Rochester Officer Dennison "Denny" Wright Named the Recipient of the Governor's Police Officer of the Year Award
Suffolk County Police Officer Christopher Zonin Named the Recipient of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' Lifesaving Award
Governor Kathy Hochul today announced that two police officers have been recognized for exceptional valor and courage in the face of grave danger to themselves and residents of the communities they serve to protect. Rochester Police Department Officer Dennison "Denny" Wright is the recipient of the Governor's Police Officer of the Year Award and Suffolk County Police Officer Christopher Zonin is the recipient of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' Lifesaving Award.
"Officers Wright and Zonin selflessly answered their call to service, putting themselves in harm's way to keep others safe and serve their communities," Governor Hochul said. "We owe them both a huge debt of gratitude and will never forget their heroism in the face of life-threatening danger."
Governor Hochul announced the awards on the first day of National Police Week, which will be marked in Washington D.C. this year with a series of events today through Sunday, Oct. 17. The Division of Criminal Justice Services coordinates the work of the Police Officer of the Year Award Selection Committee, which also chooses the Lifesaving Award recipient.
Committee members, who include police executives, union representatives, and officials from the statewide associations that represent chiefs and sheriffs, considered nominations submitted by 11 agencies. A total of 20 officers were considered before Officers Wright and Zonin were selected as recipients of the awards for incidents that occurred in 2019. Nominations for the 2020 awards are being reviewed and the Committee's selection(s) are scheduled to be announced later this year.
On Oct. 4, 2019, while responding to a family dispute that became violent, Officer Wright was confronted by an armed assailant who attacked and blinded him with a knife. Despite his severe injuries and with the aid of Good Samaritans at the scene, Officer Wright was able to prevent the man from harming anyone else.
Officer Zonin, who is also a volunteer firefighter, braved thick smoke and heat to help several residents escape their burning residence in Centereach on Dec. 4, 2019.
The Governor's Police Officer of the Year Award recognizes a single police officer or a team of officers for an exceptional act of valor symbolizing the service of police in New York State. Established in 1984, the award has been presented to 121 officers from 20 different agencies. The Selection Committee established the Lifesaving Award in 2016 and since then, 13 officers from four agencies have received the honor.
Officer Wright is the first Rochester Police Officer to receive the award. In nominating Officer Wright for the award, the Rochester Police Department provided the following account of the events that unfolded on Oct. 4, 2019:
Officer Wright responded to a call for help with a family dispute that involved an emotionally disturbed man hiding under a bed. Upon arriving at the scene, he sought to defuse the situation. Officer Wright talked with the man and coaxed him out of hiding, but the man became agitated and attempted to leave the home. As family members tried to stop him, he punched Officer Wright in the face and then, without warning, grabbed a 12-inch knife and repeatedly stabbed Officer Wright in the face, head and eyes. Officer Wright fired his weapon once and missed the individual, who continued the attack. Despite severe injuries and impaired vision, Officer Wright persisted and kept others around him safe. With the aid of Good Samaritans who witnessed the violent attack and rushed to his aid, Officer Wright managed to take the suspect into custody. The 23-year-veteran was treated for a skull and facial fractures and multiple stab wounds; he suffered permanent loss of vision in both eyes.
Rochester Interim Police Chief David Smith said, "I am humbled by Officer Wright's actions, which demonstrated incredible determination and bravery in the face of mortal danger, and recognize how much he sacrificed that day to keep everyone on the scene safe. He represents the best of the Rochester Police Department, and the individuals who came to his aid epitomize what it means to be Good Samaritans. Their actions speak as a lesson to us all. I thank Governor Hochul and the members of the Police Officer of the Year Selection Committee for naming Officer Wright the recipient of this prestigious award."
