Vignettes: Gulfport police honor valiant officers, citizens

GULFPORT -- Gulfport police acknowledged exemplary employees and citizens Wednesday during a ceremony at the Handsboro Community Center.

Sgt. Charles Koewers received the Medal of Valor for his actions in February. After attempting to talk a suicidal man out of harming himself, Koewers was forced to shoot the man when he reached for a gun, threatening him and other officers.

"Unfortunately, we are called upon to do things we may not want to do," Koewers said. "This isn't something you desire to win an award for, but if I had to do it again to save my fellow officers, I would."

Patrol officer Luis Garcia was given the Life Saving medal for persuading a suicidal man not to jump from the edge of a bridge in April.

"I was concerned with the man's safety," he said. "That's all I could think about."

Garcia talked with the man for more than an hour until he agreed to come down.

"It was important to create a bond during those 90 minutes," Garcia said. "We were very lucky to have it work out the way it did."

Up until that day, Garcia had never been a lead negotiator.

"Going into the situation, I didn't expect to be the one talking," he said. "If called on again, I would do what I could to save a life."

Justin Joiner of Biloxi, along with fellow Coast residents Cody Meadows and Freddie Cagle, stopped to aid the victim of a crash on Three Rivers Road in August.

"I pulled over when I saw the overturned vehicle," he said. "Once bystanders told me there was someone in the SUV, I went into action."

Joiner obtained a fire extinguisher from a parked school bus and attempted to quell the flames, with help from Meadows and Cagle.

"My motivation was thinking someone could be losing a family member today," he said. "I couldn't step aside and let that happen."

Joiner and the other men helped pull the man out of his vehicle to safety.

The three men were awarded the Gulfport Police Department Civilian Exceptional Police Service Medal.

Joiner also had driven across the bridge while Garcia was talking to the suicidal man. He took a photo and shared it, asking for prayers for the man. That man later came to one of Joiner's prayer groups and talked about how the event changed his life.

As they spoke after the ceremony, Joiner credited Garcia for that change.

Chief Leonard Papania congratulated those honored for their service to the community.

"Every event shared a common theme," he said. "Each hero displayed excellence in policing."

Papania said the actions went above and beyond what can be expected of people and were fueled by courage.

"These were the epitome of life-and-death scenarios," he said. "Each action prevented greater tragedy and helped build a stronger community."

VIDEO: Officers, citizen talk about their actions

GALLERY: More photos from the ceremony

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald