(Editor’s note: Medal of Valor photos are also available at https://cdcrmedalofvalorceremony.shutterfly.com/pictures/222. This site may not be available from a CDCR computer. A video of the event is at the end of this article and above the list of honorees.)

By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Photos (above) by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
and (below) 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 also  available at https://cdcrmedalofvalorceremony.shutterfly.com/pictures/222. This site may not be available from a CDCR computer.)

Employees can watch the video:

mms://FDCMEDIA/OPEC/2016/2016-09-15 MOV.wmv

Non-CDCR employees can watch the YouTube video of the ceremony:


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