Officer Zonin is the first Suffolk County Police Officer to receive the Lifesaving Award. In nominating Officer Zonin for the award, the Suffolk County Police Department provided the following details of the event on Dec. 4, 2019:
Officer Zonin responded to a 9-1-1 call for a roommate dispute in Centereach. The caller met Officer Zonin at a nearby 7-11 convenience store to discuss the situation. Officer Zonin then went to the residence and saw thick smoke coming from the rear of the building. He crawled through one apartment, braving smoke, heat and fire, to alert three residents, who were able to escape on their own. Officer Zonin then entered the front apartment. He found one man, who was able to flee the fire without assistance, and then dragged an unconscious man to safety through a kitchen that was nearly engulfed in fire.
Suffolk County Police Acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron said, "The people of Suffolk County are fortunate to be protected by police officers like Christopher Zonin, who was willing to put his own life on the line to save others from a house fire in 2019. Officer Zonin represents the very best of law enforcement. I am proud of his heroic actions and I would like to thank Governor Hochul for recognizing Officer Zonin with this prestigious honor."
All officers nominated for the 2019 Police Officer of the Year Award, including Officer Zonin, received a Certificate of Exceptional Valor. They are:
Nassau County Police Department Officers Michael Kenney, Brian McQuade and Adam Meyer: On Feb. 13, officers responded to a construction worker struck by and trapped under a 2,500-pound metal plate, which had severed both of the victim's legs. Officers Kenney, McQuade and Meyer descended into an eight-foot-deep trench where the victim was trapped, in respiratory distress and bleeding profusely. The officers applied tourniquets to stabilize the victim and save his life.
New York City Police Department Officers Raychel Campanella-Rivera and Vanesa Medina: On Sept. 17, Officers Vanesa Medina and Raychel Campanella-Rivera responded to a domestic violence report on Staten Island. They interviewed the complainant and approached the suspect, informing him that he would be arrested. The subject refused multiple requests to cooperate and violently resisted arrest. Officer Campanella-Rivera deployed her taser, which had no effect. During a violent struggle, the suspect pulled a loaded pistol from his waistband and fired multiple rounds, striking Officer Medina in the hand and striking Officer Campanella-Rivera's Taser, which caused a secondary leg injury that led the officer to believe that she had also been shot. Officer Campanella-Rivera returned fire, striking the perpetrator in the torso. He fell to the ground and the officer kicked the weapon from under his hand. The gun slid across the street where multiple individuals, who were known gang members, approached. Officer Campanella-Rivera managed to secure the suspect's firearm and the scene, helped stabilize the situation and called for medical assistance for the suspect and her partner until backup arrived.
New York State Police Trooper Timothy S. Conklin: On Jan. 28, a woman called State Police to report that her son had taken her vehicle without her permission to visit his daughter in Endicott, Broome County. Trooper Conklin located the vehicle traveling south on State Route 81 and later found it on the shoulder of State Route 17. He moved his marked patrol car behind the vehicle and the suspect immediately began firing an assault rifle through the rear window of the car. The gunman then got out of the car and continued to shoot as he walked toward Trooper Conklin, who returned fire through the windshield of his patrol car. When the shooter briefly stopped firing, Trooper Conklin reloaded his weapon and then returned fire again, striking the suspect, who died from his injuries. Trooper Conklin sustained shrapnel injuries that required medical treatment. During the investigation into the incident, police learned that the suspect was being investigated for domestic violence, stalking and other charges.
Northport Police Department Officer Sean Sagistano: On April 18, Officer Sagistano responded to a report of a dispute and discovered that an individual had been assaulted by a neighbor. Once on scene, Officer Sagistano was confronted by a man pointing a gun at him. He ordered the man to drop the gun, who initially refused. Officer Sagistano finally convinced the gunman to put the weapon down, only to discover he was holding a butcher's knife in his other hand. After several commands to drop the knife, the man complied and was taken into custody without incident.
Oswego Police Department Officer Daniel Balloni: On Dec. 29, Officer Balloni responded to a call about a woman screaming in the Oswego River area around 1:15 a.m. Upon arriving, he and other officers found a 20-year-old woman floating in the river near West Linear Park, drifting in and out of consciousness and struggling to stay afloat. Police grabbed a lifesaving ring from the park and threw it toward the woman, but she was unable to grab it. Despite dangerously cold temperatures, Officer Balloni jumped into the river. He grabbed the life ring, swam to the victim, pulled her head above water and kept her afloat as fellow officers pulled them both ashore. Balloni and the victim were taken to the hospital for treatment.
