SAN DIEGO — Two San Diego-area lawmen were among 14 officers who received state medals of valor Thursday from Gov. Jerry Brown.
Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Spears and San Diego police Officer Michael DeWitt earned the recognition for actions they took a year ago during a 15- minute shootout with a child molestation suspect in Lakeside.
“Character, leadership and being able to act in difficult and uncertain circumstances — that’s what we honor today,” the governor said during a midday ceremony in Sacramento.
On Sept. 25, 2012, Spears was among a team of deputies who went to an apartment near El Capitan High School on a report that a man there had sexually assaulted his live-in girlfriend’s two young daughters.
When Sgt. Craig Johnson and child abuse Detective Ali Perez forced entry to the residence, suspect Daniel Robert Witczak allegedly opened fire with a high-powered rifle, seriously wounding them.
Spears shielded Johnson with his body and then kicked open the door of a neighboring apartment so they could take cover inside, according to the governor’s office.
DeWitt, meanwhile, was driving to work through the area when he saw the chaos unfolding at the Mapleview Street residential complex and heard gunfire.
The special-weapons and tactics officer pulled over, donned his SWAT gear and quickly assembled a group of deputies to advance on the residence where Witczak, 30, was holed up and firing on them. The team moved up a stairway and rescued the badly wounded detective as the suspect continued shooting.
A short time later, a woman and two small children ran panicked from the complex. Seeing they were in the assailant’s line of fire, DeWitt left a position of cover, ran toward the mother and picked up her 4-year-old child as she carried her infant. He then led her across the street to safety.
At that point, DeWitt ran back to the complex, helped get Johnson to medical care and took part in the capture of the wounded suspect.
Perez and Johnson survived their wounds. Witczak’s trial is scheduled for next month.