Officers Honored for Going Above and Beyond
In January of each year, an Awards Committee reviews all citizen and departmental commendations received during the previous calendar year. The committee reviews these commendations in order to identify actions or performance commensurate with a departmental award. The Awards Committee then makes a recommendation to the Chief of Police. Departmental awards may be presented to any agency member for outstanding performance.
In addition, the Knights of Columbus St. Francis of Assisi Council choose a Police Officer of the Year.
Here are the 2020 recipients:
Officer of the Year: Mike Mendise
On May 25, Strongsville PD received a call of a distraught female who was planning on jumping off the Boston Rd overpass. Several SPD officers responded to the scene with Officer Mendise being the first to arrive. Upon arrival Officer Mendise noticed the female had already climbed over the safety fence, and was standing on a narrow ledge above I-71. Not knowing the reasons the female was so upset, Officer Mendise immediately asked for the family members on scene to step away. Officer Mendise then climbed over the fence, and began to speak to her. Officer Mendise was able to calm the female and assure her that he was there to help. After a few minutes Officer Mendise was able to convince the female that harming herself was not the solution to whatever problems she was facing. Officer Mendise then escorted the female off the ledge to safety.
Officer Mendise displayed extreme compassion and used his instincts to have a successful outcome to this dire incident. He also showed courage and professionalism, along with the other team members of the Southwest Enforcement Bureau during a time unlike any other in law enforcement.
Prosecutors Award: Detective Andrew Bartlett
In 2020, Detective Bartlett investigated the tragic death of a child. His lengthy and detailed investigation lasted several months. Detective Bartlett utilized security camera video, witness statements and interviews, even reports by local news channels to help piece together the facts and events of this incident. Detective Bartlett worked with investigators from the County Medical Examiner's Office and Department of Children and Family Services, along with experts in various fields to help lay out the case. Ultimately, he was able to create a timeline that documented the case down to the minute. His detailed documentation painted a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding this tragic case. More than a year after the incident, Detective Bartlett presented his case to a county grand jury. The case was successfully prosecuted by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office, resulting in a multi-year prison term at sentencing. Detective Bartlett's outstanding investigative work on this case was the driving force behind the successful prosecution.
Compassion Award: Zaki Hazou
Hazou was recognized by the Strongsville Patch online newspaper for going above and beyond. A resident in our community wrote to Strongsville Patch to recognize Zaki for saving her son's life several times. The resident's son is a Marine vet who needed some help. Zaki calls this veteran weekly to check in on him and also visits periodically in hopes of changing his life around. Zaki is very passionate about assisting veterans in need. His actions go above and beyond what is expected. His compassion and dedication make him a worthy recipient of the compassion award.
Blue Collar Award: Sgt. Shamus Kelley, Sgt. Lee Colegrove, Ptl. Derek Feierabend, Ptl Aaron Plut, Ptl. Matthew Berry
On Sept. 17 at 11:46 a.m., a resident on Drake Rd. contacted Southwest Emergency Dispatch and said she was watching a burglary in progress, remotely by her home video surveillance system. Strongsville PD units were dispatched, Sgt. Kelley arrived first and entered the property from the backyard. He radioed other units that he could see the burglar inside the home rifling through drawers. Officer Feierabend arrived and positioned himself near the front of the house. He radioed officers he could hear the burglar still inside. Sgt. Colegrove and Officers Plut and Berry were now on the scene. A coordinated entry was made into the house. Officers immediately confronted the stunned burglar. Although the burglar tried to escape by throwing a laptop at officers and running for the front door, he was quickly taken into custody.
Quality of Service Award: Ptl. Jason Miller and Ptl. Matt Omilion
On Sept. 27, at 2:07 a.m., Officer Miller was stationary on routine patrol near I-71 and SR 82. Officer Miller observed a vehicle traveling eastbound on SR 82 nearly strike a pickup truck. Officer Miller attempted to stop the car. However, the vehicle did not comply. The car turned south on W. 130th Street and continued with its reckless behavior, speeding away from Miller. Due to the recklessness of the driver, the vehicle crashed on W. 130th. When Officer Miller arrived at the crash site, the car was fully engulfed in flames, and the driver was trapped in the vehicle. Officer Omilion was also on the scene at this time. The officers approached the car and used only fire extinguishers and a pocket knife to free the driver from the burning vehicle. Because of their quick thinking, Miller and Omilion were able to rescue the driver from a likely fatal result.
