22 COs receive 'Valor Awards' for exemplary acts of bravery

Corrections USA's annual awards gala recognizes the "shining examples" of heroism and dedication to public safety that all too often go unnoticed in the corrections profession


By Sarah Sinning

LAS VEGAS — As a non-profit organization advocating for thousands of correctional officers across the nation, Corrections USA (CUSA) knows what it means to serve the profession with distinction. That's why the organization "pays tribute to the country's boldest corrections officers" each year, said Chairman Jimmy Baiardi, the ones "who displayed exemplary bravery both on and off duty."

This year's award ceremony, held earlier this month in Nevada, continued the tradition by honoring 22 COs for their acts of valor. These officers' actions serve "as a shining example of the essential services performed by correction officers in cities and states across the county," Baiardi continued. "They will never receive the full recognition they deserve for their part in keeping our communities safe, so our annual awards gala is a particularly meaningful recognition of their dedication and commitment to public safety.”

This year's honorees are as follows:

Correctional Sergeant James Wood, Stewart Conservation Camp, Nevada

Sgt. Wood was honored with the Medal of Valor for exhibiting a "cool head and the patience of an experienced correctional leader," the organization said in a statement, when he helped return an escaped offender to custody in April of 2021. Though the inmate was agitated, Sgt. Wood "exemplified the composure and the calm demeanor necessary to deescalate the situation avoiding force."

Correctional Officer Jarisse McCraney, Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center, Nevada

Officer McCraney received the Medal of Valor for her quick thinking and selfless actions that ended an inmate's violent assault on another inmate at her facility. "Without any regard for her own safety," CUSA said, "Officer McCraney grabbed hold of the assaultive inmate and began pulling her off the victim." Despite a knee injury, she successfully subdued the inmate, "[saving] a life and [keeping] other officers from being injured."

Correctional Officer Earl Cooper, California State Prison Solano 

Officer Cooper was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the aftermath of a high-speed California Highway Patrol pursuit. After witnessing the suspect's vehicle burst into flames after hitting a tree, Officer Cooper rushed to the CHP officer's aid, not only helping him pull the resisting suspect out of his burning vehicle, but likely saving the officer's life as well. 

Correctional Officer Cody Greer, California Medical Facility

Officer Greer was fishing with friends in San Francisco Bay when he witnessed three men capsize their boat. Officer Greer immediately navigated to assist the men, pulling each of them into his own boat upon arrival while one of his friends steered. Thanks to his "critical training experience," CUSA said, he was able to save the men's lives without placing himself or his colleagues in danger. He was awarded the Medal of Valor.

Correctional Sergeant William Eberly, San Quentin, California

Sgt. Eberly was awarded the Medal of Valor for using his training to assist a seriously injured woman in a three-vehicle accident. Not only did he help stabilize the woman, rendering aid for nearly 30 minutes while emergency services were on route, but he also explained to her mother over the phone what was happening. Her family calls Sgt. Eberly their hero for helping their loved one survive injuries so severe she was airlifted to the hospital shortly afterward.

 Correctional Officer Mark Jones, High Desert State Prison, California

Officer Jones received CUSA's Image Award for his exceptional commitment to public safety in his community. Not only has he served with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 2001, but he has also dedicated himself to protecting the region from increasingly severe wildfires as a volunteer firefighter since 2018. He was even named the city of Susanville's 2021 Firefighter of the Year.

Correctional Sergeant Vanessa Melendez, San Quinten/NSC Main Office, California

Sgt. Melendez was honored with the Image Award for her years of service within Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America. As a participant in the organization's Bigs with Badges program, Sgt. Melendez has mentored many at-risk children, with whom she feels a connection due to her own experiences as a child. Her "compassion and caring charisma," CUSA said, earned her the distinction of Big Sister of the Year in May 2021.

Deputy Sheriff Nakishaw Zambrana, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Florida

Deputy Zambrana was awarded the Medal of Honor for her selfless actions while off-duty when she witnessed a domestic battery suspect assault another deputy. She immediately rushed to the officer's assistance, and working together, the two deputies were able to gain control of the suspect. “Deputy Zambrana’s courage, dedication and willingness to 'engage' exemplifies a selfless spirit and the caring character of a person who puts the safety of others before her own,” Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said of the February 2020 incident.

Correctional Officer Patrick Graba, Nassau County Correctional Center, New York

Officer Graba earned the Medal of Valor for his quick thinking and ingenuity, which helped his team of volunteer firefighters rescue a pair of stranded jet skiers from a critical situation. The pair had left the jet skis after running aground due to low tide only to find themselves mired up to their necks in mud soon afterward. Not only did Officer Graba request immediate assistance from the NYPD Aviation Unit, but he also devised a plan to deploy a long-haul ice water rescue sled to safely reach the skiers. 

