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Laguna Niguel Medal of Valor Award Recipients

Deputy Michael Higgins
Medal of Valor and Medal for Lifesaving
Deputy Juan Lopez
Purple Heart Medal
Dispatcher Christina Byerley
Medal of Merit

Tuesday night, September 24, 2013, was progressing like most other evenings. Call takers and dispatchers were busy receiving telephone calls and dispatching deputies to handle those calls for service in a calm, competent manner. Deputies were busy going from call to call, handling each service call as efficiently and professionally as possible. Area partners, Deputy Michael Higgins and Deputy Juan Lopez, were working their normal night shift in the city of Laguna Niguel, while Dispatcher Christina Byerley was in the Emergency Communications Bureau (ECB), Communication Center sitting at her dispatch console, dispatching calls as usual. Just after seven o’clock in the evening, a call came in that turned the business as usual night into a life threatening emergency for everyone involved.

Several people called 911 to report a stabbing in a condominium complex in the normally peaceful city of Laguna Niguel. The first caller told a Sheriff’s call taker that a man with a severe stab wound was running in the street screaming for help. The call taker quickly typed in the information and sent it to Christina’s dispatch console. Christina, a seasoned and experienced dispatcher, immediately assigned Deputies Higgins and Lopez to the call. As the deputies quickly drove to the location, Christina continued to receive further details about the frantically evolving situation and passed the information along to all of the responding patrol units in the same calm, calm, cool manner she had displayed all evening. Call takers received information that a second victim, the suspect’s mother, had been stabbed in the hand. She and the injured man, whose lower right arm was nearly severed, were now with neighbors and told them the suspect, her 21 year old son, was mentally unstable and in possession of a large, razor sharp knife. What she did not pass along, but was discovered later, was that her son was in excellent physical condition and was extremely proficient with the use of that knife.

Deputies Higgins and Lopez were listening to and acknowledging the updates as they received them and were quickly approaching the complex. Dispatch had told the deputies the incident occurred at #227 and the informant had called from #235. What no one told Deputies Higgins and Lopez, and what nobody seemed to know, was where the suspect was hiding. Deputy Higgins announced their arrival at the complex stating, “10-97” on the unit radio. Deputy Lopez turned his patrol unit into the complex first but fortuitously, the two deputies arrived at the complex simultaneously, a fact that would later save Deputy Lopez’s life.

As they slowly cruised into the complex, their attention was drawn to an unidentified woman who was waving them down and pointing eastward. As both deputies exited their patrol vehicles, the suspect suddenly sprang from an alcove in the building directly in front of the vehicles and ambushed Deputy Lopez. With no time to react, Deputy Lopez immediately tried to put distance between himself and the attacker by backpedaling away, but the speedy assailant was running forward and was upon Deputy Lopez instantly, slashing and stabbing at the deputy with the 10 inch long knife. Deputy Lopez deflected some of the blows as he attempted to gain distance from the suspect but was unable to draw his weapon because of the rapidity of the stabbing blows. As he attempted to change direction, Deputy Lopez tripped and fell.
The suspect was on him immediately, and tried to kill Deputy Lopez by stabbing him in the chest. Deputy Lopez used all of his strength and energy to deflect blows, receiving serious cuts to his hands and arms. He was able to use his legs to push the suspect away. As all of this was happening, Deputy Higgins exited his vehicle and ran toward the attack. Deputy Lopez was able to kick the attacker hard enough to stand him upright and Deputy Higgins opened fire, striking the assailant in the chest. Despite suffering multiple gunshot wounds, the suspect simply stared at Deputy Higgins then turned and attempted to escape by fleeing back into the building. Knowing the attacker was an extreme threat to himself, Deputy Lopez and the public at large, Deputy Higgins pursued him and neutralized the threat with deadly force, ending the violent rampage of the vicious attacker. Astonishingly, from the time the deputies exited their patrol vehicles, to the time the suspect fell to the ground dead, less than seven seconds had elapsed.

Meanwhile, Christina Byerley was still busy bringing resources to the scene. Despite hearing the gunshots over the radio as Deputy Lopez called for assistance, she maintained a professional demeanor on air while tension and turmoil churned in her gut. As Deputy Higgins used a dog leash from a passerby as a tourniquet to slow the rate of blood flowing from Deputy Lopez’s wounds, Christina worked with her supervisor and the Department Commander to ensure investigative units were notified and responding to the scene. She also coordinated the numerous other units and assets responding to the location. Orange County Fire Authority personnel arrived on scene and treated Deputy Lopez and the other victims before they were transported to the hospital for further medical care. Eventually, as the deputies contained the scene and freed the radio channel for normal radio traffic, Christina returned to dispatching ‘routine’ calls for service without a break in her voice.

The actions of Deputy Mike Higgins, Deputy Juan Lopez and Dispatcher Christina Byerley on that terrible Tuesday night were nothing short of extraordinary. Christina showed courageous calm and incredible professionalism as she maintained her demeanor and performed her duty during an intense and potentially deadly episode that exploded instantly and without warning. Deputy Lopez fought valiantly to save his life, never giving in to the fear that must have gripped him when he was savagely and brutally attacked. His ‘will to survive’ was eminently on display as he dauntlessly fought off his attacker.