Quality of Service Award: Ptl. Aaron Plut and Ptl. Matt McKinney
On June 8, at about 1 a.m., SPD responded to Circle K in Brunswick for an assault call that occurred in Strongsville. Further investigation led Officers McKinney and Plut to a residence on Hartford Trail in Strongsville. Upon their arrival, officers found the front door wide open. After announcing their presence, McKinney and Plut entered the home. As officers cleared the house, they could hear a faint moaning sound coming from the backyard. Following the sound to the backyard, officers found a teenage male lying in the grass with life-threatening lacerations to his lower extremities. The male was conscious but incoherent. Officers immediately began to render aid. Although the male was in a very critical state, he began to get violent with officers. Officers had to hold the male down to administer pressure and gauze onto the wounds to stop the bleeding. The Strongsville Fire Department arrived and quickly loaded the male into the squad. The paramedics used several lifesaving procedures while en route to the hospital to keep the male alive. It was later learned that the male had used LSD and threw himself through the upstairs window, landing on the grass below. It was evident that without the officers' lifesaving aid, this young man would not have survived.
Quality of Service Award: Custodial Staff Alan Kurilich and Jim Allen
Never before has cleanliness meant more than during the Covid-19 pandemic. Alan and Jim definitely stepped up in the wake of the pandemic. The station is always in great shape because of their efforts. However, they have gone above and beyond in their efforts to keep the station disinfected and germ-free. Too often, work like theirs goes unnoticed and underappreciated. Indeed they are our front line when it comes to maintaining a healthy workforce.
Citizen Award: Ayed Farah
On Oct. 12, Officer Young responded to SouthPark Mall to assist with a shoplifting in progress call. Oficer Iorillo put out a description of the suspect and his last known location. Officer Young spotted the suspect male walking towards center court from Macy's. As Officer Young started to close the distance with the male, the male took off in a full sprint toward the exit doors. Young gave chase, continually yelling for the male to stop. Young's commands alerted some of the shoppers of the foot pursuit in progress. The male continued running down the north corridor towards the exit. At this time, a mall patron, Ayed Farah, took it upon himself to intervene. Ayed stepped directly in front of the fleeing suspect, forcing him to change direction. However, Ayed was determined to prevent the suspect from getting away and took the suspect to the ground, where he held him until the officer completed the arrest. The suspect had six entered warrants, some of which were entered with caution.
Ayed was under no obligation to assist but displayed great character and selflessness by putting himself in harm's way to come to the aid of a police officer.
Officer of the Year: Zaki Hazou
Patrolman Zaki Hazou is a professional, hardworking and very dependable officer who remains active and enthusiastic throughout his shift. He has developed into a leader, not only with his assigned shift, but within the whole department, according to his nominating letter.
Hazou has also voluntarily taken on numerous responsibilities such as becoming a certified instructor, a field training officer, obtaining a master's degree in criminal law, working on a second master's in public administration with a focus on police agencies, instructing at our Citizens Police Academy, assisting with the creation and implementation of a warrant service detail, the VIP program, and assisting other agencies with investigations as an Arabic interpreter.
In 2019, Ptl. Hazou conducted 358 total traffic stops, resulting in 135 citations and 223 warnings. He also made 39 criminal arrests. In addition, he continues to remain vigilant in his ownership of his assigned zone, where he routinely calls in Preventative Patrol Cards to residents to deter possible criminal activity. He also investigates any reports to the fullest extent of his abilities.
Ptl. Hazou has also had numerous commendations by civilians commending him on his professionalism and was even invited to instruct at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy after attending a course there. Ptl. Hazou is one of the leaders in the department not only in work ethic, but also in results.
