Centralia police honored for saving lives, spending time with a suicidal woman, catching violent suspects and more


As he approaches the last two weeks as Centralia’s police chief before he becomes the new Chehalis city manager, Stacy Denham honored a number of officers and police department staff with awards and commendations during Tuesday’s Centralia City Council meeting.

Not all were present, as some were still on duty or patrol.

Officers Andrew Huerta, Alan Hitchcock, August Shulda and Caleb Parsons received a letter of recognition for their actions on July 8, 2023, when they responded to a call of an elderly woman threatening to commit suicide.

“The officers learned that she was depressed from being alone on her birthday,” Denham said. “A birthday card was made up, and all the officers responded to the woman’s apartment. The officers spent some time with the woman and sang her a happy birthday song. A simple act of kindness and compassion by our officers changed the woman’s mindset and made her day special.”

Detective Michael Barela, Sergeant Chad Withrow and officers Aaron Miller and Mitch King received a certificate of commendation for their actions during March and April 2023 while a string of ATM thefts occurred along the Interstate 5 corridor.

Using the city’s newly purchased Flock Safety cameras, they were able to identify possible suspects and learned they were armed. Investigators got their break in the case on April 8, when a burglary alarm went off at a store on North Tower Avenue.

“Officers recognized the time and location of the alarm matched the MO of the ATM burglaries. Officers responded to the scene at which time officer King located the suspect vehicle in the alley behind the store,” Denham said.

He watched them get into the vehicle and begin to leave the scene. Knowing the suspects were most likely armed, King performed a precision immobilization technique, also known as a PIT maneuver, to disable the vehicle.

The suspects fled and officers pursued, capturing two of them. Inside the suspect’s vehicle they found not only weapons but burglary tools along with evidence linking them to burglaries throughout the I-5 corridor.

“The evidence collected from it allowed Detective Barela to establish probable cause to arrest five additional suspects, which led to solving multiple thefts and burglaries,” Denham said. “… Evidence obtained from the investigation also allowed outside jurisdictions to move forward with their own charges on the identified subjects. Dozens of additional crimes in other jurisdictions were solved.”

Officer Ruben Ramirez and Detective Adam Haggerty both received an award for meritorious service.

Ramirez received his award for his involvement in volunteering for the many events the Lewis County Special Olympics organizes.

“Officer Ramirez has donated countless hours of his personal time to coordinating and participating in the Special Olympics Torch Run, the Polar Plunge fundraiser for the Special Olympics and the Centralia Police Officers Night Out,” Denham said.

He added Ramirez volunteers in other parts of the Centralia community, all while still being an effective officer and K9 handler for the department.

Haggerty received his award for ongoing service with the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET), which he has been a part of since 2015.

“Detective Haggerty was instrumental in establishing protocols for controlled substance homicide investigations, which is currently being used by multiple jurisdictions today,” Denham said.

Officer Deter Voetberg received a life saving award for his response on Nov. 14 when two carjacking suspects were detained.

One of the suspects had shot the driver of a vehicle they were attempting to carjack at Exit 88 on I-5.

“Officer Voetberg located the victim, who was bleeding profusely from his left arm,” Denham said. “(He) was able to use his training and experience to apply a tourniquet to the victim’s arm to stop the bleeding.”

He then stayed with the victim until paramedics arrived, comforting him to prevent him from going into shock and dying.

Officers Alan Hitchcock, Julie Jacobo and Huerta, along with Barela, received medals of distinction for their response to a Nov. 29 fire alarm call on West Pine Street, where they responded to find a third floor fire in an apartment complex filled mostly with seniors and those with medical needs.

“The officers chose to risk their own safety to enter the building and evacuate the residents,” Denham said.

They had to assist many to evacuate them and, in some cases, even carried them out of the building despite the fire and smoke inhalation risk. In total, they evacuated 25 residents from their apartments.

Karen St. Clair received the 2023 volunteer of the year award for her service as a staff member and the volunteering she does in the community.

“She spends dozens of hours a week — that’s a week — of volunteering,” Denham said.

From helping with the annual Seattle to Portland Classic bike ride, the Night Out with Santa and many other department events, St. Clair also routinely comes in on nights and weekends to feed and care for the many stray dogs the Centralia Police Department picks up off the streets.

Police records technician Autumn Jorgensen received the 2023 non-commissioned employee of the year award for her work assisting JNET with ancillary duties while still maintaining her regular workload.

“Autumn has been instrumental in organizing all of JNET’s files, which were a shipwreck,” Denham said.

Her assistance allowed JNET detectives to focus solely on their investigations. Denham added Jorgensen also recently took on the duties of the department's property and evidence specialist and is essentially doing the work of three people now.

Detective Tim O’Dell received the 2023 commissioned employee of the year award for the “hundreds of hours” he has put in on multiple cases throughout last year including two drive-by shootings.

“In addition to these high profile cases, Detective O’Dell has also managed a case-load of 56 cases, during which he has been able make 12 primary arrests, eight warrant referrals and has written 33 search warrants,” Denham said.

On top of his detective duties, O’Dell also serves as the instructor for various Centralia Police Department training courses.

Officer Stephen Summers, O’Dell and K9 Sampson received a medal of valor for their actions during the Feb. 18 arrest of a suspect in a child sex crime. Summers and Sampson responded to assist with a K9 track of the suspect and were assisted by O’Dell.

Eventually, they cornered the suspect in a garage in Chehalis and Summers moved in to attempt an arrest. The suspect then attacked Summers, and Sampson then began attacking the suspect.

“Detective O’Dell moved forward to assist, but Officer Summers called Detective O’Dell off as he feared he might be inadvertently bitten by his K9, Sampson,” Denham said.

As the struggle continued, the suspect pulled out a knife and stabbed Summers twice and tried to stab them more while yelling at them to die.

Summers managed to distance himself enough to draw his sidearm, and together with O’Dell both fired one shot at the suspect, who collapsed. O’Dell then began to render aid to Summers and the suspect, though the suspect succumbed to his wounds.

Sergeant Patricia Finch and Ramirez also received a medal of valor for their response to a Nov. 14 carjacking call that originated in Oregon. It was discovered one of the suspects had an outstanding warrant for murder in Oregon.

The suspects’ vehicle was located by the Napavine Police Department, which then attempted to make contact along with the Lewis County Sheriff's Office. The suspects fled and opened fire at pursuing law enforcement officers. A spike strip was successfully deployed on their vehicle, causing them to get off I-5 at Exit 88.

“At this point, officers from the Centralia Police Department joined the pursuit,” Denham said.

The suspects exited their disabled vehicle and attempted to carjack another. After they successfully carjacked a truck, Ramirez approached and the suspects began firing at him and other officers, who returned fire.

Then, the suspects began fleeing down Old Highway 99 where Finch continued pursuing as the lead and was fired upon.

One suspect exited the carjacked truck and surrendered after officers discovered he had been shot through the legs, but the other suspect continued on for a short distance before attempting another carjacking.

Officers then engaged the suspect who would not follow commands, and a firefight ensued. Using a shield, Ramirez was able to get to the first suspect and rendered aid, while Finch used her vehicle as a shield to help get the second suspect under arrest, but the suspect succumbed to his injuries.

Finally, Detective Sergeant Dave Clary along with O’Dell and Barela received the 2023 chief’s award for their work throughout the year as the department’s detective unit, which is dedicated to investigating homicides, sexual assaults, robberies and other complex crimes.

In 2023, they had 84 new cases assigned to them, which resulted in 56 search warrants, 31 arrests and 15 referrals for charges.