Although he remains off work due to the serious nature of his injuries, no one can doubt his heart as he strives to return to duty. Deputy Higgins displayed extreme bravery and skill as he rushed toward the maniacal attacker trying to kill Deputy Lopez. His swift reaction and courageous actions, along with his subsequent emergency first aid, undoubtedly saved the life of his partner. Deputy Higgins’ actions as he performed his duty that day reflect the finest traditions of the law enforcement profession. Deputy Higgins, Deputy Lopez and Dispatcher Christina Byerley should all be as proud of their efforts on September 24, 2013, as we in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department are proud of them.

Saddleback Valley Elks Awards Recipient - Civilian Employee of the Year

Community Services Officer Cheryl Waters

Cheryl has worked for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department since September of 2001 and been with the City of Laguna Niguel for so long that no one seems to know for sure when she started, not even her!

Cheryl is compassionate, kind-hearted, and positive. She understands the ins and outs of the City of Laguna Niguel and is deeply dedicated to it. She is the coordinator for the Police Auxiliary Citizens’ Team, or PACT, Laguna Niguel’s retired volunteers who are also deeply dedicated to the city.

Again words that describe Cheryl are compassionate, kind-hearted, positive, thorough, knowledgeable, professional, courteous, friendly, and faithful. One of the words that best describes Cheryl, however, is brave, because in 2013 Cheryl fought a fight for her life with breast cancer all the while maintaining all of these wonderful qualities. Cheryl is the kind of person that while going through all the worst that life can throw at her, will reach out to you, and even though she’s hurting, still bring light into a dark room and give you something positive to hold onto.

It is for these reasons and many more that Cheryl was chosen by her peers and supervisors to receive this honor from the Elk’s. Cheryl’s continued sacrifice and service to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the citizens of Laguna Niguel is very much appreciated and we are very grateful for her ongoing dedication to the community.

Saddleback Valley Elks Awards Recipient - Deputy of the Year

Rotary Top Cop Recipient
Deputy Chad Davis

This year, staff and supervisors for the City of Laguna Niguel nominated Deputy Chad Davis for Deputy of the Year.

Chad has worked for the Sheriff’s Department since August of 2004 and was assigned to the City of Laguna Niguel in 2011. He was quickly identified as one of the hardest working and most conscientious deputies in the city. During his time in Laguna Niguel he has become a Field Training Officer, a Drug Recognition Expert, a member of the Community Services Unit, a member of the Bike Patrol Team, and a member of the Critical Incident Response Team. Words used by his peers and supervisors when talking about Chad are, “The Hardest Working, Motivated, Role Model, Second to None, Professionalism, Upbeat, Positive and Awesome”.

Deputy Davis continues to serve the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the citizens of Laguna Niguel every single day with utmost care and professionalism and we could not be more proud to have him represent our city.

American Legion Medal of Merit Recipients

Crime Prevention Specialist’s Brittany Plano and Kimberly Sawyer

Brittany Plano and Kimberly Sawyer were hired by Laguna Niguel Police Services as Crime Prevention Specialists in October and December 2012, brought a lot of valuable experience from their previous jobs, but walked into a program that had been floundering.

They were given the city’s vision of what crime prevention should be and instructed to be creative in their approach to improving the Crime Prevention Program. With little to go on except a vision and a crime prevention manual, Brittany and Kimberly hit the floor running. The two split assignments evenly but worked together as a team to accomplish their goals.

Brittany immediately took over the Neighborhood Watch program, initiating neighborhood watch meetings and encouraging members of this community to become Block Captains in their neighborhoods. Brittany and Kimberly presented their programs to the communities and adapted each presentation to the neighborhood they were addressing. They also held Block Captain training nights which included guest speakers on the many different topics. To their credit, they conducted 22 Neighborhood Watch meetings and also added 40 new Block Captains.

Brittany coordinates Police Service’s quarterly newsletter, “The Laguna Niguel Neighborhood News”, which is sent to every resident in our City. Brittany, Kimberly and the rest of the staff conduct research of relevant topics and then publish them in the newsletter, which includes informative articles on Crime Prevention, Safety, and other City related events.

Brittany coordinates other programs such as National Prescription Medication Take Back Day and National Night Out, and along with Kimberly acquired a prescription drug disposal bin for Police Services, allowing local residents to easily dispose of 100 pounds of prescription medication last year.

They both work closely with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Fire Authority, Mission Viejo Animal Services and many other public, private and non-profit organizations organizing and presenting all of Laguna Niguel’s crime prevention programs.

Kimberly took over coordination of the Laguna Niguel Citizen’s Academy and re-established the City’s Business Watch Program. Her years of experience were immediately noticed. Her attention to detail and organization skills were phenomenal as she recreated the programs, making them a complete success.

In addition to their crime prevention duties, Kimberly and Brittany assist with, organize, and work special events within the City of Laguna Niguel, including the Holiday Christmas Parade, Scams Workshop, Laguna Niguel Mooning, La Dolce Vita Festival, and Technology Presentation for PACT, and Character Counts. They also update and enhance “Virtual Briefing” for our deputies and investigators, keeping them up-to-date on growing crime trends and complaints.

Brittany and Kimberly were a great addition to Laguna Niguel Police Services, and for their amazing dedication and hard work re-establishing the city’s crime prevention programs they were awarded the South Orange County American Legion’s Medal of Merit.