1999 Award for Valor
Department of Public Safety, University of Southern California
The Award for Valor is presented to a member or employee of a campus public safety, police or security department for an act or acts involving personal risk while acting in behalf of the college/university or members of the college/university community. valorawd.jpg (16128 bytes)Winners of the 1999 Award for Valor with their Chief, Steven M. Ward of the Department of Public Safety, University of Southern California: left to right : Public Safety Officer Lance Cox, Public Safety Officer Alex Parra, Chief Ward, Lt. Hugh Mears, and Senior Public Safety Officer Robert Posslenzny.
"Lt. Mears, aside from being the watch commander and displaying good leadership by managing his personnel form the field, displayed great presence of mind, exceptional tactical skill and personal bravery in the apprehension of two armed robbery suspects. He clearly demonstrated that he was willing to sacrifice his personal safety for the apprehension of armed felons." stated University of Southern California Chief of Public Safety Steven M. Ward when nominating the officers for the award.
"Senior Officer Robert Posslenzny, Officers Alex Parra and Lance Cox are to be commended for their presence of mind, courage, tactical skills and personal bravery in confronting armed robbery suspects. Throughout the high speed following of the suspects and after being fired upon by armed felons, these officers exercised professional judgment and sound tactical sense in not immediately returning fire and carefully pursuing the suspects. These officers showed great courage under fire and they are to be highly commended for their bravery." said Ward.
On October 1, 1998, two vehicles containing three suspects entered the campus of the University of Southern California. The vehicles parked approximately one-half block inside the gate and two suspects exited one vehicle and approached Trojan Grounds, a coffee shop, while a third suspect remained outside in the other vehicle. As the two suspects entered Trojan Grounds with firearms in their hands, they ordered all the customers to lie on the floor. One suspect leaped over the counter, grabbed an employee and pushed him into the back room. He ordered the employee to give him the bag of money. The employee complied. During this time, a student observing the robbery ran to the lobby of a nearby residence hall where he notified DPS Student Officers Sergeant Paul Kroeger, Sergeant Jonathan Martin and Corporal Humphrey Ho. The student officers notified DPS Communications by radio of a possible robbery in progress at Trojan Grounds. Another student, who had observed the suspects entering with guns, notified Communications by using a blue light emergency phone. Based upon these calls, Lead Communications Operator Eddie Little and Communications Operator George Dixon began a process which would involve a great deal of coordination during a very stressful hour including a broadcast to all units that a robbery was in progress at Trojan Grounds.
Three DPS units were in the area and responded to the call. Watch Commander/Lieutenant Hugh Mears and Senior Officer Robert Posslenzny were in one and Officers Alex Parra and Lance Cox in the second. As the officers drove south on Figueroa Street nearing campus, they observed two vehicles exit from Gate 3 with no lights on.
The officers believing these vehicles to be involved in the robbery call followed them south on Figueroa to Exposition Boulevard. The suspects turned left onto Exposition and then entered the southbound Harbor Freeway. After entering the freeway, the suspects’ vehicles accelerated to a speed of 100 mph. They exited the freeway at Vernon Avenue and drove westbound on Vernon to southbound Figueroa Avenue where their vehicle speed was estimated at 80 mph. At this point, a Los Angeles Police Department unit joined the USC officers in the chase. At Slauson Avenue, the two suspect vehicles split up. The USC officers continued to follow the vehicle containing two suspects who turned eastbound on Slauson and then southbound on Flower Street, paralleling the Harbor Freeway.
As the suspects’ vehicle approached 61st Street, it began to slow and the driver was braking. Lt. Mears advised the other units that the suspects were likely going to stop and leave their vehicle to flee on foot. As expected, the suspects did stop their vehicle and a gunshot was heard. It was later determined that one of the suspects accidentally discharged his weapon inside his vehicle and fired a round through the windshield of his car. Lt. Mears alerted the units of shots fired and drew his own service weapon.
The suspects began to exit their vehicle at the same time that Lt. Mears was exiting his vehicle. Another gunshot was heard. Lt. Mears, believing that the suspects were firing at him and being concerned for his own safety and the safety of others, returned fire at the suspects as they were entering a pedestrian undercrossing, but did not strike the suspects. The suspects continued to flee eastbound toward Broadway. Officers Posslenzny, Parra, and Cox cleared the suspects’ vehicle and joined Lt. Mears in foot pursuit of them. The LAPD unit which was on the scene requested other units and a perimeter was established. A K-9 unit and SWAT were requested.
One the K-9 and SWAT arrived, a systematic search of the perimeter was begun. The K-9 alerted on a motel on S. Broadway. It was determined the suspects were in one room at the motel. The motel was evacuated and SWAT ordered the suspects out. A lone male came out and informed the officers that his daughter and two suspects were inside the motel. SWAT effected a rescue of the daughter and arrested the two-armed suspects, recovering handguns and $4300 in cash.
One of the suspects was wearing a bulletproof vest. Both suspects were members of the East Coast 69th Street Crips street gang. They have been arraigned in Los Angeles County Superior Court on one count of robbery, five counts of false imprisonment, three counts of assault, two counts of assault on a peace officer, and one count of child abuse. In addition to written commendations presented to all of the DPS members involved in the incident, Lt. Hugh Mears has been issued the USC Public Safety Medal and Officers Posslenzny, Parra and Cox the Public Safety Star. The California Robbery Investigators’ Association has commended the commissioned officers.