Governor Cuomo Recognizes Three Suffolk County Police Officers with Police Officer of the Year Award

Three officers honored for their roles in protecting Suffolk residents from violent gunman/ Eight officers from five agencies across state will receive Certificates of Exceptional Valor for their actions.

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Suffolk County, NY - September 3, 2014 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today awarded three members of the Suffolk County Police Department with the New York State Police Officer of the Year Award: Sgt. Christopher Prokesch, Sgt. Ryan Sefton, and Officer John Klein. The three officers confronted a man wielding a semiautomatic rifle after responding to a call in the hamlet of Shirley, and quickly acted to ensure both the safety of nearby residents and their law enforcement colleagues.

"On behalf of all New Yorkers, I commend Sgt. Prokesch, Sgt. Sefton and Officer Klein for their courageous acts and thank them for their bravery and selflessness,” Governor Cuomo said. “Their actions exemplify the very best of New York’s law enforcement community, whose members each and every day put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect their neighbors and serve their communities.”

Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy presented the awards on behalf of Governor Cuomo during a ceremony this afternoon at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber joined him in presenting the award.

Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy said, “I sincerely congratulate Sgt. Christopher Prokesch, Sgt. Ryan Sefton and Officer John Klein on this distinction. These officers acted selflessly in a life-threatening situation—a challenge they courageously handled not just on the day we are recognizing, but 365 days a year. I am grateful for everything these members of law enforcement do for New Yorkers across the state, and I am honored to present them with this year's Police Officer of the Year Award.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, “Our emergency responders and law enforcement officials make countless sacrifices every day to protect more than 1.5 million residents in Suffolk County, and are often called upon to make instantaneous, life-saving decisions in the most difficult circumstances. On June 28, 2013, Sergeant Christopher Prokesch, Sergeant Ryan Sefton and Police Officer John Klein risked their lives to protect several residents and fellow police officers from a violent gunman who opened fire several times. I am extremely proud that three of Suffolk County’s finest are being recognized for their courageous actions, and have received the Governor’s Police Officer of the Year Award. These three heroes are truly an inspiration and serve as role models to our communities.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber said, “In the face of grave danger and with great risk to their personal safety, these three officers did not hesitate to engage an armed adversary and successfully terminated the actions of a homicidal individual. The people of Suffolk County should know that they are well-served by these courageous and professional police officers.”

On the evening of June 28, 2013, the Suffolk County Police Department received a 9-1-1 call of shots fired at home in the hamlet of Shirley. When officers arrived on the scene, they interviewed neighbors about the call and went to check the home about which the call was made. An officer knocked on the back door of the home as Officer John Klein identified himself and directed the resident to come out with his hands up.

When the door opened, a man emerged and fired a shotgun toward Officer Klein as the other officer took cover. A round from the shotgun hit Officer Klein’s holster, but he was able to return fire, prompting the man to retreat into the house.

Sgt. Prokesch took control of the scene, directing officers to take cover. He took a roll call to ensure everyone remained safe and then set up a perimeter around the house and coordinated the evacuation of residents in the neighborhood. As the evacuation was occurring, the man came back outside, this time wearing body armor and a Kevlar helmet and carrying a semiautomatic rifle. He took aim at Sgts. Prokesch and Sefton, and fired at them several times.

Both Sgts. Prokesch and Sefton returned fire until the man stopped shooting and fell to the ground, ultimately dying from his injuries. No officers or residents were hurt during the incident.

The Police Officer of the Year Award was created in 1983 to recognize a single police officer, or team of officers, for an exceptional act of valor symbolizing the service of police in New York State. The award was first presented in 1984.

Since the award’s inception, 107 officers from 16 agencies across the state have received it. Of those, 69 have been honored posthumously, including 23 officers from the New York City Police Department and 37 members of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department who were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sgt. Prokesch is a 27-year veteran of Suffolk County Police Department. He is assigned to the Patrol Division and has worked in the Seventh Precinct since 2004. Prior to that assignment, he patrolled the Third and Fifth precincts.

A 13-year veteran, Sgt. Sefton is assigned to the Patrol division. He is currently assigned to the First Precinct, but has patrolled the Sixth and Seventh Precincts and also served on the department’s team that targets gangs. Officer Klein joined the department in 2007 and was assigned to the Seventh Precinct, where he still works.

