Los Angeles

Obama Honors 4 Southern California Police Officers With Medal of Valor

Four police officers from the Los Angeles area were presented with the Medal of Valor by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on Monday.

Santa Monica Police Department officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks, along with Santa Monica College Police Department Capt. Raymond Bottenfield received the awards for placing themselves in mortal danger during a 2013 shooting rampage that left six people dead at and around SMC.

Los Angeles Police Department Officer Donald Thompson was honored for pulling an unconscious man from a burning vehicle on a freeway, suffering first-and second-degree burns.

At the ceremony, President Obama thanked the recipients and their families for their service and sacrifice.

"The public safety officers we recognize today found courage not in search of recognition but they did it instinctively," Obama said. "Your courage and quick-thinking gave us our safety."

Salas, Sparks and Bottenfield were recognized for their actions during the June 7, 2013, shooting spree that began just northeast of the college and ended with a rolling gun battle on the campus.

The three officers responded to the campus and confronted the gunman in the campus library, ordered him to drop his weapon, then opened fire when the gunman pointed his assault weapon at them. The gunman, John Zawahri, 23, was killed.

Police said Bottenfield was in plain clothes and was not wearing any body armor when he helped confront the suspect. Zawahri had killed his father and brother at their home near the college, then set the house on fire before making his way to the campus, where he fatally shot three more people.

"Officer Salas, Officer Sparks and Captain Bottenfield placed themselves in mortal danger to save the lives of students and staff during a school shooting on the busy campus of Santa Monica College,'' according to the White House.

Thompson was honored for "courageous action to save an accident victim.''

At about 2 p.m. on Dec. 25, 2013, Thompson was on his way to work when he saw a vehicle crash into a center divider on the 405 Freeway and begin to catch fire, according to police.

Thompson stopped his truck and ran to the vehicle, forced the door open and crawled through growing flames and smoke to disengage the unconscious driver's seat belt. He then pulled the man from the vehicle and carried him to safety.

"It doesn't feel real when you're doing something like that. You know what you have to do or watch someone burn to death," Thompson said.

The White House detailed his bravery in a statement.

"Officer Thompson traversed two freeway dividers and endured first- and second-degree burns while pulling an unconscious man to safety from a car moments before it became engulfed in flames,'' according to the White House.

The medal is the highest national award for valor presented to a public safety officer. It honors officers "who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life,'' the White House said. 

The officers were among 13 public safety officers from across the nation who were honored at the ceremony.

City News Service contributed to this report. 

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