Putnam County Sheriff's Office Deputy Kevin Osika: On May 27, Deputy Osika responded to a call for a man walking toward the edge of High Bridge on Interstate 84 in the town of Southeast. Deputy Osika cautiously approached the man, who appeared ready to jump, from behind and grabbed him. As traffic raced by, the man struggled to break free but Deputy Osika wrestled him to the ground and restrained him until he could be transported for help.
Red Hook Village Police Department Officer Travis Sterritt: On Nov. 15, Officer Sterritt and Recruit Officer Nathalia Telles responded to a call for a property dispute between former roommates. Officers spotted the individual who allegedly took items from his roommate walking a dog nearby. When they approached, the man kept the dog between himself and the officers, ignoring commands to tie it up so they could speak. When Officer Sterritt called for backup, the suspect drew a .45-caliber handgun and fired several rounds at the officers. Officer Sterritt returned fire to protect himself and Officer Telles, who ran for cover. Both officers got behind their marked police car as the suspect continued firing, letting off a total of eight shots, three of which struck the patrol car. The suspect fled through a development into the woods, where members of the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office apprehended him with a loaded gun after a two-hour manhunt. He was charged with attempted murder and possession of an illegal firearm.
Schuyler County Sheriff's Office Deputy Andrew W. Yessman: On Sept. 19, Deputy Yessman responded to a call to assist the Watkins Glen Police Department and the Watkins Glen Fire Department with a fire in a multi-family home and a possible victim with special needs trapped inside. A Watkins Glen police officer confirmed that a victim was trapped on the second floor, where windows spewed heavy smoke and flames. Deputy Yessman found the door leading to the upstairs unit and forced it open with assistance from the Watkins Glen officer and a New York State trooper. Deputy Yessman entered the smoke-and fire-filled home, crawling until he reached a door and opened it. Seeing an individual's foot, Deputy Yessman reached for the man and dragged him across the floor and out of the room, where the other officers helped pull the man outside the home. While being led from the home, the man became belligerent and punched a firefighter and Deputy Yessman, who continued to assist police and firefighters at the scene after an ambulance and the victim's mother arrived.
Syracuse Police Department Sgts. Shawn Hahn and Shawn Hauck, Officers Leonard Brown, Collin Flagler, Erik Heppeler, Gene Lagoe III, and Matthew Tynan: On Dec. 3, Sgts. Hahn and Hauck and Officers Brown, Flagler, Heppeler, Lagoe and Tynan responded to a ShotSpotter activation detecting several rounds of gunfire. At the same time, a 9-1-1 caller reported that a 6-year-old child had been shot in a home on the same street. Officer Tynan approached the doorway and located the child, who was groaning, struggling to breathe and kneeling on the floor against the couch, with blood on his clothing. The shooter was still in the house and emerged with the gun still in his hand. Officer Tynan began speaking with the armed man, who had just shot his nephew and threatened the officer. Officer Tynan drew his firearm and fired at the man, hitting him and causing him to fall to the floor. As police tried to figure out how to get the child to safety, the shooter maintained his grasp on the weapon and continued moving. Sgts. Hahn and Hauck and Officers Flagler, Heppeler, Lagoe and Tynan broke a window near the child in an attempt to pull him to safety, but the child couldn't reach them, and the window was too high for the officers to quickly climb inside. Police also realized that several other family members were hiding inside the house. The officers formed a team with ballistic shields, entered the home, grabbed the child and took him to awaiting medical personnel, while keeping the other residents from harm's way.
The Division of Criminal Justice Services has a variety of responsibilities, including law enforcement training; collection and analysis of statewide crime data; maintenance of criminal history information and fingerprint files; administrative oversight of the state's DNA databank, in partnership with the New York State Police; funding and oversight of probation and community correction programs; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state's Sex Offender Registry.