(Editor’s note: Medal of Valor photos are availabe at https://cdcrmedalofvalorceremony.shutterfly.com/pictures/222.
This site may not be available from a CDCR computer.)
By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
and, Terry Thornton, Deputy Press Secretary
Office of Public and Employee Communications

There was no denying the pride in CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan’s face as he looked out over a room full of corrections employees and their families, gathered to honor their achievements and bravery at the 31st annual Medal of Valor ceremony.


“We have 60,000 employees, 29,000 of them sworn peace officers, and we’re here today to recognize them for heroic events both in prison and off duty,” Kernan said. “I would like to express my gratitude for all the dedicated women and men who serve our department. They exemplify a commitment to selfless service day in and day out.”

One by one, 125 CDCR employees from parole units, fire camps, training centers, headquarters and 21 correctional institutions accepted awards for deeds ranging from rendering aid during harrowing vehicle crashes and confronting dangerous assailants to saving the lives of inmates and staff during dangerous incidents inside state prisons.

Joining the department in congratulating the honorees was Gov. Jerry Brown, who came to the ceremony at Creekside Christian Church in Elk Grove to thank staff for their service.

“At the end of the day, the strength of a society is not its money, or its elections, much less its elected officials,” said Gov. Jerry Brown, who attended the ceremony. “It’s the people, their character, their virtue, and how they treat themselves, their families and their neighbors, and who are strengthening our state and country by what they’ve done. They go above and beyond the call of duty and act in a way that is profoundly humane and gives edification and inspiration to everyone else who hears about it or sees it.”

This year’s honorees included custody staff, parole agents, analysts, educators and medical professionals. Two correctional officers received the Medal of Valor, which is the department’s highest honor, reserved for employees distinguishing themselves by conspicuous bravery or heroism above and beyond the normal demands of correctional service, displaying great courage in the face of immediate life-threatening peril without jeopardizing the lives of others.

Correctional Officer Jaymi Appleberry certainly fits the bill. Attacked by an armed man while off duty, Appleberry put her training into lightning-fast action, managing to get her friend away from the assailant and disarm him, even while the gun fired twice. When the attacker tried to run after her, she turned the weapon on him, causing him to flee. Appleberry sustained a head laceration during the attack, but no doubt saved her friend’s life – and her own. Not bad for a correctional officer who has been with the department less than two years.

“It is truly a humbling experience, because I am still a new officer with such little time in,” said Appleberry, who works at California State Prison-Sacramento (SAC). “I am so grateful for the training, support and encouragement given to me by the departmental staff. I thank God for giving me the courage, and I thank the department for giving me the training.”

Correctional Officer Mike Johnson, a seven-year veteran of the department who has spent his whole career at Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP), was also honored with the Medal of Valor for bravely saving two lives following a fiery crash in Salinas.

On his way home from work in 2015, Johnson came across a two-car crash with one vehicle on fire. Johnson and a Marina police officer rescued a woman from the vehicle by carrying her to safety just before the vehicle became engulfed in flames. Johnson also moved another victim to safety who had been on the ground near the burning vehicle. Both victims survived.

“My training was an immense factor on the positive outcome of the situation,” Johnson said. “As officers, we are trained to respond. One of the more important aspects we are taught is known as the OODA loop. Basically this means observe, orient, develop a plan, act, and the loop aspect is to recycle/reset as the situation changes.”

SVSP Warden Bill Muniz came to the Medal of Valor ceremony to support Johnson and his other employees who received awards. In addition to Johnson, eight SVSP employees were honored with a Unit Citation for risking their own safety to remove an inmate from a burning cell. Muniz pointed out that his staff responds to an average of 1,000 incidents each year, and their experience inside the maximum-security prison prepares them to assist citizens in the community, as well.

“The bravery instilled in staff by having to respond to emergent situations spills over,” Muniz explained. “They’re primed by all of the alarms they respond to, all the dangerous situations. They’re used to running in when others run out.”

While Johnson speaks matter-of-factly about the experience, his daughter Macy is quick to point out the heroism involved, and that not just anybody would be willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to save a life.

“I feel like it’s not something a lot of people would do or be capable of doing,” she said. “He tore a console out of a car. I’m proud of him. I sum it up this way: This is what my dad is. This is what he does.”

In addition to his actions during the accident, Johnson also worked to raise money for the family to cover their astronomic medical bills, and hopes to work with fellow CDCR employees to establish a nonprofit that would raise money for families affected by traumatic events.

In addition to the two Medal of Valor recipients, 123 other CDCR employees were honored at the ceremony in the form of Unit Citations and Gold, Silver and Bronze Stars. The ceremony, which has been sponsored for 12 years by the California Correctional Supervisors Organization, also recognized employees with Distinguished Service Medals for exemplary work conduct, and with Employee Recognition Awards, honoring the department’s Administrator of the Year, Rehabilitation Professional of the Year and Correctional Officer and Supervisor of the Year, among others.

