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West Hartford Police Department Annual Award Ceremony Honors Citizens and Officers for Exceptional Deeds

West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick congratulates Off. Dominic Creaco, who was given a Merit Award and a Distinguished Service Award Wednesday night. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Local citizens and West Hartford Police officers were presented with awards during a ceremony in Town Hall Wednesday evening in front of family and friends, and a surprise retirement announcement was made at the end of the night.  

West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick (left) with Gabriela Downey and Sean Walsh, who both received Citizen Awards Wednesday night. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Zoe Pierce and Lauren Cohen. Photos by Ronni Newton

Thursday night in Town Hall, West Hartford Police Chief Vernon L. Riddick honored local citizens and police officers alike to celebrate their acts of excellence, bravery, and sacrifice, and the exceptional deeds of officers who “put the preservation of life of others before [themselves]” this past year, while avoiding the use of deadly force.

He began the evening telling the story of his visit to St. Brigid’s School in West Hartford earlier Wednesday morning, where a student asked him: “‘How does it make you feel to be a police officer, and do you still have the same feeling now as when you first began?” Riddick said the question caught him off guard, which he said is tough to do, but it also made him reflect on the “why and now.”

It takes bravery and sacrifice that it takes to be a police officer, Riddick said, and the willingness to put your life on the line to “make this world a better place for everyone.”

As he hosted the Annual Awards ceremony for the first time after being sworn in exactly a year earlier, Riddick noted that he is so “thankful and grateful to be part of this wonderful organization, I am thankful and grateful to be part of law enforcement, and I am thankful and grateful for each and every one of you.”

Town Manager Matt Hart said community policing is a “major part our tradition of excellence in this town” and emphasized the importance of these officers “making connections with the community, being observant … and taking care of lower-level offenses to prevent more significant things from arising” in order to keep our town running and citizens feeling safe.

He thanked and congratulated the honorees again before handing over the floor to the Town Council Public Safety Committee Chair Leon Davidoff.

Town Council member Leon Davidoff (at podium) presented awards to citizens and police officers Wednesday night. Also pictured (from left): Assistant Chief Daniel Coppinger, Assistant Chief Robert McCue, Chief Vernon Riddick. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Being involved in public service is “not just a job,” Davidoff said. “It’s more than that, it’s crucial to recognize people,” Davidoff said.

Davidoff shared that this award ceremony has personal meaning to him, as his dad received a citizen’s award years before. He remembers being so proud of his father for helping the police department and being recognized for doing something for this community that his dad said was just what “you would expect a normal person in society to do – a good deed.”

Davidoff, and Council member Chris Williams, presented the awards.

Eight local residents were recognized Wednesday with Citizen Awards for aiding the department in the prevention of a crime or the apprehension of criminals. 

West Hartford residents Sean Walsh and Gabriela Downey, who were present at the ceremony, and David Clymer, who was unable to attend, were honored for an incident that happened last June when a drunk driver crashed into another car and fled the scene.

Walsh was driving and Downey was a passenger, and the pair saw the incident and followed the driver. Downey called 911 and provided updates to officers, and Walsh was able to block his path until officers arrived on the scene.

Clymer stopped and rendered aid to the victim of the crash, and also contacted police.

The driver was found to have a BAC level of 0.234 percent.

Other citizens were recognized for their contributions in stopping package thieves and shoplifters. Kyle Egress, Peter Kanelos, and William Kutz were honored for rushing into a burning house on North Main Street in February and helping an elderly resident escape.

Chief Vernon Riddick presents Off. Eric Butkiewicz with a Life Saving Award. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Three officers presented with the Life Saving Award for their work in the field handling life or death situations.

Among the honorees, Off.Eric Butkiewicz was recognized for saving the life of a 7-year-old who was choking while eating lunch at school.

Butkiewicz arrived on the scene in just a minute and 30 seconds, performed the Heimlich Maneuver, and out popped an entire chicken nugget – which had caused a complete blockage. The child made a full recovery, according to the parents, and Butkiewicz was credit with saving the child’s life.

Officers Merrick Forader and Dustin Ganci were also recognized with the Life Saving Award for pulling a woman back onto a balcony after she attempted to commit suicide.

