SANTA MONICA—Three Santa Monica Police Department law enforcement officials were among 13 that received The National Medal of Valor from President Barack Obama in recognition of their outstanding courage.

The ceremony transpired on Monday, May 16 at the White House where Officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks of the SMPD along with Captain Ray Bottenfield of the Santa Monica College Police Department, were presented the medal in honor of their bravery, upon putting themselves in mortal danger to protect the lives of students and the public during a violent shooting rampage at Santa Monica College.

On June 7, 2013, SMPD Officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks in conjunction with Santa Monica College Police Capt. Raymond Bottenfield responded to a shooting spree that left six dead, starting northeast of the college and ending upon a shoot out on campus.

The gunman, John Zawahri, 23, killed his father and brother at their home near the college and set the house on fire – he then embarked toward campus, where he fatally shot three more people.

The three officers confronted Zawahri in the campus library and ordered him to drop his gun –he lifted and aimed his weapon toward the officers who consequently opened fire, shooting and killing him.

Santa Monica Police Chief, Jacqueline A. Seabrook’s, stated, “Officers Sparks and Salas displayed great bravery and courage during a violent encounter. Their actions were instrumental in bringing an end to a fierce confrontation. I am proud of their actions and of all involved in the incident.”

Captain Ray Bottenfield (left), Officer Robert Sparks (center), Officer Jason Salas (right), are awarded the National Medal of Valor from President Barack Obama for their outstanding courage.
Captain Ray Bottenfield (left), Officer Robert Sparks (center), Officer Jason Salas (right), are awarded the National Medal of Valor from President Barack Obama for their outstanding courage.

The Public Safety Officer National Medal of Valor is awarded to those who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety – it is the highest national award of valor presented to a public safety officer.

The chief or director of an employment agency can nominate an officer – each nomination is assessed and then recommended by the Medal of Valor Review Board.

The President of the United States, or his designee, then awards the Medal of Valor to public safety officers cited by the Attorney General.

Officers Salas and Sparks are the first Medal of Valor recipients of the Santa Monica Police Department.

Officer Sparks, Officer Salas and Captain Bottenfield have also received the Peace Officer Valor Award from California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the Governor’s Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor from California Governor Jerry Brown, and the Medal of Valor from The California Peace Officers Association in recognition of their incredible courage during the campus shooting.

The other 10 officers awarded the Medal of Valor in Monday’s ceremony included: Officer Mario Gutierrez of the Miami-Dade Police Department, FL; Patrolman Louis Cioci of the Johnson City Police Department, NY; Major David Huff of the Midwest City Police Department, OK; Officer Donald Thompson of the Los Angeles Police Department, CA; Officer Coral Walker of the Omaha Police Department, NE; Officer Gregory Stevens of the Garland Police Department, TX; Fallen Sergeant Robert Wilson III of the Philadelphia Police Department, PA; Officer Niel Johnson of the North Miami Police Department, FL; Special Agent Tyler Call of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Deputy Joey Tortorella of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, NY.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the nation’s top law enforcement official, said there were no words or medals that could begin to pay the debt the country owes the officers.