officer Kelsey Francemone as the agency's only recipients of the award, which was first presented 35 years ago. Officer Francemone was the first woman to be honored as the sole recipient of the honor when she received the 2016 Police Officer of the Year Award. 

"When a gunman was recklessly firing on a city street, these officers sprang into action to apprehend the suspect and save lives," Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, who made today's announcement. "We are fortunate to have dedicated officers like these brave individuals who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities and keep us safe. We owe them, and all first responders, a huge debt of gratitude for their willingness to put service over self."

New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Green said, "Key to our mission at DCJS is the support we provide law enforcement agencies. Through this work, we see first-hand the dedication and professionalism of the men and women who have chosen to make policing their career. We also see the sacrifice these officers - and their families - make for the sake of keeping us all safe. It is an honor to serve as chair of the Selection Committee and to recognize these officers for their valor."

City of Syracuse Police Chief Kenton T. Buckner said, "The Syracuse Police Department is blessed to have a workforce of professional men and women committed to protecting the citizens of our great city. On February 4, 2018, Sgt. - now Lt. - Milana, Officer Losurdo and Officer Rheinheimer displayed a tremendous amount of bravery and professionalism while dealing with a man armed with a gun. Despite being fired upon several times, they were able to take the suspect into custody. It gives me great pleasure to illuminate their actions with the entire state."

In nominating the three officers for the 2018 award, Syracuse Police provided the following account of the events that unfolded on February 4, 2018:

Officer Losurdo was the first to respond to a call for a man with a gun on South Salina Street near West Calthrop Avenue. She saw an individual who looked as if he was holding something in his waistband and ordered him to stop and show his hands. He refused. While Officer Losurdo engaged with the individual, Lieutenant Milana, who was the Third Platoon sergeant at the time, arrived. He stopped his patrol vehicle a few yards north of where the individual was standing, idling it between the man and Officer Losurdo.

Before Lieutenant Milana got out of the vehicle, the gunman pulled a semi-automatic pistol from his waistband and fired several shots at him. The bullets struck the vehicle's hood and windshield, close to Lieutenant Milana's head. The individual then ran across South Salina Street toward a nearby ramp to I-81, firing over his shoulder at Lieutenant Milana and Officer Losurdo, who returned fire. Officer Travis Rheinheimer arrived on scene to assist his fellow officers. The individual, who was shot at least once, continued to flee, discarding his firearm, leaping over a fence and attempting to hide before other officers took him into custody. The assailant, later identified as Leon Thomas, pleaded guilty to attempted murder earlier this year and is serving a 23-year prison sentence.

The Police Officer of the Year Award was first presented in 1984 and recognizes a single police officer or team of officers for an exceptional act of valor symbolizing the service of police in New York State. Since the award's inception, the Selection Committee has chosen 120 officers from 19 agencies for the honor. Of those police, 69 have been honored posthumously, including 23 officers from the New York City Police Department and 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department killed during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Eight other agencies nominated officers for the award; the following individuals will receive a Certificate of Exceptional Valor from Governor Cuomo:

Catskill Village Police Department Sergeant Daniel Waer, Officers Cameron Auffant and Dilann Chewens: On June 21, the officers responded to a domestic incident during which a man was attempting to enter an apartment belonging to the mother of his child. He fired two rounds, but no one was hit. When the officers arrived on the scene, the man was still holding the loaded firearm. The individual ran from the officers, who were able to gain control of him and take him into custody.

East Greenbush Town Police Department Officer Trevor J. LaGrave: On June 15, Officer LaGrave was on patrol when he was flagged down by a resident who had been awakened by noise from a car that had crossed several front lawns before crashing into a tree and catching fire, trapping the driver. Officer LaGrave, aided by the resident, was able to pull the driver to safety.

Erie County Sheriff's Office Deputies John Dunn and Shane Miller: On August 5, the two deputies and another officer responded to a call for a man brandishing a sawed-off shotgun at a busy gas station in the village of Springville. As the deputies arrived, the individual shot at their vehicles. The trio confronted the man and ordered him to surrender. When he refused and continued to brandish the weapon, the deputies shot him; the individual survived his injuries.

Irvington Police Department Officer Arcangelo F. Liberatore: On April 29, while off duty at a town park in Mt. Pleasant, Officer Liberatore saw a young girl being viciously attacked by a coyote. He interceded, wrestling, fighting and subsequently pinning the animal - which was later determined to be rabid - on the ground until police officers from the Mt. Pleasant Police Department arrived and were able to put the animal down. During the struggle, Officer Liberatore and the girl, who was 5 at the time, both sustained injuries that required immediate treatment at a local hospital.

New York City Police Department Detectives Brian Glacken and Christopher Williams: On July 1, the detectives, members of Emergency Services Unit 1, responded to a call of an emotionally disturbed individual at the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The detectives, working with the NYPD Harbor Unit and the U.S. Park Police, formulated a plan to approach the female. As the detectives were talking with her, the tactical response team put all safety equipment in place, executed the plan and took the woman into custody.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Forest Protection Forest Ranger Richard D. Franke Jr.: On August 4, Forest Ranger Franke was on joint patrol of the Delaware River with National Park Service Rangers when they received reports that a woman who had been rafting was pinned between a log and a raft. After arriving at the scene, Forest Ranger Franke was tethered to the patrol boat and entered the water, rescuing the woman and 10 other rafters from the high water and swift current.

New York State Police Trooper Nicholas F. Clark: On July 2, Trooper Clark, other Troopers and personnel from the Steuben County Sheriff's Office and Corning Police Department responded to a report of a possibly suicidal individual in the town of Erwin. Working together, the officers established a perimeter and attempted to contact the individual, who began shooting at Trooper Clark and a Sheriff's Deputy. Trooper Clark was struck by several rounds of buckshot and died from his injuries.

Port Chester Police Department Officer Michael Sprague: On October 10, Officer Sprague and other officers responded to shots fired at a residence. An individual called 9-1-1, reporting that an emotionally disturbed individual was firing a shotgun at the location, where three children and a woman were present. A rescue mission commenced. Officer Sprague used two ballistic shields to block a stairwell, allowing another officer to rescue three children from a second-floor bedroom. Officer Sprague then sought to rescue the woman, who was on the third floor with the gunman. After a tense standoff, Officer Sprague negotiated the surrender of the gunman.