Blue Collar Award: Officers Benedictis, Kellar, Guminey and Grace
Awarded for a police officer’s outstanding efforts of perseverance and ingenuity in making or assisting in a criminal apprehension
Officers Jeff Benedictis, Nicole Kellar, Mike Guminey and Colin Grace were made aware of a possible shoplifting at the mall. The suspects discarded the merchandise before leaving the store. Officers maintained surveillance of the suspects for almost an hour and a half and finally observed them entering a stolen car.
Two loaded firearms were found inside the vehicle and confiscated. The suspects were all charged with two counts of receiving stolen property, and improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle. Two of the suspects were also charged with having weapons under disability.
Professionalism Award: Sgt. Marcello Marsala
Awarded for outstanding effort or performance resulting in the advancement of our agency’s professional image
Sgt. Marcello Marsala was nominated by officers on his platoon for the leadership and knowledge he displayed while handling a very complex domestic violence call on Canterbury. The officers noted that while there were many difficult circumstances occurring during this situation, Sgt. Marsala was able to slow everything down and take in the whole scene.
His decision-making was spot-on and the incident ended without any further injuries to any of the victims. Sgt. Marsala remained on the front lines throughout the call and his officers really appreciated his leadership.
Quality Service Award: Brian Vlna
Awarded for an employee’s dedication, thoroughness and persistence in furthering the department’s mission and values
Ptl. Brian Vlna has once again shown that going the extra mile on a call can make a difference. Ptl. Vlna became involved in a call that he wasn’t even dispatched to regarding a missing person. After the initial report was taken, Ptl. Vlna re-contacted family members to ask more questions. He utilized social media and was able to establish a possible subject. He contacted outside law enforcement where the subject lived and confirmed an address for the subject. The missing person was located with the subject that Ptl. Vlna had identified.
Citizen Award: William Burgos
Awarded for recognition of a citizen’s valuable assistance in fulfilling the mission of the Strongsville Police Department
William Burgos, an employee at SouthPark Mall, was nominated for this award by Ptl. Brian Bobula. Burgos assisted when Bobula was wrestling with a shoplifter and lost his portable radio during the scuffle. Burgos retrieved Bobula's radio and ran after him to return it. He even broadcast on the radio that the officer needed assistance.
Ptl. Bobula was grateful that William had the courage to get involved and help.
Citizen Award: Chloe Worthington
This award is presented to a citizen who provides the Strongsville Police Department with valuable assistance in fulfilling our mission.
Chloe Worthington, 16, was walking her dog in her neighborhood when she heard someone crying for help. Chloe was bravve enough to call 911 and show police officers where the cries were coming from. Her act of bravery resulted in the arrest of an individual in a domestic violence incident.
Previous Award Winners, 2018
Officer of the Year: Ryan Damore
Officer Damore is a great example of what the Strongsville community looks for in a police officer. He is one of the department’s most proactive officers. Although he is very proactive, he is also very adept at using proper discretion, especially during traffic contacts. He is able to discern the best option, citation or warning, in order to influence the safe driving behavior of the motoring public.
Officers often have to deal with stressful situations and uncooperative individuals. Ptl. Damore does not change his demeanor and remains composed no matter the circumstances of the situation. In 2014, Patrolman Damore was given the professionalism award for his part in several incidents witnessed by other officers and citizens.
Ptl. Damore has been part of the traffic unit for over 15 years. His duties in the traffic unit include riding a police motorcycle, when weather permits. Ptl. Damore has exhibited exceptional skills as a motorcycle officer and has helped others in the unit to develop and maintain their skills as a motor officer.
He is always willing to help other officers in the patrol division on calls for service. He is also one of the department’s designated traffic crash investigators. Ryan can be counted on to respond to the scene of a serious crash and aid in investigations, even when called outside of his designated work hours.
Ptl. Damore can be counted on to accomplish tasks that are needed to achieve the mission, vision and values of the Strongsville Police Department. He does his job with a smile and has become an excellent representative of an employee for the City of Strongsville.
