This cache of weapons and ammunition was used by the gunman in the Santa Monica College shootings. (File photo)

LOS ANGELES The three police officers responsible for stopping John Zawahri during his 2013 shooting rampage at Santa Monica College have been recognized for their heroism by the Attorney General’s office.
Attorney General Kamala Harris honored Santa Monica Police Officers Robert Sparks and Jason Salas and SMC officer Ray Bottenfield at a ceremony on Sept. 8 in Downtown Los Angeles that included awards for officers from around the region.
“There are individuals that we are going to recognize now and there are others who are out on the streets right now or who are getting some well-deserved sleep because while we were sleeping they were protecting our streets,” she said during her opening remarks. “The men and women of California law enforcement do their work at great personal sacrifice. They do the work of protecting many people who will never know their names, many people they will never meet. They do this work, that is some of the most noble work in any profession, in service to others.”
During the presentation Harris described the officers’ actions to a crowded room of colleagues as she presented the Peace Officer Valor Award.
“On June 7, 2013 the officers responded to numerous emergency calls reporting a shooting rampage in the area surrounding Santa Monica college,” she said. “As the officers arrived at the college, they set out to confront the suspect. Captain Bottenfield, Officer Salas and Officer Sparks found the suspect prepared to shoot another student in front of the library and ordered him to drop his weapon. The suspect refused and began firing, the officers bravely advanced on the suspect until he was unable to continue his rampage. Officers, you did extraordinary work. This is something that all of us hope not to see occur. We’ve had very high profile examples of it. It causes an incredible amount of panic in the community students and young people throughout the region and congratulations for your courage.”
All three officers said they saw the award as recognizing the lives saved by their actions.
“For most officers, we don’t do this job for the recognition, we do it because we love to help people, to protect people and I think for most of us, it’s a calling,” said Sparks.
“It’s a recognition of doing what I’m trained to do and for taking it to its conclusion when it needed to happen and the fact the three of us teamed up and when it came to it, we did what we had to do to protect the people on the campus and all of the innocent people that were around,” said Bottenfield.
The officers also said they saw themselves as part of a team of officers and that their recognition should be shared by their colleagues.
“I’m very humbled by it and thankful,” said Salas. “We’re a whole department of people that would have done the same thing, and I hope this little bit of good publicity is something that I want to share with the department.”
The men will continue to receive awards in the coming months. On Sept. 15, the SMPD officers are being honored in the State’s Capitol with the Governor’s Medal of Valor Award. The Medal of Valor Award is the highest honor the State can bestow upon its public servants. To date, 524 medals have been awarded to state employees in all professions.
SMPD representatives said the Governor’s award is a significant accomplishment awarded to only a handful of state employees.
“Congratulations on receiving this prestigious honor,” said Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks in announcing the Governor’s award to the officers. “Santa Monica, and now the State of California, is proud of you for your heroism and bravery.”
The California Peace Officers’ Association has also nominated and awarded Officer Salas and Sparks for CPOA’s Award of Valor. This award is presented to police officers for an outstanding act of courage or bravery in the service to their communities.
Officer Salas said he was humbled by the attention.
“It puts it in perspective and the magnitude of the incident when you start receiving a major award and that only a handful of officers in history of can have received,” he said. “It’s very overwhelming and very humbling.”
The officers said they were honored and grateful for the awards but they all said they were keenly aware that taking a life is not something to be celebrated.
Sparks said the incident has had a lasting impact on his life, specifically reaffirming his faith.
“It changed my life forever in terms of turning to God and a higher power, I realized I can’t do this on my own,” he said.
Officer Salas also cited his faith as part of his coping mechanisms along side the constant support of his friends, family and coworkers.
“The initial reaction after being involved in a shooting and ultimately the death of the subject, is that’s never a good thing, you never like to see that,” he said. “We’re a Christian family and they worry about how it affects me worse than anything, but overall they’ve been congratulatory, proud and supportive of (the award). I couldn’t ask for anything more from the Department and my family.”
Bottenfield said officers are trained to respond to dangerous situations but that no one wants to have to put that training to use.
“I could have very well gone my whole career and not dealt with this situation and been very happy with that,” he said.
matt@www.smdp.com

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