The state’s highest honor for police bravery was awarded posthumously last Thursday to Auburn officer Ronald Tarentino Jr., who was killed during a traffic stop in May 2016. The three state troopers who located Tarentino’s killer were also given the high honor as were four Boston Police officers who were shot at in two incidents last year.
Tarentino was ambushed by Jorge Zambrano, who fired on him with a stolen semi-automatic handgun, fatally striking the officer under his bulletproof vest. Tarentino was able to radio in information about the suspect, who was subsequently killed in a gun battle with the troopers.
Gov. Charlie Baker awarded Tarentino’s family the Trooper George L. Hanna Medal of Honor. Trooper Albert Kardoos and State Police Sgts. Michael Baker and Scott McDonald were searching a home where Zambrano was hiding when the suspect ambushed the officers from a closet, shooting Kardoos in the shoulder before bneinmg killed in the ensuing gunfight.
“These are dangerous jobs and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves,” Baker told the chamber filled with officers in uniform and their families. He added, “This job is probably tougher than it’s ever been... The expectations are high, as they should be. And year after year you raise your game.”
In East Boston in October 2016, a suspect wearing a bulletproof vest pinned down police with gunfire, injuring officers Matthew Morris and Richard Cintolo. Officer Clifton Singletary and Sgt. Norberto Perez risked their own safety to shield and tend to the downed officers, and Officer Eric Schmidt kept the suspect at bay, said Jennifer Queally, undersecretary for law enforcement and master of ceremonies at Thursday’s event.
Singletary plugged Morris’s severed femoral artery and Perez applied a tourniquet to his leg. Were it not for those actions, Morris “would not have survived his injuries,” Queally said.
Morris, Cintolo, and Schmidt received the medal of honor for their response and officer Lenin Ortiz was also honored for playing a role in the shootout.
In January 2016, Boston Police officers Kurt Stokinger and Keith Kaplan were ambushed by a drug dealer. Stokinger was shot in the leg, but was able to return fire and Kaplan apprehended the suspect. Stokinger was given the medal of honor and Kaplan the medal of valor.
Medals of valor were also given to police from Lynn, Lowell, Fall River, and Everett as well as state trooper David Stucenski and his K9 Frankie, all of whom confronted violent individuals. In several of those incidents, the suspects were killed.
Fall River Police officers David Gouveia and James Hoar were honored for a June 2016 incident that largely played out across the border in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Edward Acquisito, an 80-year-old who had previously been imprisoned for rape and for killing a man, had just shot someone to whom he owed money in a Tiverton Cemetery when Gouveia and Hoar joined in a pursuit of the suspect, according to Queally, press accounts and a Tiverton police report.
Acquisito stopped his car in Tiverton and fired on the officers pursuing him. They returned fire and killed him.
Rep. Alan Silvia, a Fall River Democrat and veteran of the police department, said he knew the two officers and served alongside Hoar’s father. “Their intentions are to keep the people of Fall River safe and they do it in a way that is better than most. I’m a 22-year veteran of that same department,” Silvia said.
High-profile police-involved killings, especially those where the person killed presented little apparent risk to officers, have spurred movements around the country calling for changes to police policies and more accountability.
“I’m more concerned about the lives of our police officers because of this tension that seems to exist that all police are bad and pull their firearm for any reason,” Silvia told the News Service. “I’m fearful that police officers will be killed as a result of hesitation.”
The officers who were honored on Thursday fired on suspects after the person either fired on them first, or lunged at them with a weapon, or threatened them with a firearm.
Trooper David Stucenski and K-9 Frankie apprehended a violent suspect who had fled a hit and run along Interstate 91. The suspect, a Sierra Leone national subject to deportation, turned and confronted the trooper and his police dog, firing at them, according to Queally. Frankie sprang at the suspect, took him to the ground, and maintained a grip on him as backup arrived. The suspect survived and was charged with numerous felonies, according to officials. Both the police dog and the trooper were honored Thursday with the medal of valor.
The awards are given in memory of Trooper George Hanna who was shot to death at a February 1983 traffic stop in Auburn. Queally noted the similarity between the incident that led to Hanna’s death and last year’s tragedy. “Both took place in the relatively quiet town of Auburn,” Queally said, describing Tarentino as “a hero in how he lived.”