Valor in the line of duty

Nov. 2, 2012 was the worst day in Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper’s 20-year career in law enforcement. And in a strange way, it was also the best. It was the day he heard Officer Vern Jefferson utter two phrases over the radio that filled him with dread: “Shots fired,” Jefferson said, followed by “I’m hit.”

“Those are things you never want to hear,” he said from behind teary eyes in front a packed Council Chambers. “I felt an indescribable sense of fear of the unknown.”

The 2-to-3 minutes it took him to arrive on scene seemed like hours.

Tupper presented Jefferson with a medal of valor at Monday night’s city council meeting amid dozens of police officers, firefighters, community members and other public employees for, what Tupper called, his heroic efforts that day.

Nov. 2, 2012 was the day Jefferson responded to a call that the Lennox Employees Credit Union was being robbed. After pursuing the suspects, Jefferson was shot, but managed to return fire and provide police with vital information as to the location of the second suspect.

Tupper said the incident typifies how the entire Marshalltown Police Department is staffed with dedicated and honorable professionals. It’s the reason Nov. 2, 2012 was also the best day of his life.

“All of your officers served proudly that day. It is my honor and pleasure to serve alongside them,” Tupper told the council.

He said he would continue to challenge Marshalltown’s officers to serve the community with passion and compassion as Jefferson did that day.

Jefferson echoed the sentiment during his acceptance speech, saying the award does not just belong to him.

It also belongs to the emergency dispatchers who first responded to the call. It belongs to the employees at the credit union who called police. It belongs to his fellow officers who tracked down the suspects after he was shot. It belongs to the staff at SportsPlus who helped him with his rehab and to his fianc and parents for their support.

“The lives of many have changed – our thought process, the way see our lives. The love we have for each other has become that much more important,” Jefferson said. “We can learn from this and become stronger as individuals, as a family, a team and as a community.”

The award belongs to everyone who played a part in the events surrounding Nov. 2, 2012, Jefferson said.

Tupper, however, was not so quick to downplay Jefferson’s dedication, saying he went beyond the call of duty for the safety of the community.

“While wounded mind you, (he) continued with the fight and continued to track the second suspect and provided valuable information to other responding officers regarding the second suspect’s direction of travel,” he said. “Officer Jefferson, while wounded, having been fired on several times, remained calm and decisive, and his decisive actions directly led to the arrest of two violent suspects.”

Tupper gave the medal, a uniform pin and a plaque honoring Jefferson’s actions to the eight-year veteran among uproarious applause.

Mayor Tommy Thompson thanked Jefferson for his service.

“You are a special person in our eyes,” he said.