Merit, valor, investigations and a Good Samaritan act
By Katherine Nettles
Tuesday, February 6 was a morning of celebration and recognition for the Gunnison County sheriff’s office, as four men were honored for acts of bravery and clear-headedness in the face of great danger and distress. These included responses to a double homicide, a plane crash, investigating tragic events and making arrests on hostile suspects. While not great situations even for highly trained professionals, sheriff Adam Murdie emphasized that the outcomes were as ideal as could be hoped for.
“There’re a lot of good things going on at the sheriff’s office,” said Murdie, as he carried a box full of medals and pins into the commissioner’s room of the Gunnison County courthouse. “I have some guys here that deserve a lot of great recognition because of the jobs that they do.”
Murdie has made it a practice since he took office in 2022 to keep track of the memorable incidents his department has handled, however harrowing. “We don’t get to recognize our people all the time even though we try to give them pats on the back or tell them ‘good job’ throughout each day. But this is something special for these guys and for the community to know about.”
Deputy Ross Downs was the first to be recognized, and he was awarded twice. Murdie said Downs manages search and rescues, managed an airplane crash with significant injuries and was the lone first responder to apprehend a suspect in a double homicide in the middle of the night.
“Those are big deals for any county, not just Gunnison County,” said Murdie. Downs received a meritorious service award for these acts.
Murdie also recognized Downs for a Good Samaritan act while off duty when he was having breakfast at the W Café and witnessed a woman choking. Downs performed the Heimlich maneuver and prevented the situation from becoming life-threatening. He received a life-saving award and pin for this action, an act of which Murdie guessed Downs had not thought anyone else had been aware.
Next, investigator Skye Wells received an award for conducting numerous complex investigations simultaneously, including burglaries, the aforementioned double homicide and a sexual assault case, all within the month of May 2023. Murdie said investigators don’t get a lot of credit but deal with some very difficult things that most people don’t want to see or do. “All these investigations are complete and two of the three resulted in arrests.”
Last, Sargeant Wesley Hersberger and deputy Mitchell Parker received valor awards for a difficult arrest that turned violent in September 2023.
“These two guys had a pretty exciting event, the kind that we don’t like to have in our careers,” said Murdie. “It’s a life-threatening issue that they experienced.” Murdie described that they went to apprehend a suspect on multiple warrants who was known to have knives and known to be aggressive on occasion. The man had barricaded himself in a room with a large dog to avoid arrest, pulled a gun on them and eventually began physically struggling with them. “These guys did an exceptional job and came out of there without any injuries,” said Murdie. They were both given valor awards for their ability to work together under circumstances “that could have turned horrific” and disarming the perpetrator safely.
County commissioner Jonathan Houck spoke on behalf of the board to thank the members of the sheriff’s department under Murdie’s leadership for their commitment, training and personal sacrifices.
“This community really values the work that you do, and I think we have a community that’s small enough to really understand the danger of the work, the commitment level of the sheriff’s department,” he said. “One of the reasons we love this place and one of the reasons we all really resonate with this place is that we feel safe here.”
Houck called the ceremony a quick but important glimpse into the danger, dedication and thoughtfulness that law enforcement takes on in the community, “To ensure that we all don’t have to think about safety all that much.”
The commissioners then recessed their meeting to host a brief gathering for family and friends of the department.