Officer Vern Jefferson was just doing his job.
But not everyone feels that Jefferson's actions - pursuing two alleged bank robbers, getting shot and firing on his assailant, preventing him from escaping - are something to be brushed off.
Not only did the Marshalltown Police Department name him employee of the year, but the Iowa Police Chiefs Association also named him Iowa's police officer of the year at a banquet at the Coralville Marriott Thursday.
Marshalltown Police Officer Vern Jefferson, center, is shown here at the Coralville Marriott with Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper, right, and Iowa Police Chiefs Association President Jeremy Logan. The association named Jefferson its officer of the year at a banquet Thursday.
On a dreary November morning last year, Jefferson pursued two men who had held up the Lennox Credit Union and fled the scene. Jefferson was first to arrive.
The pursuit ended with Jefferson being shot in the leg before returning fire on his attacker. Paramedics transported the two men to Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center for non-life-threatening injuries. Following the shooting, Jefferson underwent several weeks of grueling physical therapy.
He said he is just glad to be back to work; there is nothing to boast about.
"I am a pretty quiet guy," he said. "I think anyone else would have done the same thing in my position."
The MPD also awarded Jefferson a medal of valor, and earlier this month, the Morning Optimist Club presented Jefferson with its 2013 Ron Galloway Respect for the Law award.
Subsequent to the gun fight, police arrested two suspects in connection with the robbery: Ben Crisantos and Abel Ramirez, both 22, of Marshalltown, charging Crisantos - the alleged shooter - with attempted murder and Ramirez with first-degree robbery, both Class B felonies. The men both face 25 years in prison.
Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper previously said Jefferson's actions likely saved lives.
"Vern is obviously very courageous," Tupper said. "To survive an incident like Vern did, you have to be very prepared."
Tupper said Jefferson is one of the most physically prepared officers he has worked with in his 20-year career.
That preparedness comes from a mental strength Jefferson said he acquired in the Marines. Being in physical shape has mentally prepared Jefferson to deal with the physiological waves caused by the shooting, he said. When he first started physical therapy, he couldn't run half a mile. Now, Jefferson is training for a marathon, and he hopes to run a 31-mile ultra-marathon.
"I always want to push myself mentally," Jefferson said. "I am wanting something more. I always feel that what I have done isn't enough. I don't know where I get that from."
Crisantos and Ramirez await charges in federal court, and the MPD is withholding the full details of the shooting until the case is complete.
Jefferson is an eight-year veteran of the MPD and previously worked as a deputy sheriff and correctional officer. He also served overseas, doing tours with the Marines and National Guard.
Coping with the emotional impact of being shot hasn't been easy, Jefferson said. He said he finds solace in reading. In particular, "On Combat" by David Grossman has offered him a mechanism to process the shooting and learn to deal with it.
Being ready, both mentally and physically, is important because some criminals will do whatever is necessary to escape, Jefferson said. Police have to stay one step ahead of them. While he does all he can to ensure he is prepared, he said it's ultimately the support network that allowed him to perform the way he did.
"We all came together to make sure the community was safe," he said. "I happened to be the one to find them and be involved in the exchange You always have to expect that part of the job."
At the banquet, Iowa Police Chiefs Association President Jeremy Logan called Jefferson's conduct the "benchmark for police officers."
The MPD will present Jefferson's recognition as officer of the year at the June 10 city council meeting.
Contact David Alexander at 641-753 6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org