Four officers from the Suffolk County Police Department are past recipients of the award, as is an officer from the Southampton Police Department. A complete list of recipients can be found here.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services coordinates the work of the Police Officer of the Year Selection Committee, which reviews nominations submitted by New York State law enforcement agencies. Department of Criminal Justice Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Green serves as the committee chair.

Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael Green said, “This incident is a vivid reminder of just how unpredictable and dangerous police work can be. Officers never know what each day will bring and they can only hope they don’t find themselves in the situation that Sgts. Prokesch and Sefton and Officer Klein did. These officers assessed the situation and did what they knew they needed to do in order to protect their colleagues and the innocent bystanders living in that neighborhood. I am honored to recognize them and the other nominees for their heroic efforts along with Lieutenant Governor Duffy on behalf of Governor Cuomo.”

Eight officers from five other agencies also were nominated for the award. These officers all will receive Certificates of Exceptional Valor from Governor Cuomo:

  • Detective Keith Kerl and Officer Robert Cornell Jr. of the Lancaster Police Department (Erie County): Detective Kerl and Officer Cornell responded to a radio call on July 1, 2013, involving four Lancaster High School students who were unconscious and burned after the football goal post they were moving came into contact with live, primary power lines. When they arrived at the scene, the officers found downed, live power lines and began to assist the young men, one of whom was not breathing and didn’t have a pulse. As Detective Kerl performed CPR on the student, Officer Cornell obtained an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) from their patrol car. The AED was used by the officers, who saved the student’s life. All four students survived the incident.
  • Lt. Todd Chenez and Officer Michael Stover of the Lockport Police Department (Niagara County): Lt. Chenez and Officer Stover, while off-duty and training for a marathon on March 18, 2013, came upon a house fire on Hawley Street. Both officers ran to the back of the home, and saw black smoke coming out of the back door and filling the home. The homeowner, who escaped through the back door, told the officers that her husband was still inside. Both men ran into the home and through the dense black smoke saw her husband at the foot of the basement stairs. The smoke and limited visibility drove the officers from the home but they went back inside, finding the man unconscious. With the assistance of two other officers who arrived on the scene, they were able to rescue the man from the home. Paramedics at the scene revived the man who was treated at a local hospital.
  • Deputy Sheriff Shawn Burbridge of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office: Deputy Burbidge responded to a call for a suicidal individual at Chittenango Falls State Park. When he arrived, he found a young woman standing on the edge of the falls with a 150-foot drop after climbing over a chain link fence. He attempted to talk with her but she did not acknowledge his efforts. With the help of a State Trooper, Deputy Burbidge tied himself to the fence and moved toward the young woman. She began to fall forward, over the edge of the falls, when Deputy Burbidge caught her and pulled her to safety.
  • Troopers Nichole Turck and Scott Whitmore of the New York State Police Troop D: Troopers Turck and Whitmore were patrolling in the vicinity of County Route 2 in Orleans, Jefferson County at 1 a.m. on April 2, 2013, when they noticed fire and smoke in the distance. They headed toward the fire and came upon a barn, fully engulfed in flames that were spreading to a home on County 13. They ran to the residence, knocking on the windows and awoke an 85-year-old man who was unaware of the fire. He left the home but his 85-year-old, partially disabled wife, was still inside. Troopers Turck and Whitmore, with the assistance of a Good Samaritan, carried the woman out of the house to safety. Both fire victims were treated at a local hospital and reunited with family members.
  • Officer Wayne McConnell of the Watertown Police Department (Jefferson County): Officer McConnell responded to a call of a man chasing a woman. When he arrived on scene, he confronted the man, who was wielding a knife and chasing the woman, having stabbed her multiple times. Officer McConnell took aim with his service weapon at the man while positioning himself between the assailant and victim. As EMS assisted the woman, the man refused to comply with Officer McConnell’s direction to drop the knife. At one point, the man became distracted by another officer, which allowed Officer McConnell to use a Taser on the man. The officer then disarmed him and took the man into custody. The woman survived her injuries.

In addition to the Department of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner, the Police Officer of the Year selection committee is composed of the following members: the Superintendent of the New York State Police, Counsel and Executive Director of the State Sheriffs’ Association, Executive Director of the State Association of Chiefs of Police, President of the Police Conference of New York, President of the New York State Association of Police Benevolent Associations, and President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York.

The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including 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, 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.