Governor Stitt Presents State Awards for Heroism. The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and Oklahoma Purple Heart Awards
Governor Stitt Presents State Awards for Heroism.
The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and Oklahoma Purple Heart Awards
Governor Kevin Stitt presented the Oklahoma Medal of Valor to an Oklahoma Army National Guard Sgt. Pedro Gonzales, III, and the Oklahoma Purple Heart to Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson, Tulsa Police Officer Aurash Zarkeshan and Oklahoma City Police Officer Zachary Barby during a ceremony in the Blue Room at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
“In Oklahoma, we recognize that the freedom we hold so dearly is protected by public safety officers and heroes who put their lives on the line every day,” Stitt said. “I am humbled and honored to recognize some of Oklahoma’s finest citizens on behalf of our state.”
These are the first state level awards for heroism given through the Oklahoma State Awards Program. Recipients were determined by a nine-member committee of state public safety officials and chaired by Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell.
“The Oklahoma State Awards Program Committee is pleased to recognize an incredible inaugural group of award recipients,” said Pinnell. “This program is a fitting way to honor Oklahomans for their distinguished service to our state.”
The Oklahoma Medal of Valor is recognized as the highest award of honor presented in recognition of “extraordinary acts of valor by public safety members and other citizens whose actions display great moral strength and personal courage in the face of fear, danger or difficulty while actively engaged in public service activities.”
Oklahoma Army National Guard Sgt. Pedro Gonzales, III, received the award for his actions that saved the life of his elderly neighbor.
On Sept. 19, 2020, Gonzales stepped between his elderly female neighbor and a man violently attacking her with a knife. He was able to hold off the attacker long enough for his girlfriend and his neighbor to escape and call 911. The altercation resulted in Gonzales receiving multiple stab wounds to the face and neck. Gonzales has since made a full recovery and has returned to duty as a soldier in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
"Sgt. Gonzales is the embodiment of what an Oklahoma National Guardsman is," said Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, the adjutant general for Oklahoma. "Without a thought for his own safety, Pedro put himself between a would-be killer and a defenseless neighbor. That is the essence of what the National Guard does, we come to the aid of our neighbors, during the worst days of their lives, without a second thought."
The Oklahoma Purple Heart is awarded exclusively to public safety members who suffered life-threatening injuries while in the line of duty.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan are being recognized for their bravery during a traffic stop in Tulsa on June 29, 2020. After attempting to remove the driver using less than lethal means, they decided their only remaining option was to physically remove the driver from his vehicle. After a few moments of struggling with the officers, the driver shot both officers at close range. Sgt. Johnson fell to the ground and the driver shot Zarkeshan a second time, hitting him in the head and rendering him unconscious.
The driver left the scene, but Zarkeshan was able to provide information to responding officers that led to the quick apprehension of the suspect.
Sadly, Johnson died from his injuries the next day.
Zarkeshan returned to the Tulsa Police Department on modified assignment in early November 2020, after completing nearly five months of physical therapy and taking some time to heal.
Johnson’s award was presented posthumously to his family and was accepted by his wife, Kristi.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum praised his officers for their heroism and expressed his gratitude to the governor and the awards committee.
“I’d like to thank Governor Stitt for honoring two of Tulsa’s heroes – Officer Aurash Zarkeshan and Sgt. Craig Johnson,” said Bynum. “Their bravery and sacrifice will always be remembered by the citizens of Tulsa, and this recognition on behalf of the entire State of Oklahoma means a great deal.”
Officer Zachary Barby is receiving the award for his actions on the morning of Nov. 11, 2020, when several Oklahoma City Police officers attempted to apprehend an individual suspected of two murders and a kidnapping. Before he could be apprehended, the suspect shot at multiple police officers including Officer Barby, who was struck once in his torso. Fortunately, the bullet was stopped by his ballistic vest. By the end of the gun battle, the suspect had been shot and killed. Officer Barby was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for severe bruising to his upper right abdomen and released.
“Officer Zach Barby and his colleagues put their lives on the line to apprehend a suspect in a series of horrific murders,” said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. “It is only thanks to modern protective equipment that Officer Barby is still with us today. He was willing to do whatever it required to protect the people of our city. It is fitting that the State of Oklahoma is honoring him today, and on behalf of the people of Oklahoma City, we are grateful to Officer Barby and his family.”
As enacted in statute, OSAP committee members include the Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, the director of the Department of Corrections, the director of the Department of Transportation, the president of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, the president of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, the president of the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association and the president of the Oklahoma Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.