Morris County Sheriff Recognizes Employee Achievements
Published on September 23, 2021
Members of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections and Bureau of Law Enforcement attended the 2021 annual Medal Day Ceremony held at the Morris County Park Commission’s Frelinghuysen Arboretum on September 21, 2021. Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon recognized 37 officers and non-sworn staff for outstanding achievements and life-saving measures during the year.
“Exceptional work is done here. I am privileged to stand here as your Sheriff and recognize memorable instincts and skill. These are situations that would panic people. These officers and support staff are highly skilled in their specialty, proving time and again the very best in what they do,” said Sheriff Gannon.
Award recipients from the Bureau of Corrections included Correctional Police Officer Anthony Otaegui and Correctional Police Officer Matthew Freeman for the Honorable Service Award. On August 9, 2021, the officers entered a housing unit where an assault was taking place on an officer by an inmate. They were able to overcome the actor’s efforts and take him into custody, preventing further harm to the officer. Sheriff Gannon said, “Correctional work is many times unsung.”
Correctional Police Lieutenant Thomas Markey, Correctional Police Corporal Peter Lohmus, Correctional Police Corporal William Smith, and Correctional Police Officer Steven Goodman were recipients of the Exceptional Duty Award. During a recent firearm requalification session, an accidental discharge from a firearm occurred, causing a bullet to be lodged in an officer’s leg. The officers rendered first aid to the injured officer which included the application of two tourniquets to stop bleeding.
On June 17, 2021, an officer within the Morris County Correctional Facility suffered a medical episode which led to cardiac arrest. The Life Saving Award recipients Correctional Police Lieutenant Andrew Bileci, Correctional Police Officer Steven Goodman, Correctional Police Officer Michael McCall, Registered Nurse Erin Yeager, and Practical Nurse Donna Backes rendered lifesaving skills to the officer to include CPR which resulted in saving the officer’s life.
Bureau of Corrections Undersheriff Alan J. Robinson said: “Remarkable people tend to do remarkable things. Law enforcement officers are often faced with critical thinking situations that require selfless acts in an effort to quell a situation and restore order, apprehend offenders, and commonly preserve human life at any cost. Similarly, medical professionals are dedicated to the good and welfare of their patients to ensure all their healthcare needs are met under any circumstance, condition or situation. I am honored to say that these men and women of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office; Bureau of Corrections are exemplary examples of true professionals dedicated to doing whatever it takes within the performance of their duties to ensure at the end of the day everyone goes home safe.”
Bureau of Law Enforcement Sheriff’s Officer Chelsea Whiting received the Sheriff’s Achievement Medal for successfully launching Hope Hub, only the second model in the nation. Hope Hub brings over thirty providers together weekly to address the needs of individuals or families at an acutely elevated risk. Since inception, the Hope Hub has provided over seventy situations with life-changing services to include mental health, substance abuse disorder, benefits, food assistance and identification cards, building positive relationships in the community.
Unit Citation medals were presented to three (3) sections. Members of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Section assisted the New Jersey Transit Police with a homicide investigation at the Morristown Train Station on March 29, 2021. Detective Sergeant Craig Brooks, Detective Corporal Phil Mangiafridda, Detectives Deanna Gardner, Andreas Zaharopoulos and Stephanie Mitchell assisted in processing the scene, collecting evidence, and identifying the victim. The suspect was later apprehended and is now awaiting trial.
The Digital Media Unit under the Crime Lab Section also assisted with the Morristown homicide by extracting video surveillance footage from numerous businesses and locations. Forensic Analyst Information Technologist Greg Baxter and Photo Processor and Developer Ian Spitzer were able to create a timeline of events, ultimately assisting in identifying the suspect, who was located and charged. Sheriff Gannon said, “This Unit put things together extremely quickly.”
The Crime Scene Investigation and Crime Lab Sections as a whole received the Unit Citation Medal for their participation in a Crime Scene Assessment Program achieving a certificate of Conformity from Highlands Forensic Investigations on May 29, 2020, and a continued Conformity on August 9, 2021. All aspects of the crime scene unit and operation were evaluated, highlighting areas of successful standards and practices. Thirteen detectives and three non-sworn employees contributed to the months long process. The Morris County Sheriff’s Office is the first agency in the state of New Jersey to complete a Crime Scene Assessment Program. Sheriff Gannon said, “CSI opened their doors to nationally recognized experts and succeeded.”
Forensic Analyst Information Technologist Greg Baxter also received the Citizen Service Medal. On December 24, 2020, an individual that was later pronounced deceased was struck by a motor vehicle in Denville that fled the scene. Through analysis and video enhancement, Forensic Analyst Baxter was able to determine the type of vehicle that fled the scene, leading to the identification and location of the suspect vehicle.
The Bureau of Law Enforcement’s Life Saving Medal was awarded to Detective Sergeant Christina Kovacs for the second time. She and her husband, Detective Rich Ornelas of the Wharton Police Department performed life saving measures on an injured skier while on vacation in Big Sky, Montana. They applied a tourniquet and a hemostatic gauze to control bleeding, saving the victim’s life. “Officers are off duty skiing. They were prepared and skilled to save a life,” said Sheriff Gannon.
Sheriff’s Investigator Phil Masi received the Exceptional Duty Award for partnering with the Madison Police Department to purchase, deliver and install a new basketball hoop for Madison children who lost their original basketball hoop during a storm. “Children lost the opportunity to play but Investigator Masi made a positive difference to those kids,” Sheriff Gannon said.
Also receiving the Exceptional Duty Award was Detective Lieutenant Aaron Tomasini for his work with various partners to establish and carry out the security mission at the Morris County COVID-19 vaccination megasite at Rockaway Mall. Ultimately, the megasite safely administered over 330,000 inoculations of the COVID-19 vaccine. Sheriff Gannon said, “People came through the site scared. Through safety, security and attention, they left the site floating.”
Two CSI detectives received the Meritorious Service Award for the 2020 Christmas Eve fatal hit and run crash in Denville. Certain crime scene equipment failed to function due to heavy rains and wind gusts that night. Detectives Andreas Zaharopoulos and Stephanie Mitchell continued to preserve the scene and photograph during dangerous conditions. “These officers don’t go home because the weather is bad. They have to reconstruct the scene. They’re in a tough spot when equipment goes out. They go back to the basics so a person who can’t speak anymore has justice,” said Sheriff Gannon.
Sheriff’s Investigator Ashley Craig also received the Meritorious Service Medal for assisting while off duty at a motor vehicle crash in Hardyston Township, Sussex County on August 10, 2021. Investigator Craig crawled into the broken window of an overturned vehicle to successfully pull the victim out of the car and into safety.
Sheriff’s Officer Michael Minovich received the Educational Achievement Medal for completing his Master’s Degree.
“I personally am very thankful and I salute you for the great work you do. I am also thankful to your families for supporting them. My staff is invested 24/7 to do what’s right. The public deserves the best services and that’s what the Morris County Sheriff’s Office provides,” Sheriff Gannon said during the Medal Day ceremony.