Quality Service Award: Officers Patrick O'Sullivan and Ryan Young
Awarded for a police officer’s dedication and thoroughness in going the extra mile in furthering the department’s mission and values. On August 1, 2018, Officers Patrick O’Sullivan and Ryan Young were dispatched to a residence in Strongsville to deliver a death notification. The request came from the Pennsylvania State Police Department. They indicated that a man residing at the Strongsville address did not survive a motor vehicle crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the man’s next of kin had to be notified. Upon the arrival of Patrick and Ryan to the residence, they learned the decedent had left behind a young wife and two children. They further discovered the widow did not have any family in America.
Patrick and Ryan went above and beyond what was expected of them, and that night made many of the arrangements that would normally be family, and next of kin obligations. The officers comforted the widow and her children, and completed the tasks involved with coordinating the proper arrangements to have the decedent’s body returned to Ohio and his family.
Quality Service Award: Officer Colin Grace
On the evening of Aug 7, 2018, the Strongsville community experienced a storm pass through our area which brought severe down-pouring rain. One of our elderly residents phoned 9-1-1 and indicated that water was flooding in her yard, and was certain to enter the interior of her home. Officer Grace responded to the home and assessed the situation. Colin took it upon himself to secure sandbags and made a makeshift dam to prevent the water from entering the senior citizen’s residence.
In addition, Colin spent time in the pouring rain digging a trench that diverted the water away from the residence. Due to Colin’s quick thinking and dedication, the interior of the residence stayed dry.
Compassion Award: Officer Eric Schubert
Awarded for a police officer’s outstanding and special display of compassion. On January 31, 2018, Officer Schubert was dispatched to an apartment complex in Strongsville for report of a man on the phone with the United States Veteran’s Affairs hotline indicating to call takers he wanted to commit suicide.
Eric made contact with the man, and learned he was a former non-commissioned officer in the U.S. military. Eric learned that the man was a combat veteran that saw action in Operation Desert Storm that left him with undisclosed physical and psychological trauma, as well as the inability to be gainfully employed.
During the course of Eric’s investigation, it was apparent that the man needed somebody to talk to that would listen - not just someone that would transport him to a mental health facility. Eric invited the man to breakfast, eventually sitting and speaking with the man about a number of topics. The man admitted to Eric in this conversation that he contemplated committing suicide-by-cop. However, the man indicated that it was Eric’s caring and attentive demeanor that dissuaded him from acting on the idea. Eric paid the breakfast tab, and the man agreed to have Eric take him to Southwest General for a mental health evaluation.
Blue Collar Award: Officer Jeff Benedictis
Awarded for a police officer’s outstanding efforts of perseverance and ingenuity in making or assisting in a criminal apprehension. On May 2, 2018, units from the Strongsville Police Department and Fire Emergency Services responded to the exit ramp of Interstate 71 northbound at State Route 82 for a report of two people in a vehicle on the side of the road that were unconscious; suffering from an apparent narcotics overdose. Jeff, recognized the vehicle from a color-photo bulletin published by the Medina County Sheriff’s Office, seeking assistance in identifying the vehicle, and the two occupants. Both occupants were in connection with numerous thefts and incidents of breaking and entering in Medina County.
After the two individuals were revived, Jeff contacted the investigating detective at the Medina County Sheriff’s Department and provided the information mentioned in the bulletin. Based on that information, both individuals were identified by the Medina County Sheriff’s Office and linked to the crimes that occurred there.
Professionalism Award: Corrections Officer Brigitte Fossett-Williams
Awarded for outstanding effort or performance resulting in the advancement of our agency’s professional image:
For the better part of 2018 when there were numerous call-offs or unexpected needs to fill a shift. CO Fossett-Williams regularly made herself available to come in and cover open shifts, night shifts or staying over her regularly scheduled shift to cover a shift until a replacement arrived.
Her demeanor with the inmates facilitates cooperation in completing the necessary task of the booking process. She earns respect of both male and female guests through her calm, collected and soothing demeanor.
