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Law Enforcement Awards Banquet Officer, citizen of year feted

January 25, 2019 GMT

The Jefferson County Chiefs and Sheriff Association held its 2019 Law Enforcement Awards Banquet at Turner Hall in Watertown Wednesday evening with about 70 in attendance. It is at this yearly function the association’s members socialize, dine and present awards for the previous year’s accomplishments, including honoring its Law Enforcement Officer of the Year and Citizen of the Year.

This year, the association presented two people with its Citizen of the Year Award -- Andrew Van Wormer and Erin Harkness of Dane County. Law Enforcement Officer of the Year was Eric Grady of the Jefferson Police Department. Harkness was unable to attend. Van Wormer accepted his award with his daughter Jade looking on.

Presenting Grady with his award was Jefferson County Drug Task Force Detective Sgt. Margareta Gray.

As part of her statements recommending Grady for the honor, Gray said that in late 2017, Grady demonstrated the drive and commitment necessary to initiate a challenging drug investigation and to follow through with it to resolution.

“When obstacles would arise, Officer Grady remained dedicated, focused and willing to utilize different approaches to continue the investigation, even when some of the traditional methods didn’t work he was willing to take the time and effort to utilize non-traditional methods. Along the way, not only did Officer Grady learn about new tactics and techniques, but he also taught other members of the unit, to include myself, how to look for different approaches and not to shy away from tactics that are unfamiliar ... It is for these reasons and more that I nominate Officer Eric Grady for the Jefferson County Chief’s and Sheriff Association Officer of the Year Award.”

Van Wormer and Harkness were honored by Chief Deputy Jeffrey Parker of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for their co-Citizen of the Year awards. The two were recognized for their response to a fatal crash Feb. 18, 2018, that brought with it some unique complications.

“It is an honor for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to nominate Erin Harkness and Andrew Van Wormer for the Citizen of the Year Award. On Feb. 18, 2018, they came to the aid of motorists involved in a runoff in the county,” Parker said in his nomination submission. “The weather conditions were extremely cold and the roads were glare ice. During their assistance they found another crash and a subject that was ejected. While rendering medical attention to the ejected driver they also kept a vigil watch on the other two drivers who began acting suspiciously, these two individuals were also part of the accident scene and were trying to destroy or hide evidence. Erin and Andrew provided a detailed statement to aid in the investigation. Erin and Andrew did so without hesitation or fear of repercussions. ”

Going into detail, Parker wrote that on the day of the accident, at 12:03 a.m., Harkness heard a crash and while her friend Van Wormer helped two women get out of the ditch, she called 911. The women did not want emergency services called and proceeded to frantically throw items from their car into the ditch and wooded area. One of the women then began walking westbound on U.S. Highway 12.

“Erin Harkness stated that one of the female passengers appeared to be intoxicated and started to walk down the center of the road. Andrew followed her to get her out of the road and to protect her from being struck by any other vehicles,” Parker wrote. “While Andrew was following this woman he observed a second vehicle in the ditch along with a male occupant that had been ejected from the vehicle.”

Parker said the pair displayed quick thinking, this combined with both of them having years of military experience.

“Both began to work feverishly on the injured man performing life saving measures,” Parker said. “The injured man had no pulse and was not breathing. They began chest compressions on the male victim that had been ejected from the vehicle. Even though they observed other concerning injuries, they remained constant in providing medical care for 15-20 minutes until EMS arrived.”

Also during this time Harkness stayed on the phone with dispatch while keeping an eye on the two women who were observed throwing items from the male’s vehicle as well.

“Andrew and Erin kept calm and observant knowing that the actions of the two females were not normal reactions to the situation at hand. It was very apparent that these individuals were trying to conceal evidence or tamper with items within the vehicle,” Parker said.

The Jefferson County Crash Team arrived and contacted Detective Leah Meyer to assist in the investigation.

“Erin and Andrew provided a detailed written statement as to what they did and observed. It was determined through the investigation that both parties knew each other and the male subject crashed on the icy roads and the females crashed avoiding the first car,” Parker said. “Due to the outstanding observations of both Erin and Andrew a search of the woods later found a cell phone and an unopened suboxone pouch. Located inside of the vehicle was .22 handgun and more suboxone.”

Parker said many times in law enforcement, officers see individuals turn a “blind eye” to situations with the philosophy “it’s better to simply not get involved.”

“Erin and Andrew saw a need, a need to help someone who was at first maybe just in a bad situation, someone who had driven off of the road. Then they looked at the whole picture, they observed a level of intoxication, they noticed deceptive behavior, they followed through with basic instincts that led them to a secondary scene where they tried to save a human life,” Parker said. “They continued to communicate with 911, administer lifesaving protocols, as well as keep alert for what they believed was unusual behavior. Then, when the time was right, they turned responsibilities over to EMS and provided excellent information to law enforcement that assisted them in conducting their investigation.”

The Community Excellence Award was presented to Enbridge Corporation by Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath. The co-Support Persons of the Year were Karen Schmidt and Jessica Olszewski of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and were presented by Parker. The Crisis Intervention Training Law Enforcement Officer Award went to Officer Ryan Walters of the Fort Atkinson Police Department and was presented by Jefferson County Human Services Director Kathy Cauley. The Youth of the Year Award was presented to Kiana Jenswold by Chief Kenneth Pileggi of the Jefferson Police Department. The President’s Award was given to Spacesaver Corporation by Chief Adrian Bump of the Fort Atkinson Police Department.

Parker explained how award recipients are determined.

The members of the association are asked to vote on the nominees in each award category. The persons who receive the awards are then notified by a member of the association who nominated them.

Law Enforcement Officer of the Year is awarded to the public safety officer who has performed an exemplary deed or activity, has done outstanding work on a project or continually renders noteworthy work to the particular agency making the recommendation or to the community as a whole.

Youth of the Year is awarded to the young person who has performed commendable service to a Jefferson County community through a lifesaving effort, committed themselves to a community project, provided service and time to community service organizations or has made other outstanding contributions to a Jefferson County community.

Citizen of the Year is awarded to an individual who has performed some deed that has been of assistance to law enforcement in solving crime, saving a life or any of the other functions fulfilled by public safety agencies.

The Community Excellence Award is awarded to a business or organization that has been an outstanding community partner with law enforcement agencies by providing excellent service, cooperation or assistance.

Support Person of the Year is awarded to a support person who has performed an exemplary deed or activity has done outstanding work on a project or continually renders noteworthy work to the particularly agency making the recommendation or to the community as a whole.

The President’s Award is given to the person selected by the Association President and awarded to a public safety officer, support person, or citizen at large who has performed an extraordinary deed or activity, has done outstanding work on a project, or continually renders noteworthy work for law enforcement in Jefferson County or to the community as a whole.