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Monday, April 15, 2024

Is it wrong for an off-duty officer to respond to a crisis?

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On February 13, at the LA County Office Building, Supervisor Kathryn Barger (5th District) honored four LA County firefighters and four LA County sheriff’s deputies for their combined efforts in saving lives during a house fire in La Cañada Flintridge on January 30.

“Both teams responded with tenacity and bravery,” Supervisor Barger said. “This is a prime example of how first responders should respond to a crisis.”

The next day, the LA County Sheriff’s Department posted a group photo on Facebook of the four deputies from the Crescenta Valley station who received the commendation. They were the first to arrive at the burning house after receiving a 911 call.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger honors LA County Sheriff’s deputies from the Crescenta Valley Station and LA County firefighters on February 13. [Screen capture]

Strangely, Deputy Joyce Lee, a 10-year veteran of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, was not in the group photo, and her name was missing from the list of commendation recipients. Deputy Lee was the first to call 911 and rushed to the burning house with other deputies to rescue residents from the fire.

On January 30, at around 4 a.m., Deputy Lee, living in the neighborhood, was the first to spot the fire at a single-story home on her way to work and called 911. She rushed to the burning house with fellow deputies and worked together to rescue two people from the fire. However, Jacob Seong, 67, who was staying in the living room of the house, was found unconscious and died after more than 40 minutes of CPR attempts by Fire Department rescuers.

The day after the fire, the LA County Sheriff’s Department released body cam footage of the brave rescue efforts of Deputy Joyce Lee and Deputies Andre Cornejo, Christopher Fort, Mitchell Laudano, and Eduardo Olmos of the Crescenta Valley Station and arranged media interviews with them, including Joyce Lee.

Deputy Joyce Lee, far left, and Deputies Andre Cornejo, Christopher Fort, Mitchell Laudano, and Eduardo Olmos of the Crescenta Valley Station participate in media interviews on January 31, arranged by the LA County Sheriff’s Department to publicize their brave rescue efforts. [Screen capture]

“I could see flames coming from inside the house and all I could think about was saving people,” Lee told the media. “I called 911 and worked with other officers until the fire department and rescue crews arrived.”

“It was determined that Deputy Lee only called 911, and Crescenta Valley Station deputies are the ones that effected the rescue,” the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s Public Information Office said in a statement explaining why she was omitted from the list of honorees.

Does the explanation mean that Deputy Lee just called 911 and was not involved in the rescue activities, contrary to the media interviews on January 31? I did not get an unequivocal answer to the question.

The statement added a sentence: “Also, she never identified herself as an off-duty deputy during the incident.” This sentence puzzled me. If an off-duty officer took the risk and responsibly saved a life, shouldn’t she be commended? Is it wrong for an off-duty officer to participate in a rescue? Something is wrong and seems unfair.

We made several calls to hear what Deputy Joyce Lee would say about her omission from the commendation. But she did not answer the calls as of Friday evening.

By Hyoungjae Kim   [kim.ian@koreadaily.com]