CO Fossett-Williams’ job knowledge, positive attitude, and work ethic reflect the Values, Mission and Vision of the Strongsville Police Department. She is a pleasure to be around and is an asset to the Strongsville Jail.
Prosecutor Joseph A. Gambino Award: Detective Steve Borowske
Joseph A. Gambino “Prosecutor’s Award” - awarded to a police officer who is nominated by the current local prosecutor in recognition of outstanding court preparation and presentation of a case. This award has been created to honor past City of Strongsville Prosecutor Joseph A. Gambino.
Over the course of his time in the detective bureau, Detective Borowske, through self-initiative, has become our resident expert in investigating bank fraud, credit card fraud, and identity theft type cases.
Detective Borowske has accumulated many hours of financial crime related training, and learned through the experience of investigating hundreds of cases. Steve has built up an impressive network of bank investigators contacts, Secret Service Agents, IRS Agents, and other financial crime investigators that allow him to navigate through his cases with efficiency and professionalism that only comes with his type of experience.
He is also recognized as a resource by many departments in our area, and gets called upon for his financial crime expertise. In 2018 alone, Detective Borowske handled 72 cases of financial fraud and identity theft, some involving amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars. Detective Borowske has become an extremely valuable resource for our police department.
Citizen Award: Amie Brock, R.N.
Presented to a citizen who provides the Strongsville Police Department with valuable assistance in fulfilling our mission. Nurse Brock earns this award on the same incident that occurred on May 2nd, 2018 that Officer Benedictis earned his Blue Collar Award.
Amie was traveling on Interstate 71 northbound south of State Route 82 behind a vehicle that she noticed was swerving in its lane. She followed the vehicle off the interstate and to the top of the exit ramp at State Route 82, where they stopped for a red light at the top of the ramp. Amie watched from her vantage point behind that it did not move for two traffic-signal cycles. Amie exited her vehicle and approached, where she found two people inside unconscious.
Amie acted quickly and reached in the open passenger-side window of the vehicle, unlocking the door manually, and opening the door to pull the front passenger out from the vehicle to begin medical aid. When she did this, Amie momentarily looked into the passenger compartment of the vehicle and saw the driver still had the vehicle’s transmission in “drive”, and the only thing stopping the vehicle from moving again was the unconscious driver still had his foot on the brake pedal. Fearing the vehicle may roll or move again, Amie reached into the passenger compartment to the column shifter and placed the vehicle’s transmission in “park”.
Amie began to render aid until units from Strongsville Police, Fire and Emergency Services arrived. It was not until afterwards that Amie noticed she was injured while performing the life-saving measures. Amie later was diagnosed with a torn calf muscle. Amie’s quick thinking and experience in emergency medicine was a valuable asset in securing this scene.
Blue Collar Award
Awarded for an officer’s outstanding efforts in making, or assisting in, a criminal apprehension and for their perseverance and ingenuity in arrest situations. The 2017 recipient is Sgt. Jacob Knipp. On the night of 12-21-17, US Marshals had put out a BOLO for a stolen auto, which was being driven by a wanted felon, who had a missing/ endangered juvenile as a passenger in the vehicle. A short time later, Sgt. Knipp located the said vehicle at SR82 and I-71. Sgt Knipp attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver failed to stop. A pursuit ensued. The vehicle ended up crashing by the airport and the driver attempted to flee on foot. Sgt. Knipp was able to close ground on the male subject. The male, realizing that he wasn’t going to get away, turned towards the officer and reached into his coat. Sgt. Knipp had him at gunpoint and ordered him to show his hands, and showed amazing restraint not to use deadly force. The male told Sgt. Knipp to “just kill me.” Sgt. Knipp was able to ascertain that this male wanted to die by “suicide by cop.” Sgt. Knipp reholstered his gun and wrestled the male to the ground and handcuffed him. While Sgt. Knipp was wrestling with this male, the male was repeatedly saying “please, kill me.” He was able to arrest the male and rescue the juvenile from this dangerous person.
Quality Service Award
Awarded for an employee’s dedication, thoroughness, and persistence in furthering the department’s mission and values. The 2017 recipient is Ptl. Zaki Hazou.
