LITTLE ROCK — A Van Buren police officer who was first on the scene following a shooting at the Crawford County Courthouse last year was named Officer of the Year during a gathering of law enforcement officers from around the state Tuesday.
Cpl. David Passen was honored for his quick action in response to the incident in which the secretary of a judge was wounded and her assailant was killed.
Also Tuesday, officers attending the 2012 Law Enforcement Summit honored a Trumann police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2011.
On Sept. 13, 2011, James Ray Palmer, 38, of Kibler went to the Crawford County Courthouse looking for Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell, who wasn’t in the building that day. After walking to the second floor of the courthouse, Palmer shot Cottrell’s secretary, Vickie Jones, in the leg.
Passen was the first officer to arrive at the scene. Palmer exited the building and opened fire, armed with an assault rifle equipped with a laser sight and two handguns. Passen’s police cruiser was struck 16 times, with seven of the rounds striking the driver’s door.
After moving his vehicle to cover behind other police officers, Passen got out of his vehicle, retrieved an M-15 rifle from the trunk and began firing at Palmer, who was fatally wounded after firing more than 20 rounds at police officers.
“With a steady hand and a clear head, Cpl. Passen helped return peace to a public building,” Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in presenting the award.
Passen thanked the attorney general and the crowd of more than 200 for the award, then pointed to two fellow Van Buren officers — Det. Randy Allen and Lt. Stephen Staggs — sitting near the stage.
“Those two guys right there saved my life that day,” said Passen, who suffered minor shrapnel wounds during the ordeal.
“Randy pulled his car in between me and the courthouse and the shooter to get me out of the way, and the lieutenant was on the other side taking shots as well to draw (the shooter’s) attention away,” Passen, who suffered minor shrapnel wounds, told a reporter later, said in an interview with the Arkansas News Bureau.
The corporal said other officers in his department deserved the award as much as he did.
“There was five of us there all together that should have got this, if any of us,” he said.
Also Tuesday, McDaniel paid tribute to the late Jonathan Schmidt, a Trumann police officer shot and killed in the line of duty in April 12, 2011.
Schmidt had stopped a vehicle with four occupants outside an apartment complex when one of the passengers, later identified as Jerry Lard, jumped out firing a .25 caliber handgun at Schmidt and Sgt. Corey Overstreet. Schmidt was shot and killed and Lard was wounded by Overstreet.
Lard was convicted in August of capital murder and attempted capital murder and sentenced to death by a Greene County jury.
Schmidt’s wife Andrea, and his parents, Donald and Kathy Schmidt, were recognized at Tuesday’s event.