Awarding the best in public safety

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For the first time in its history, the Marana Police Department this month handed out awards to deserving members of the department and community. The event, held at the Highlands at Dove Mountain, will become an annual opportunity to showcase the many great men and women who serve Marana and work to make our Town a safe place for people to live and do business.

This year’s honorees included:

Officer of the Year

Officer Robert Derfus

Officer Derfus was hired by the Marana Police Department on April 19, 1997. Prior to becoming a Marana Police Officer, Derfus was employed by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department and the Tombstone Marshall’s Office. Derfus is a certified K-9 instructor with the National K-9 Association and is renowned throughout the state for his experience and skills as a canine handler. Derfus has trained all of Marana’s K-9 handlers as well as numerous others from across the state. In 2010 and ’11, Derfus was responsible for removing approximately a half-million dollars in narcotics from the street.

In December 2010, Derfus was driving home after completing his shift when he heard about a bank robbery in progress at the Chase Bank at Tangerine and Thornydale roads. He didn’t know it at the time, but the suspects were responsible for a series of nine bank robberies. Derfus arrived at the scene and noticed the suspect inside the bank. Taking cover on the side of the building, Derfus waited until the suspect left the bank before confronting him. The suspect’s accomplice, serving as the getaway driver, chose that time to drive toward Derfus. Fearing for his safety, Derfus fired his weapon and struck the driver. The driver and his accomplice were able to leave the scene but were later arrested and charged.

Lifesaving Award

Officers Hayden Mosher, William Dittiger and Robert Derfus

On Feb. 7, 2012, Officers Mosher, Dittiger and Derfus responded to a frantic call regarding a 17-year old fleeing his parents. The parents had been in the process of transporting their son to a local hospital for a psychological evaluation on his anger issues and suicidal tendencies when he jumped out of the car and started running.

The officers saw the teen running along the train tracks from Cortaro Road and followed pursuit. The teenager did not respond to the officers’ initial commands to stop. Emotionally distraught, he told the officers he wanted to catch the train before throwing himself across the tracks. To the officers’ horror, a northbound train was quickly approaching them. Disregarding their own safety, Officers Derfus and Mosher began struggling to remove the emotional distraught teenager. His grip was so strong that they were unable to pull him off.

As the two officers struggled, Officer Dittiger arrived and assisted the others in forcibly removing the young man from the tracks just moments before the train crossed.

Officers Dittiger, Derfus and Mosher were able to save the life of an emotionally disturbed young man determined to end his own life and were able to get the young man the medical and psychological services he needed.

Lifesaving Award

Officers Ray Kennedy and John Pathammavong

On the evening of Feb. 19, 2012, Officers Kennedy and Pathammavong responded to a domestic violence call reporting a husband physically assaulting his wife. Upon arriving at the scene, the officers could hear an altercation occurring inside the home. When the officers entered the house, they saw the husband strangling his wife. The man ignored the officers’ commands to stop. Fearing for the woman’s safety, Officer Kennedy immediately used his taser while making sure not to strike the victim. The probes from the taser struck the man in his back, causing him to instantly release his grip from the victim’s throat. The man fell to the floor and was immediately restrained and handcuffed by Officer Pathammavong.

The victim was extremely appreciative of the officers’ actions and informed them that she was beginning to lose consciousness when the officers intervened. The woman later told investigators that her husband had started choking her harder when he saw the officers and she feared that had the officers not acted as quickly as they did she might have been seriously injured or killed.

The Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that on average there are 100 deaths per year in Arizona as a result of domestic violence.  The coalition also reports that a victim is 10 times more likely to be killed if her partner has ever tried to strangle her. There is no doubt that the actions of Officers Kennedy and Pathammavong that night saved the victim’s life.

Civilian of the Year

Tom Mooney

Tom Mooney was hired by the Marana Police Department in May 2002 and is supervisor of the crime scene unit. During his tenure with the MPD, Mooney has served as a mentor for the department’s officers with his vast knowledge of crime scenes, photography, and police work. Prior, Mooney proudly served and retired as a detective with the Cranston, R.I. Police Department.

A couple of years ago, Mooney was inspecting items left in an evidence storage container when he came across an old case tucked away in a corner that instantly intrigued him. The case was an unsolved homicide that occurred in November 1987. The victim was never identified and was only referred to as “Jane Doe #19.” Like all good cops, Mooney’s compassion for the victim and her family coupled with an overwhelming sense of learning the truth and seeking justice compelled him to start an investigation.

Mooney’s investigative instincts kicked in as he began to methodically reconstruct the crime scene. He had the body exhumed and the skull sent to the FBI’s Facial Reconstruction Unit. Mooney also collected DNA and sent it to the Department of Public Safety for analysis. Once a bust image of the victim was prepared, Mooney appeared on local television with KOLD on Univision.

He prepared a detailed poster and put it on the internet and all over Town in an effort to identify the victim or her killer.

Mooney’s efforts paid off in October 2011, when the department received notification that the DNA he sent to DPS was identified as a prison inmate who was believed to be the killer. The suspect had died in August 2005.

Although MPD has not identified the homicide victim, the department is closer to solving the mystery and Mooney’s interest in the case has not waned. This case illustrates the dedication and commitment to excellence that Mooney demonstrates every day in everything he does.

Volunteer of the Year

Herb Jones

Jones became part of the MPD Volunteers in Police Services Patrol Team in September 2005. After completing the MPD Citizens’ Police Academy and VIPS Orientation Training, Jones began assisting uniformed officers with patrol activities and volunteered 128 hours of service his first year.

Over the years, Jones has assisted the MPD in traffic control and serves as the VIPS call-out coordinator, command center driver, fleet services coordinator, field trainer, team leader and VIPS vehicle maintenance person. He assists with the yearly Special Olympics fund-raising events and generally is the “go-to person.”

Since joining VIPS, Jones has contributed 3,550 hours, saving the department $69,154 in staffing costs.

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