Off. Dominic Creaco was honored with two separate awards Wednesday night.

West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick congratulates Off. Dominic Creaco, who was given a Merit Award and a Distinguished Service Award Wednesday night. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Creaco was the sole recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for his diligence in cornering a dangerous suspect after a foot chase, without incident, despite having a loaded firearm pointed at him. His ability to stay calm and focused while his own life was directly on the line in order to take this suspect – who was wanted on domestic violence, drug, and weapons charges – into custody exemplified the kind of bravery and sacrifice that Chief Riddick emphasized at the beginning of the ceremony.

Creaco received a Merit Award for his skill and persistence in locating the suspect in an early morning occupied home break-in, who had fled the scene and even changed clothing. 

Riddick made a surprise announcement at the end of the ceremony: the retirement of Assistant Chief Robert McCue in July 2019 after a 39-year career.

Riddick presented McCue with a plaque to recognize his service with the department since 1980, and had many words of praise for the assistant chief.

Riddick said that since he became West Hartford’s chief exactly a year ago and began working with McCue, “any, and every thing I have asked this man to do he has done,” even things that he hasn’t even asked about yet.

McCue was recognized for his honesty and hard work in the department, and for not being afraid to tell Riddick what he thinks. “I never want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ people,” he said, emphasizing that McCue is definitely not a “yes” person, and has also been willing to absorb change throughout his long and faithful service to the department.

“I know what you heard this evening was the quality of the police officers that we have at the West Hartford Police Department,” Riddick said. “There were several situations that you listened to where deadly force could have been utilized and would have been justified at that the time. Our officers showed restraint, they showed excellent judgement, and they made a call at that time. I am blessed to be working with them and you are blessed to have them.”

Town Council member Chris Williams reads details of the incident in February 2019, where Kyle Egress (right), Peter Kanelos, and William Kutz (not pictured) rescued an elderly woman from a burning home. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Citizen Award Recipients:

David Clymer

Sean Walsh

Gabriela Downey

Erica Katz

Jacob Kinnen

Kyle Egress

Peter Kanelos

William Kutz

Recognized for 20 Years of Service

Lt. Eric Rocheleau

Det. Leigh Cogle

Chief Vernon Riddick with 20-year-service honorees (from left): Det. Leigh Cogle, Communications Specialist Keith Victor, Lt. Eric Rocheleau. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Det. Andrew Wamester

Lt. Roger Brancoforte

Sgt. Christopher Day

Mr. Keith Victor

Unit Citation Recipients:

PSD Laura Cashman

Off. Kyle Davis

Off. Ross Friedman

Off. Brian Gallagher

Off. Dustin Ganci

Chief Vernon Riddick with several of the Unit Citation recipients. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Off. Lauren Rieger

Off. Andrew Teeter

Off. Steven Dickman

Off. Brandon Dudzinski

Off. Jeremiah Gagnon

Off. Zachary Kaesmann

Off. Generoso Coscarelli

Off. Merrick Forader

Off. Joseph Hopkins

Off. Michael LaPointe

Off. David Michael

Employee Service Award Recipient:

PSD Michele Lyons

Merit Award Recipients:

Chief Vernon Riddick with several of the Merit Award recipients. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Off. Brandon Dudzinski

Off. Dalton Gallagher

Sgt. Steven Kinckley

Off. Dominic Creaco

Off. Kyle Christian

Off. Peter Parlos

Off. Brian Delgrande

Det. Benjamin DelMonte

Off. John Begin

Off. Andrew Teeter

Life Saving Award Recipients:

Off. Merrick Forader

Off. Dustin Ganci

Off. Butkiewitcz

Departmental Citation Recipients:

Off. Merrick Forader

Off. Jeremiah Gagnon

Det. Sean Walmsley

Off. Chistopher Leonard

Sgt. Brett Balisciano

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Assistant Chief Robert McCue (second from left) holds the plaque honoring him for 39 years of service. With him are (from left) Town Manager Matt Hart, Chief Vernon Riddick, Assistant Chief Dan Coppinger. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

From left: Chief Vernon Riddick, Off. Dalton Gallagher, Off. Brandon Dudzinski. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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Lauren Cohen

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