La Habra Police Department celebrates exceptional police work at annual awards ceremony

By Lou Ponsi

Their split-second decisions saved lives and averted tragedy.

More than 30 La Habra Police Department members were honored for a variety of courageous acts during the department’s annual awards and commendations ceremony held June 7 at the La Habra Community Center.

Nominations for the awards and commendations were submitted by fellow employees and the honorees were then chosen by a committee of La Habra Police Department sworn and civilian personnel.

La Habra Police Officer Nicholas McDermott, right, receives the Medal of Courage from Chief Jerry Price.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Officer Nick McDermott was given the La Habra Police Department Medal of Courage for arresting a teenager who had stolen his family’s car and threatened them while brandishing a .45-caliber handgun.

McDermott located the subject not far from his house, walking in Guadalupe Park. He called out him, and gave him numerous orders to stop and get on the ground.
Instead, the subject pulled a .45 caliber handgun from his waistband and pointed it directly at McDermott.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents the Medal of Courage to Officer Nicholas McDermott.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fearing for his life, McDermott fired his gun and wounded the subject, who fled with the gun.

“McDermott gave chase, and with the assistance of other officers, the subject was apprehended and taken into custody without further incident,” Captain George Johnstone said as he gave the award to McDermott.

Receiving the Medal of Courage from La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, right, are Cpl. Craig Hentcy (from left), Officer Eliseo Funes, Cpl. Victor Rubalcava, and Officer Nathaniel Garcia.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Officer McDermott’s dedicated performance of his duties is in the highest tradition of the police service and is a credit to the La Habra Police Department,” Johnstone said.

Officers Eliseo Funes and Nate Garcia and Corporals Craig Hentcy and Victor Rubalcava also earned the Medal of Courage award for their work in the arrest of a man armed with a knife. It was later discovered that the man had committed a homicide, leaving the victim in a nearby car.

Officers Josiah Telles, left, and Nicholas McDermott receive the Medal of Courage from La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Several officers responded to the call, but Garcia was first to arrive. He saw the suspect, who had blood on his shirt and was holding a knife, which was also covered in blood.

Garcia had the man at gunpoint and ordered him to drop the knife, but he refused and continued to pace and yell. That’s when Funes arrived, enabling Garcia to switch to his Taser, a less-lethal weapon.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price gives the closing remarks during the annual La Habra Police Department Awards and Commendations Ceremony at the La Habra Community Center. Behind him are Lieutenant Adam Foster, Lieutenant Brian Miller, and Captain George Johnstone.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Hentcy arrived next and deployed a 40mm launcher, another less-lethal option, to subdue the man. Using those less-lethal options, the officers took the man into custody. Moments later, the officers discovered a deceased woman in the suspect’s vehicle that was parked nearby.

Corporal Hentcy, along with Officers Josiah Telles, Justin Cassidy, Jesus Castanon, Justin Bender, and Jason Coleman, also received a Medal of Courage for their actions when they subdued a man who was wielding an axe and advancing toward them.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, right, presents the Lifesaving Medal to Officer Michael Costanzo (from left), Officer Amsony Mondragon, Officer Paul Martinez, Officer Justin Cassidy, Sgt. Eddie Torres, Officer Nicholas McDermott, and Officer Josiah Telles.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The man, who was living inside an RV in a public parking lot, had called the police several times, making irrational statements and requesting help.

The officers announced their presence and knocked on the RV door. Initially there was no response, then without warning, the subject stepped out of the RV, holding the axe above his head, and began moving toward the officers. Less-lethal weapons were ineffective in subduing the man and an officer was forced to shoot the man, who was then taken into custody.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents Community Service Officer II Christina Muñez with the Distinguished Service Medal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Animal Control Officer Kristy Hernandez received a Chief’s Citation for rescuing a dog that had been trapped under a house. On July 11, 2017, the dog had entered a dark enclosed crawl space and became entangled in wire, unable to free itself.

Hernandez arrived on scene and determined the dog needed to be administered a tranquilizer.

“This was no easy task as it required ACO Hernandez to crawl under the house with the dog,” Foster said. “ACO Hernandez, without hesitation, crawled under the house and successfully administered the tranquilizer.”

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents the Distinguished Service Medal to Community Service Officer II Christina Muñez.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

After the dog was calm, the homeowner was still unsuccessful in trying to free the dog, prompting Hernandez to crawl under the house again to free the animal.

Corporal Michael Costanzo received a Chief’s Citation for his actions on May 18, 2017, when he was on patrol near the 600 block of Ember Lane. Recent citizen complaints regarding possible drug related crimes had drawn Corporal Costanzo to the neighborhood.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents the Lifesaving Medal to Cpl. Michael Costanzo.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Costanzo noticed a suspicious vehicle leaving the area and conducted a traffic stop after observing the driver commit three traffic violations. Costanzo recognized the driver as someone who was on probation. A female passenger was also in the vehicle.

Costanzo conducted a probation search and found paraphernalia used to ingest heroin, as well as $867 in cash. Costanzo searched the vehicle and discovered approximately 100 Xanax pills on the passenger side and determined the passenger was in possession of the Xanax for the purpose of sales.

The La Habra Police Honor Guard posts the colors at the start of the annual La Habra Police Department Awards and Commendations Ceremony at the La Habra Community Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

More officers responded to the Ember Lane home and, while conducting a probation search of the residence, located a stolen assault rifle, 2.85 grams of methamphetamine, a sawed-off shotgun, a digital scale, two 30-round AR-15 magazines, and a marijuana grow of approximately 245 plants.

As a result of Costanzo’s investigation, several weapons and various drugs were removed from the community.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents Assistant Recreation Manager Katie Elmore with the Chief’s Citation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The Chief’s Citation was awarded to Sergeant Eddie Torres, Corporal John Jaime, Officers Cameron Luitwieler, Erik Roy, Amsony Mondragon, Muris Lucarevic, and Eliseo Funes for averting opioid-related overdoses by administering Naloxone.

In 2017, La Habra police officers were trained to administer Naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids. The medication is used primarily on persons who have overdosed on opioids.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents the Chief’s Citation to Animal Control Officer Kristy Hernandez.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Due to the implementation of this policy and the training of the officers of the La Habra Police Department, a number of overdose victims’ lives have been saved,” said Lieutenant Adam Foster, who gave the awards to the officers.

Other honorees included Detective Steven Highley, who received the Osornio Award for making 49 DUI arrests in 2017. The award is named for Officer Michael Anthony Osornio, who was on patrol October 31, 1994, and was killed when a drunk driver broadsided his police vehicle.

Officer Muris Lucarevic (from left), Cpl. Michael Costanzo, Officer Judith Casillas, and Officer Josiah Telles receive the Chief’s Citation from La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Officer Judith Casillas, left, and Officer Paul Martinez receive the Chief’s Citation from La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price presents the Chief’s Citation to Officer Amsony Mondragon and Sgt. Kim Razey, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Officer Cameron Luitwieler, Sgt. Eddie Torres, Officer Amsony Mondragon, Cpl. John Jaime, Officer Eliseo Funes, and Officer Muris Lucarevic receive the Chief’s Citation during the La Habra Police Department Awards and Commendations Ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, left, presents Bureau Manager Cindy Knapp with the 40-years service medal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, left, presents Lieutenant Mel Ruiz with the 30-years service medal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, left, presents Sgt. Jeffrey Baylos with the 30-years service medal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, left, presents Cpl. John Jaime with the 25-years service medal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price, left, presents Sgt. Jim Tigner with the 20-years service medal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Laird Hayes gives the keynote speech during the La Habra Police Department awards dinner.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC