News Releases


An unconscious victim is pulled from a burning house, deadly inmate attacks are thwarted, a rapist is pursued and captured, a 77-year-old angler is saved from the pounding surf. The Department of Corrections (CDC) recognized these and other employee heroics at the annual Medal of Valor Ceremony, Friday, June 14 at 12:00 noon on the West steps of the State Capitol.

CDC honored 30 of its employees for acts of heroism and outstanding service while on duty and in the community. The employees–male and female, peace officer and civilian–were selected out of a group of more than 70 nominees from CDC facilities throughout the state.

Youth and Adult Correctional Agency Secretary Joe Sandoval and CDC Director James Gomez presented the heroism medals and also awards for Correctional Officer and Correctional Supervisor of the Year.

During the ceremony, Sacramento television news anchormen Dave Walker, KCRA-TV, Alan Frio, KXTV-TV, and David Ono, KOVR-TV, highlighted details of the acts that earned the medals.

A summary of the individual actions and awards received is attached below. Additional information may be obtained from the public information officer at the prison listed or from the CDC Communications Office.



The Medal of Valor is the Department’s highest award, earned by employees distinguishing themselves by conspicuous bravery or heroism above and beyond the normal demands of correctional service. The employee shall display great courage in the face of immediate life-threatening peril and with full knowledge of the risk involved. The act should show professional judgment and not jeopardize operations or the lives of others.

Correctional Officers Tom C. Hopper, Gary Colvin, and Arturo R. Ramirez–Calipatria State Prison Several inmates, armed with inmate-manufactured weapons, came into a program office at Calipatria State Prison and began assaulting staff. As he came to the rescue of a sergeant, Officer Hopper was struck from behind by one inmate then punched in the jaw by another. Hopper maintained physical control of the first inmate even while being struck in the back and kicked in the face by others. Officer Hopper sustained puncture wounds to his back and arm. During the same incident, Officer Colvin helped wrestle an assailant to the ground, forcing him to drop his weapon. Officer Colvin sustained two puncture wounds to his back. Also responding, Officer Ramirez used his side handle baton to restrain one of the assailants. Officer Ramirez sustained a serious knee injury. All three officers acted with complete disregard for their own safety in an attempt to prevent injury to others.

Correctional Officer Bryan Clayton Gallemore–Corcoran State Prison With no thought for his personal safety, Officer Bryan Clayton Gallemore came to the aid of an officer being choked by an inmate to the point of unconsciousness. So violent was the attack that Gallemore’s side-handle baton could not stop it. He then wrestled the inmate to the ground, in a successful effort to stop the attack. Officer Gallemore was injured in the incident, but his unselfish and courageous efforts prevented the serious injury or the death of his fellow officer.

Lieutenant Ken J. Howard–Calipatria State Prison A stabbing attack on an officer brought immediate response from Lieutenant Howard. With complete disregard for his own safety, Lt. Howard chased off the inmate who had stabbed the victim several times. He was then attacked from behind by two other inmates, sustaining four stab wounds in the back. In spite of this cowardly and vicious attack, he managed to subdue his attacker, putting an end to the incident. Lt. Howard’s actions undoubtedly prevented grievous bodily harm to the officer first attacked.


The Corrections Star Gold Medal is the Department’s second highest award for heroic deeds under extraordinary circumstances. The employee shall display courage in the face of immediate peril in acting to save the life of another person.

Correctional Officer Elizabeth A. Thornhill–California State Prison, Corcoran Officer Thornhill came to the aid of a fellow officer who was being stabbed in the back by an inmate in the Corcoran dining hall. She drew her side handle baton, striking the inmate and then helping to wrestle him to the ground. She disarmed the inmate and placed him in handcuffs. Officer Thornhill’s quick action contributed to the survival of her fellow officer who suffered seven stab wounds to his back, shoulder, chest and arm.

House Monitor Michael MacCracken–Rubidoux Re-Entry Facility An armed assailant entered the Rubidoux Community Re-Entry Center, pistol whipped two persons, shot an inmate and killed a visitor. Michael MacCracken, the house monitor on duty, used sound tactics and great courage to keep the situation from worsening even more. He tricked the assailant into allowing him to place an outside call which alerted police to the situation. MacCracken then handled incoming phone calls from the news media and continued to ensure the safety of the hostages. For three hours he kept the assailant preoccupied, creating a diversion that allowed inmates to escape and the SWAT team to enter the building and kill the assailant.

Correctional Officer John Towle–Wasco State Prison While shopping at a convenience store in Delano, Correctional Officer John Towle saw two men fighting; one was stabbing the other with a knife. Towle immediately moved into the fray and disarmed the attacker. After police arrived, the assailant started fighting with the arresting officer. Officer Towle again restrained him, preventing injury to the officer. Towle’s courageous and unselfish response to the assault most likely saved the victim’s life and his subsequent actions reflect positively on his training as a peace officer.

Correctional Sergeant Dwight McGhee–Sierra Conservation Center While at home, Sgt. McGhee noticed a neighboring house on fire. When he learned there may be a person inside, McGhee took a garden hose and crawled through the house, attempting to stay under the layer of dense smoke just above floor-level. Making his way to the back of the house, Sgt. McGhee found the victim unconscious on the bedroom floor. He broke out the bedroom window and passed the victim to another neighbor outside. As a result of Sgt. McGhee’s quick, decisive action, the victim suffered only smoke inhalation.


The Corrections Star Silver Medal is the Department’s third highest award for acts of bravery under extraordinary or unusual circumstances. The employee shall display courage in the face of potential peril while saving or attempting to save the life of another person or distinguish him/herself by performing in stressful situations with exceptional tactics or judgment.

Associate Warden Carolyn P. Graham and Associate Warden Roderick Q. Hickman–California Medical Facility A very agitated inmate grabbed a female recreational therapist, threatening to plunge two sharpened pencils into her jugular vein if his demands were not met. Included in his demands were a meeting with the warden and the news media, and a trip back to Hawaii. During the standoff, the inmate held the therapist and five other inmates and two staff as hostages in a prison day room. A SERT team was sent to the scene and waited to go into action. Associate Wardens Graham and Hickman, both trained in conflict management, demonstrated the ultimate in professionalism in calming both the inmate and the hostages. Eventually they persuaded the inmate to release the hostages. Their consummate professionalism in a frightful and compromising situation most likely resulted in preventing serious injury or death to one or more of the hostages.

Correctional Counselor Prescott D. Bush–Folsom State Prison A correctional officer was being assaulted by an inmate near the counselor offices. Alerted by the officer’s alarm, Counselor Bush responded to the scene. Without knowing if a weapon was involved he immediately tackled the assailant, dislodging his hold on the officer and breaking off the attack. Counselor Bush’s brave actions prevented further injury to the downed correctional officer.

Parole Agent Juan T. Castillo–Region II Parolev While driving in Oakland, Agent Castillo saw a bleeding, partially clothed, and hysterical woman. After stopping to assist her, Agent Castillo was told that a suspect in a group of males nearby had beaten and raped the woman. When he approached the group, two males started running. Agent Castillo gave chase and apprehended a suspect who was later convicted of the sexual assault. His brave and unselfish actions most likely stopped a continuing assault and resulted in one less sex offender on our streets.

Correctional Officer Kevin Anderson–California Rehabilitation Center While he was closing the facility’s yard, Officer Anderson saw a fight break out between groups of about 30 inmates. Seeing that it was a racial disturbance and could easily get out of hand, he told the officer standing by the entrance gate to close it. Now, locked in and alone in this extremely volatile environment, Officer Anderson, with his baton drawn, ordered the combatants to stop fighting and lie face down on the ground. The inmates complied and the disturbance was quelled in about two minutes–even before assisting staff arrived. Anderson’s quick response is credited with preventing the highly volatile situation from getting out of control.

Correctional Officer William Pitcher–Wasco State Prison An explosion at a Bakersfield refinery caused a large fireball to engulf the vehicle in front of Officer Picher’s van. Ignoring the real possibility of another explosion, and without regard for his own safety, he gave aid and comfort to the victims and called for emergency medical response. By his actions, Officer Picher represented himself as a true and caring professional.

Correctional Sergeant Carlos Cuellar, Correctional Officers James D. Wilbanks and Kyle Buntley, and Medical Technical Assistant Lance Lowery–Wasco State Prison Responding to a fire alarm, Wasco staff discovered a cell, filled with smoke. The sole inmate inside was standing at the cell door laughing. The inmate refused to exit the cell. Instead, he moved further into the smoke where he could not be seen or heard. Although the fire department had not yet arrived, Sgt. Cuellar, Officers Wilbanks and Buntley and MTA Lowery felt they must act immediately. The four staff members, facing the unknown, entered the burning cell. The inmate violently resisted, striking Officer Wilbanks in the face. After a prolonged struggle, staff subdued the inmate and removed him to safety. Their heroic actions went above and beyond normal duty.


The Corrections Star Bronze Medal is the Department’s award for saving a life without placing oneself in peril. The employee shall have used proper training and tactics in a professional manner to save, or clearly contribute to saving the life of another person.

