Pine Bluff police Lt. Lance Lawhon and Officer William Ablondi were named co-officers of the year during the police department award ceremony May 30.
Lawhon was selected for his involvement in dealing with a hostage situation at a medical facility in February 2013, while Ablondi was picked for his actions while serving as a member of a robbery task force that had staked out convenience stores and dollar stores following a series of robberies in November and December 2013.
Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said Lawhon, who is the commander of the department SWAT team, was the first officer to arrive at Jefferson Comprehensive Care after a report that a man with mental issues had taken hostages.
“In reviewing the information we had received, there was a reasonable belief that the suspect was working to assault one of the women, either physically or sexually,” Hubanks said.
According to a probable cause affidavit that followed the arrest of the man, William Brown, 27, asked one of the women hostages what part of her body she valued most and when the woman said “her hair,” Brown took a pair of scissors and cut more than three-quarters of the woman’s hair before punching the second hostage, also a woman, several times in the face.
Police also had been told that Brown had a gun and possibly explosives in the room.
“Lt. Lawhon threw a tactical plan together on the fly, went in with two other officers, got the gun and rescued the hostages,” Hubanks said. “That was brave police work, no two ways about it.”
Hubanks said had Lawhon and the other officers followed what would have normally been done in hostage situations — that is, establish a secure perimeter and try to negotiate with Brown — the outcome could have been much different.
“One of the lessons we learned from Columbine is that you try to confront an active shooter to minimize the possible damage,” Hubanks said.
For his actions, Lawhon and the other two officers involved in the incident, Officer-now-Detective David Norton and Officer Shaun Cook, also received the department Medal of Valor.
Ablondi was a member of a robbery task force that had been created to try and stop a group of men who were involved in robberies around the city that began in November 2013.
“The level of violence was increasing and I’m amazed that no [employees or innocent bystanders at the stores] got shot, but we could sense that was coming,” Hubanks said. “The profile was that this was a bunch of young guys who became power crazy when they could point guns at people and tell them what to do. At some point, they were going to shoot somebody because that’s serious street cred.”
Ablondi and his partner, now-Detective Roger Gray, were assigned to conduct surveillance at the Family Dollar store on West 28th Avenue on Dec. 6, 2013, and Hubanks said they got to their assigned spot 45 minutes early.
Department officials had established that the prior robberies had all been committed after 6 p.m., so that was when the surveillance was scheduled to begin.
“If they had been on time, they would have missed them,” Hubanks said, about the incident, which took place at 5:20 p.m. “They saw these guys cross the front of the store and pull masks down over their faces.”
Hubanks said Ablondi and Gray took positions of cover and waited for the suspects to come out of the business before confronting them.
“One of them (later identified as Samuel Freeman, 23), turned and pointed a gun at Ablondi, who shot him,” Hubanks said.
Gray saw two other suspects get into a vehicle that had been seen at the scene of a previous robbery driven by a fourth man.
Hubanks said off-duty officer Jalyndria Murry heard the radio traffic about the robbery and walked outside her apartment where she saw the suspect vehicle and called it in.
“We had set up a perimeter but we had set it up wrong,” Hubanks said. “She was able to redirect our guys and we caught the suspects.”
Ablondi and Gray also received the Medal of Valor for their efforts.
Capt. Kelven Hadley was recognized as Supervisor of the Year, an award that Hubanks said “was well deserved.”
Hubanks said when he took over the department in January 2013, he decided he wanted to it to be employee-oriented and “Capt. Hadley embraced that concept.”
As patrol division supervisor, Hadley works hard to recognize the officers assigned to him, which Hubanks said requires a lot of research.
“He meets constantly with the patrol supervisors and coaches and mentors the officers under his command,” Hubanks said.
When the decision was made to bring back the PBPD Bike Patrol, Hubanks said Hadley was given the assignment of putting it together.
“I told him to make it happen and he did,” Hubanks said. “When we can, we’re going to expand it so we can get even more out of it.”
Deputy Chief Ricky Whitmore, Officer Brandon Greene and Officer Leon Jackson were named winners of the Catherine Whiteside Award, a former officer who died of cancer.
“Catherine was a school resource officer and was in Stage Four of cancer and was still going to work,” Hubanks said. “She literally was going to work until she physically couldn’t do it anymore.”
Jackson was seriously injured following an accident in his police vehicle and spent months in the hospital. He is currently rehabilitating and Hubanks said “he wants to come back but he’s still got a long way to go.”
Hubanks said Greene was very close to the late Lt. JoAnn Bates, who killed herself last year, and also close to former PBPD Officer Jason Sprague, who was killed while working as an officer in Texas.
“Those were terrible losses and at the same time, he got married and his wife got pregnant, so he was dealing with a lot of things all at the same time,” Hubanks said. “Through all of that, he stayed the course and his bearing and attitude were noteworthy.”
As far as Whitmore is concerned, Hubanks said he has “been a mentor, a counselor and a buddy for a long time.
“He’s also had an illness for a long, long time but now that he’s had an operation, the chances of him seeing his grandkids grow up is a lot brighter,” Hubanks said. “His support for me has been continuous through these past 18 months and he’s stayed the course, despite the detractors.”