Correctional Officer Shannon Fulford, Robert N. Davoren Complex, Rikers Island, New York City

Officer Fulford was stopped at a roadblock in November of 2021, when a drunk driver ran directly into his truck, propelling the vehicle into a Suffolk County sheriff's deputy. Due to the severity of the damage, Officer Fulford had to exit his truck through a side window, after which he immediately put his training to work to assist the injured deputy. "Without the quick thinking and training of Officer Fulford," CUSA said of their decision to award him with the Medal of Valor, "[the deputy] may not have survived."

Correctional Officer Shanell Harris, George R. Vierno Center, Rikers Island, New York City

Officer Harris received the Medal of Valor for the "courage and professionalism" she exhibited after being seriously assaulted during a gang altercation at her facility. Despite having sustained a stab wound, she never stopped working to secure the inmates and prevent others from likewise being injured. 

Correctional Officer Juan Carlos Adames, Westchester County Jail, New York

While off-duty in Brooklyn last spring, Officer Adames was approached by a distraught mother, who pointed to her daughter on the ledge of a high-rise building. Having been dared by some friends to scale a fence on the building's roof to get to the edge, the girl had become stuck on the other side and needed assistance to get back to safety. Officer Adames immediately ran up the eight flights of stairs to reach the girl and hugged her over the top of the fence while he called 911 for additional assistance. For his quick thinking and training, CUSA said, he was awarded the Medal of Valor.

Correctional Officer Jason Silcox, Florida Department of Corrections

During a contraband search at his facility, Officer Silcox was brutally attacked by an inmate, sustaining numerous stab wounds among other serious injuries. While he is still recovering from the assault a year later, his injuries have in no way dampened his resolve to return to work once his medical treatments are complete. For his undeniable bravery on the job, Officer Silcox was awarded the Medal of Valor.

Correctional Lieutenant Dennis Koen, Indiana State Prison

Lt. Koen was honored with the Medal of Valor for his heroic actions in the face of unspeakable tragedy at his facility: An inmate stabbed two corrections officers, one fatally, after he managed to slip out of cuffs while being escorted to the shower. Lt. Koen immediately responded to the scene when he heard the call out over the radio, and tackled the inmate to the floor, putting an end to the horrific ordeal and "without a doubt," CUSA said, preventing other officers from being killled.

Sheriff Sergeant Adam Gonzalez-McFetridge, Island County Sheriff’s Office, Washington

Sgt. Gonzalez-McFetridge was presented with the Image Award for being recognized by the National Jail Leadership Command Academy. In January 2020, while he was still employed with the Uintah County Sheriff's Office in Utah, he became the only deputy in the state to earn the distinction of certified jail manager with the American Jail Association. 

Correctional Officer Corey Forbes, Vice President PBA 105, New Jersey

Last August, Officer Forbes was boating when he observed another vessel with smoke pouring out of its engine. "With a higher regard for the safety of others than himself," Union President William Sulivan said of the incident, Officer Forbes rushed to their aid, pulling two of the boaters and their dog to safety after they jumped into the water to avoid the flames. "Officer Forbes' true character was illustrated by his split-second decisions, CUSA said, earning him the coveted Medal of Honor.

Correctional Police Officer Joseph Michals, Atlantic County Youth Detention Center, New Jersey

Officer Michals was awarded the Medal of Honor for his "quick thinking and heroic action [which] saved the life of a fellow officer," PBA 105 President William Sullivan said. In May of 2021, Officer Michals came upon a serious vehicle accident, which he soon learned involved a fellow officer at the Atlantic County Youth Detention Center. While emergency services were on route, Officer Michals retrieved a clean shirt from his own vehicle to help stop his colleague's bleeding.

Correctional Police Officer Chad Ammerman, New Jersey

Officer Ammerman earned the Medal of Valor for risking his own life to save another's, PBA 105 President William Sullivan said. When an 82-year-old man was left floating in open water last summer after his boat capsized, Officer Ammerman swam over 300 yards to reach him in time, using a floating cooler to help pull the man back to safety. "[That's] the true definition of a hero," Sullivan said.

Investigators David Dias and Sonja Salerno, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, New York

Investigators Dias and Salerno earned their Valor Awards for their integral roles in various investigations that uncovered a range of dangerous weapons, illegal drugs and other serious crimes within the department's correctional facilities. In the last year alone, their efforts have revealed, and put an end to, 124 narcotics-related incidents, 29 incidents involving tobacco, 27 incidents involving weapons and 95 incidents involving ancillary contraband.

Investigators Robert Lettieri and Michael Mancuso, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, New York

As members of the department's Gang Intelligence Unit, Investigators Lettieri and Mancuso work tirelessly to gather the most up-to-date intelligence on gang activities. This not only helps maintain a safe environment for both officers and detainees within the jail, but it also plays a substantial role in helping the department, as well as outside agencies, solve gang-related crimes. Case in point: Investigators Lettieri and Mancuso have helped to conduct 1,242 interviews resulting in the identification of 147 gang member affiliations and other criminal identifications.

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