Firefighter Michael Vincent McCoy–Wasco State Prison Responding to a mutual aid request from the Kern County Fire Department, Wasco State Prison Firefighter Michael McCoy encountered a serious, multiple-vehicle accident. A passenger vehicle had collided with a tank truck carrying 1,000 pounds of pesticide. The vehicle was severely damaged and the occupants trapped inside. Gasoline and pesticide spilled from the truck. Firefighter McCoy remained focused on the task, ignoring the gruesome nature of the scene, and directing the use of the Jaw’s of Life to complete removal of the trapped occupants. His professional actions in the light of obvious danger to himself and the victims are worthy of the award of the bronze medal.

Parole Agents Steven Rodriguez and Karen Blackburn–Region I Parole A local police officer was involved in a pursuit of a felony warrant suspect when the suspect’s family turned on the officer. Hearing the officer’s radio call for backup, both agents Rodriguez and Blackburn responded. The police officer was struggling with the suspect who was choking his small child. A female was assaulting the officer and interfering with the arrest. Agent Blackburn restrained the female suspect. Officer Rodriguez used the police officer’s pepper spray to subdue both suspects. The Agents’ alertness and quick action saved an innocent child and prevented serious injury to the officer.

Correctional Sergeant Michael Quaglia and Correctional Officer Edward John Popke–Sierra Conservation Center Sgt. Quaglia and Officer Popke received information by radio that an auto accident had occurred outside of the prison. Upon arrival, they saw a victim in a ravine who was losing a substantial amount of blood from a large hole in the side of his head. While the officers were attempting to stabilize the victim, they noticed he had quit breathing. After they applied emergency aid the victim started breathing again. They then arranged for helicopter airlift to a local hospital. Their quick reaction to the accident most likely saved the life of the victim.

Correctional Sergeant Sheldon A. Windley, Jr.–Mule Creek State Prison A teenage girl with several loaded weapons barricaded herself in a basement bedroom–a possible suicide. The police department tried for several hours to talk the girl out. Sgt. Windley, head of the Mule Creek State Prison’s Negotiation Management Team, was contacted and deployed to the scene. The sergeant took over communications with the girl and she surrendered to authorities within two hours. Because of his extraordinary skills in crisis management, Sgt. Windley was able to resolve the situation without harm to the girl or anyone else.

Chief Deputy Warden Robert Ayers and Captain Steven Lawrence–Pelican Bay State Prison The two Pelican Bay staff members were fishing in the frigid waters off the coast of Oregon when they observed a 77-year-old man floundering in the water. He was trapped between his boat and several rocks and was being plummeted by the surf. Disregarding personal danger, Chief Deputy Ayers and Captain Lawrence rushed into the rocky surf to rescue him. Their actions probably saved the man’s life.

Correctional Officer Anthony M. Salas–R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility As he was returning to the Correctional Training Center in Galt, Officer Salas witnessed a collision between a car and semi-truck. One of the victims, a sergeant from the training center, was bleeding profusely from a scalp laceration. The truck had overturned in a field and caught on fire–with the driver still inside. Officer Salas provided first aid to the sergeant and directed rescue efforts by other Corrections staff including the use of fire extinguishers and traffic control.


The employee shall exemplify the high quality of service the nation receives from its detention and correctional officers.


Correctional Officer Jim Wilson–California Institution for Men A 14-year veteran with the California Department of Corrections, Officer Wilson today is being recognized for his leadership abilities and job performance. He has improved the entire operation of the housing unit for geriatric and disabled inmates at the California Institution for Men. Officer Wilson has been instrumental in creating work projects and job assignments that help the disabled inmates become productive, useful, and in some cases, physically rehabilitated.

A seasoned, alert and skilled professional, Officer Wilson seeks out and eliminates drug activity and predatory behavior within the unit–creating a safe environment for the prison system’s most vulnerable inmates. On several occasions, Officer Wilson has performed CPR and other life-saving or heroic measures. He has served as a consultant with other agencies on the management and accommodation of aged and disabled offenders. Recently, the American Association of Architects expressed interest in the facility modification prototypes designed by Officer Wilson.


Correctional Sergeant Frederick Brian Haws–California Correctional Institution A respected leader, Sgt. Haws is being honored for his ability to communicate, his skill as a trainer, and his commitment toward excellence. As a member of the Special Emergency Response Team, Sgt. Haws has been involved in critical inmate disturbances and helped evacuated inmates from community facilities during the Los Angeles riots. With other law enforcement agencies, he participated in high risk search warrants for the Campaign Against Marijuana Planters. He also worked alongside the National Guard seeking out drug traffickers and illegal aliens in Operation Border Ranger.

An avid trainer for the department, Sgt. Haws recently developed a lesson plan based on the Navy SEAL training. An excellent hostage rescue trainer, he has trained personnel from Alaska, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Hawaii. He also has worked with staff from the Virgin Islands and Finland to develop their own disturbance control programs.