Dec. 15, 2016, may have started as a normal day for officers of the Burlington and Mount Vernon police departments, Mount Vernon Police Chief Jerry Dodd said, but it didn’t end that way.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t have a normal workday, but a day that would challenge their training, experience, abilities, and would change their lives,” Dodd said. “On this day, they would demonstrate courage, bravery, swift action, self-control, self-sacrifice, determination, commitment and so many others.”
With McIntyre Hall filled with law enforcement officers Monday, the Mount Vernon Police Department held a medal of honor ceremony for six Mount Vernon officers and one Burlington officer who were on the front line of what would become an hourslong standoff that resulted in three arrests and the critical wounding of Mount Vernon officer Michael “Mick” McClaughry.
“These officers risked their lives to pull one of their own out of danger and give him a chance to come home,” Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said.
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Mount Vernon Sgts. Pete Lindberg and Mike Don, officers Ben Green, Wayne Jones and Elizabeth Paul, and Burlington police officer Preston Payne received the Mount Vernon Police Department’s Gold Medal of Valor.
McClaughry, who was shot in the head that night and continues to recover, received the Purple Heart, the highest honor a law enforcement officer can receive from a department, Mount Vernon Police Lt. Chris Cammock said.
In May, all seven officers received the state’s highest law enforcement award for their actions on that evening.
While the department has awarded silver medals of honor in the past, Dodd said it was the first time in the department’s more than 100-year history it has awarded the gold medal or the purple heart.
“This has huge historic significance,” he said.
On Dec. 15, officers were responding to a report of a gunshot victim in the 800 block of N. LaVenture Road. The investigation led officers to a residence, where McClaughry, Green, Paul and Payne went to the front door.
Within seconds, Cammock said, McClaughry was shot.
Officers Paul and Payne, Cammock said, pulled McClaughry to safety, while Green provided cover. Lindberg and Jones also provided assistance in making sure Paul, Payne and McClaughry could get away from the scene, while Don maneuvered his vehicle so that Paul and Payne could lift McClaughry into it and Don could rush him to an ambulance, Cammock said.
“The officers remained at the scene while the suspect continued to shoot,” Cammock said.
As shots continued to ring out, officers took cover behind fences and stacks of firewood, Cammock said.
Meanwhile, Cammock said, the suspect was inside the home live streaming the incident.
“We were working just as hard to preserve his life as we were to officer McClaughry’s,” Cammock said.
Other than McClaughry and the original victim, no one else was injured.
“Without their swift response and the incredible assistance provided, this situation could have been so, so much worse,” Dodd said.
Tradition of honor
Monday’s ceremony was “steeped in tradition,” Cammock said. An honor guard comprised of Bellingham police officers and Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies took part.
“I can think of no better way for us to give thanks,” Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said.
Citing McClaughry’s shooting and the Sept. 23, 2016, Cascade Mall shooting, Sexton said the year was a tough one in Skagit County, which is all the more reason to honor the sacrifices of the officers.
“What you do for us every day is beyond words,” Sexton said. “Not only on those two days last year, but yesterday, today and the next.”
The event was one of the last for McClaughry in an official law enforcement capacity. The 32-year veteran of the department will retire at the end of the month.