Ptl. Hazou’s sergeant describes him as professional, dependable, hard-working, compassionate, enthusiastic and relentless. He is an asset to this department. In 2017, Ptl. Hazou wrote 176 traffic citations and 314 written traffic warnings. He had 57 criminal arrests as well. He left 556 preventative patrol cards to residents hoping to deter them from becoming victims of crime. He is a military veteran who can show empathy and compassion to other vets who may be experiencing problems.
Awarded for an employee’s outstanding and special display of empathy. The 2017 recipients are Sgt. Shamus Kelley and Father Joe Mamich.
On June 7, 2017, officers were dispatched to a one-car crash. Upon arrival, officers found a juvenile outside of the car to be deceased. A short time later, the parents of the teen arrived on scene. They were unaware that their daughter was deceased. Both parents were notified about their daughter. The mother was very emotional while the father was unable to show emotion due to the shock. Father Joe, the police chaplain, arrived on scene and helped console the parents in their time of need. Sgt Kelley and Father Joe transported the parents to the hospital. They spent several hours at the hospital with the family.
Awarded for outstanding effort or performance resulting in the advancement of our agency’s professional image. The 2017 recipient is Sgt. Marcello Marsala.
Sgt. Marsala has taken on the responsibility of running the “Shop with a Cop” program for the past several years. Sgt. Marsala has spent countless hours raising money, collecting donations and recruiting volunteers to make the program into a success.
Problem Solving Award
Awarded for recognizing and establishing a long term solution for a particular or collective community problem. The 2017 recipient is Lt. Michael Campbell. Lt. Campbell is in charge of the Strongsville Police Departments newest program, the Quick Response Team (QRT). The QRT responds to the residence of a drug overdose and offers counseling and assistance with placement into treatment facilities or mental health services. He also oversees the “Safe Passages” program. This program offers assistance to those before a life threatening situation occurs. The program was created to help heroin and opiate addicts into recovery.
Awarded for recognition of a citizen’s valuable assistance in fulfilling the mission of the Strongsville Police Department. The 2017 recipient is Sheri Allport. On April 30, 2017, a male riding his bicycle fell off. Sheri Allport went to check on the male and realized he wasn’t breathing.
Miss Allport, who is a nurse, started performing CPR on the male until medics arrived. SFD arrived on scene and transported the male to the hospital. Without Miss Allport’s intervention, the male would not have lived.
Knights of Columbus Award
The Strongsville St. Francis of Assisi Council of the Knights of Columbus presented awards for Police Officer and Dispatcher of the Year for 2018.
2018 Police Officer of the Year recipient: Detective Ron Stolz
Det. Stolz was the primary investigator on two homicide cases that occurred in the city. The investigation of both cases began as a great collaborative effort of all the detectives in the bureau and patrol officers. Detective Stolz helped coordinate and prioritize the many leads and tips to follow up on evidence to process and outside agencies to work with. In both cases, largely due to Det. Stolz’ organizational skills and methodical work process, suspects were identified and apprehended within a relatively short period of time. Eventually, all of the investigative work was handled by Det. Stolz. Hundreds of hours of continued investigation, documentation, and court preparation have been completed. One case has already been completed with a conviction.
2018 Dispatcher of the Year recipient: Kami Fields
Kami Fields has been named 2018 Dispatcher of the Year by the St. Francis of Assisi Council of the Knights of Columbus.
Her supervisors at the Southwest Emergency Dispatch Center said Fields, who has 17 years of experience as a dispatcher, has outstanding research skills, an ability to think outside the box and a 'never give up' attitude.
"Kami has also selflessly given of her time to train future dispatchers. She has an easy-going manner and patience, as well as positivity. She realizes that training quality dispatchers is key to the success of our consolidated dispatch center. And when training is done, she continues to mentor our newer dispatchers, making sure she is passing her knowledge on.
"Dispatching is very stressful work, but she comes to work always ready for the challenge. She also doesn’t just bring problems to management, but will have a ready answer on how to solve them."