Gazing over the crowd, Kernan reflected on the hard work of the thousands of men and women whose actions day in and day out support the department’s vision of a safer California through correctional excellence.

“Our jobs have never been easy,” he said. “However, we continue meeting the challenges as they arise, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. I am proud to lead our staff as we strive to make the agency a national role model for corrections and rehabilitation.”

  • (Editor’s note: Medal of Valor photos are availabe at https://cdcrmedalofvalorceremony.shutterfly.com/pictures/222.
    This site may not be available from a CDCR computer.)

    2016 honorees
    Medal of Valor
    The Medal of Valor is the Department’s highest award, earned by employees distinguishing themselves by conspicuous bravery or heroism above and beyond the normal demands of correctional service. The employee shall display great courage in the face of immediate life-threatening peril and with full knowledge of the risk involved. The act should show professional judgment and not jeopardize operations or in the lives of others.

    Mike R. Johnson, Correctional Officer
    Salinas Valley State Prison

    Jaymi Appleberry, Correctional Officer
    California State Prison-Sacramento

    Gold Star Medal
    The Gold Star medal is awarded for heroic deeds under extraordinary circumstances. The employee shall display courage in the face of immediate peril in acting to save the life of another person.

    Jesus Blandon, Correctional Officer
    California Health Care Facility.

    Silver Star Medal
    The Silver Star medal is awarded for acts of bravery under extraordinary or unusual circumstances. The employee shall display courage in the face of potential peril while saving or attempting to save the life of another person or distinguish him/herself by performing in stressful situations with exceptional tactics or judgement.

    John Edelman, Parole Agent I
    California Parolee Apprehension Team North

    Kenneth Thomas, Parole Agent I
    Sean Torphy, Parole Agent I
    Ben Somera, Parole Agent I
    Southern Region California Parolee Apprehension Team

    John Mendiboure, Correctional Lieutenant
    Michael Tuntakit, Correctional Lieutenant
    Avenal State Prison

    Rafael Diaz, Correctional Officer
    Correctional Training Center

    Peter Vanderford, Correctional Officer
    Prado Conservation Camp #28

    Mario Gutierrez, Correctional Officer
    Southern Camp Warehouse

    Quincy Thacker, Parole Administrator
    Southern Region California Parolee Apprehension Team

    Eduardo (Edward) Sanchez, Parole Agent I
    Southern Region California Parolee Apprehension Team

    Miguel Lopez, Youth Correctional Officer
    Vincent Sillas, Lieutenant Youth Authority
    Ventura Youth Correctional Facility

    Steve M. Mello, Correctional Officer
    North Kern State Prison

    Darrell Nygren, Correctional Sergeant
    Ronnie Wheeler, Correctional Officer
    Ted Zerr, Correctional Officer
    California State Prison-Sacramento

    Aaron Brannen, Correctional Officer
    Christopher Causey, Correctional Officer
    California State Prison-Sacramento

    Chad Look, Correctional Officer
    Luis Delatorre, Correctional Officer
    Tyson Manning, Correctional Officer
    Wasco State Prison Reception Center

    Daniel Rodriguez, Correctional Officer
    San Quentin State Prison

    Bronze Star Medal
    The Bronze Star is awarded for saving a life without placing oneself in peril. The employee shall have used proper training and tactics in a professional manner to save, or clearly contribute to saving, the life of another person.

    Juan Aguirre, Correctional Officer
    Travon Rodgers, Correctional Officer
    Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility

    Gary Gomez, Correctional Officer
    Ironwood State Prison

    Raymond Dominguez, Correctional Officer
    Joshua Priester, Correctional Officer
    Folsom State Prison

    Derek Kelley, Correctional Officer
    Wayne Anthony, Retired Correctional Lieutenant
    Pelican Bay State Prison

    Joseph Jasso, Correctional Food Manager I
    Chuckawalla Valley State Prison

    Stan Tuck, Correctional Sergeant
    Avenal State Prison

    Karla Joseph, Correctional Officer
    San Quentin State Prison

    Karen Elliott, Correctional Case Records Administrator
    Division of Adult Institutions – Case Records Services

    Gerardo Garcia, Pharmacy Technician
    Central California Women’s Facility

    Shawn Dawson, Correctional Officer
    Victor Ruiz, Correctional Officer
    Chuckawalla Valley State Prison

    Eric Baker, Correctional Sergeant
    California State Prison, Sacramento

    Roy Dickinson, Special Agent
    Office of Correctional Safety Fugitive Apprehension Team – Fresno

    Marco Arana, Correctional Officer
    California Institution for Women

    Fernando Herrera, Correctional Sergeant
    Office of Training and Personal Development/Advanced Learning Institute

    Christian Logan, Correctional Officer
    Kern Valley State Prison

    Deric Johnson, Associate Construction Analyst
    Facility Planning, Construction & Management

    Doug Sykes, Correctional Officer
    High Desert State Prison

    Stacey Emerson, Correctional Officer
    High Desert State Prison

    David Church, Correctional Officer
    Robert Gamberg Sr., Correctional Lieutenant
    Craig Phillips, Supervising Registered Nurse III
    High Desert State Prison

    Unit Citation Medal
    The Unit Citation is awarded for great courage displayed by a departmental unit in the course of conducting an operation in the face of immediate life-threatening circumstances.

    Fernand Alvarez, Physician & Surgeon
    Denise Reyes, Physician & Surgeon
    George Beatty, Physician & Surgeon
    Clarene David, Physician & Surgeon
    Shannon Garrigan, Physician & Surgeon
    John Grant, Physician & Surgeon
    Doreen Leighton, Physician & Surgeon
    Jenny Espinoza, Physician & Surgeon
    Alison Pachynski, Physician & Surgeon
    Michael Rowe, Physician & Surgeon
    Daniel Smith, Physician & Surgeon
    Rahul Vanjani, Physician & Surgeon
    Lisa Pratt, Chief Physician & Surgeon
    Elena Tootell, Chief Medical Executive
    Ingrid Nelson, Nurse Practitioner
    Peggy Hanna, Nurse Practitioner
    San Quentin State Prison
    (This team is also recognized as Healthcare Professional of the Year)

    Servando Ceballos, Correctional Officer
    Danny A. Delgadillo, Correctional Officer
    Brenda Sanchez, Correctional Officer
    Jason A. Sanudo, Correctional Officer
    Daryl L. Schlitz, Correctional Officer
    Carlos A. Vega, Correctional Officer
    Thadd C. Wittmann, Correctional Officer
    Darryl L. Williams, Correctional Sergeant
    Salinas Valley State Prison

    David Gonzales, Correctional Sergeant
    Tyrome Johnson, Correctional Officer
    Michelle Stein, Registered Nurse
    Petyo Rashev, Correctional Officer
    Jeremy Prentice, Correctional Lieutenant
    Steven Byers, Correctional Sergeant
    Kathryn Manness, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
    Jason Murillo, Correctional Officer
    Breanna Ortiz, Correctional Officer
    Rolfe Dixon, Correctional Officer
    California State Prison-Sacramento

    Leonel Garcia, Correctional Officer
    Brandon Merkelbach, Correctional Officer
    Vincent Mayorga, Correctional Officer
    Mark Garcia, Correctional Sergeant
    California Institution for Women

    Henry Arevalo Jr., Correctional Officer
    Ricky Charles, Correctional Officer
    Eric Dixon, Correctional Officer
    Ernest Parker, Correctional Officer
    Robert Perez, Correctional Officer
    Michael Rients, Correctional Officer
    Daniel Vasquez, Correctional Officer
    Claire Garrovillo, Registered Nurse
    William Sullivan, Correctional Sergeant
    Kern Valley State Prison

    Dylan Brown, Correctional Officer
    Christopher Causey, Correctional Officer
    Seth Ignasiak, Correctional Officer
    Jeff Leech, Correctional Officer
    Robert Mott, Correctional Officer
    Breanna Ortiz, Correctional Officer
    Matthew Troth, Correctional Officer
    Paul Bettencourt, Correctional Officer
    California State Prison-Sacramento

    Distinguished Service Medal
    The Distinguished Service Medal is awarded for an employee’s exemplary work conduct with the Department for a period of months or years, or involvement in a specific assignment of unusual benefit to the Department.

    Charles Wood, Correctional Health Services Administrator II
    California State Prison-Sacramento

    David Johns, Parole Agent I
    Northern Region, Ukiah Parole Unit

    Richard Gonsalves, Parole Agent I
    Meshal Kashifalghita, Parole Agent I
    Kenneth Thomas, Parole Agent I
    Joshua Bateson, Parole Agent II
    Eduardo (Edward) Sanchez, Parole Agent I
    Cecelia Gutierrez, Parole Service Associate
    Elizabeth Ornelas, Parole Service Associate
    Patricia Tellez, Parole Agent II
    Southern Region California Parolee Apprehension Team

    Dawn Hershberger, Correctional Officer
    California Correctional Center

    Marlaina Dernoncourt, Correctional Captain
    California State Prison-Solano

    Employee Recognition Awards
    Executive of the Year
    Clark Ducart, Warden
    Pelican Bay State Prison

    Administrator of the Year
    Jason Lopez, Deputy Director
    Office of Fiscal Services

    Rehabilitation Professional of the Year
    Jacqueline Laudeman, Correctional Counselor III
    Division of Rehabilitative Programs

    Division of Adult Parole Operations Professional of the Year
    Denise Milano, Chief Deputy Administrator, Correctional Program

    Correctional Officer of the Year
    Juan C. Velazquez, Correctional Officer
    California Institution for Men

    Correctional Supervisor of the Year
    Andres Banuelos, Correctional Lieutenant
    California Institution for Men

    Division of Juvenile Justice Professional of the Year
    Heather Bowlds, Associate Director, Mental Health

    Healthcare Professional of the Year
    Legionnaires’ Disease Team
    San Quentin State Prison