LAPD begins Purple Heart awards
Craig Kerbrat recalls the day in February 1991 when two police officers arrived at his door. Although he was only 6, he knew their presence was a bad sign.
His mother, Officer Tina Kerbrat, had been killed by a gunshot to the face after stopping to question two men drinking beer. The 34-year-old rookie was the first woman killed in the line of duty in the Los Angeles Police Department.
On Thursday, Craig Kerbrat, now 26, accepted a Purple Heart medal on his mother’s behalf in an inaugural ceremony honoring 82 Los Angeles police officers killed or traumatically wounded in the line of duty.
“It’s obviously not a good thing to be a part of,” said Kerbrat, referring to the number of family members who had to accept the medal for a dead officer. “But it’s an honor.”
Forty of the recipients had been killed in the line of duty and 42 were wounded in incidents dating back to 1921.
“It filled the gap in the way we recognize officers,” said Police Chief Charlie Beck. “We have to make up for a lot of lost time.”
The ceremony comes at a time when attacks on police officers in Los Angeles are up more than 40 percent.
“A big wrong was righted today,” said Police Commissioner Alan Skobin, who spearheaded the creation of the award. “This is a fulfillment of our promise to never forget those who have died for us, and the recognition of the suffering that officers and their families went through when they were injured.”
The first to be honored was Sgt. John Fitzgerald, who was killed in June 1921 while leading a raid on a home in which Prohibition-era liquor and drugs were stashed. He was shot in the stomach on the porch, but chased a suspect about 60 feet before collapsing. He died less than two hours later.
His grandson, Tom Fitzgerald, had never known him – his father was only 5 when the sergeant was killed. But he was there to accept the medal, 90 years after his grandfather was killed, with tears in his eyes.
“I wish I had known him,” said Fitzgerald, 65. “It’s just sad to see all the people who grew up without a father, a grandfather.”
The ceremony was also emotional for Lisa Simmons, whose husband, Randal Simmons, died in February 2008 – the first SWAT officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Simmons, 51, of Rancho Palos Verdes, was fatally shot in the neck by a barricaded suspect who had already killed his own father and two brothers at a home in Winnetka.
Although Simmons and his family are no strangers to awards and medals – he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor last year – the Purple Heart was an especially significant honor not just for her husband, but for all officers, Lisa Simmons said.
“It’s also for the ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in terms of going out and making our streets safer and who were injured in the line of duty,” she said. “It’s a combination of the uniform that they wear and the blood that they have shed for the city of Los Angeles.
“Randy took an oath to protect and serve. And he fulfilled his oath, to the price where he not only lived to help the city but he died to protect it.”
Detective Tracey Angeles was among several who were able to accept their own awards. She was wounded in the 1997 North Hollywood shootout with two heavily armed bank robbers, yet still managed to help another officer who had been seriously injured.
“I completed my job because they did theirs,” said Angeles, who was among four to receive a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the shootout. “It’s an honor for me, but I’m accepting (the medal) on behalf of all of them who were there that day.”
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