Orange County Deputies Named Deputy of the Year for Service During Orlando Nightclub Tragedy
Alexandria, VA –Orange County Deputy Sheriff Brian Martin, Reserve Sergeant Robert Knight and Sergeant Fred Westerberg will receive the Charles “Bud” Meeks Award - Deputy Sheriff of the Year for Valor from the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) for their service to the people of Orange County and the country during the Orlando nightclub tragedy.
The award, given annually by the NSA, recognizes a deputy sheriff who has made outstanding contributions to law enforcement and his/her agency or who has demonstrated conspicuous bravery in the performance of his/her duties. There are now two awards given in this category, one for valor and one for merit. The award is given in memory and honor of Sheriff Bud Meeks from Allen County, IN and was Executive Director of NSA.
“Deputies Westerberg, Knight and Martin embody what this award was created to recognize,” said NSA Executive Director Jonathan Thompson. “They demonstrated to the world that day what it means to be a Deputy and their bravery and resourcefulness is unmatched.”
Each Deputy served an integral role in helping with the tragedy that happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office Hazardous Devices Team was called to assist the Orlando Police Department when an active shooter indicated he had an explosive vest on and a vehicle full of explosives. Upon arriving, members of the team responded without delay and began to set up. With the help of a ram mounted on a Bearcat, two holes were pushed inside the building and Sergeant Westerberg and the team immediately began assisting victims out of the holes and leading them to safety. While assisting the victims, the suspect came out and began firing at officers and deputies through the hole. Sergeant Westerberg and members of the Hazardous Device and OPD SWAT team returned fire, killing the suspect. After confirming the suspect was deceased, they entered the building to search for victims and assisted the wounded to safety. Sergeant Westerberg’s heroic actions went above the call of duty and saved the lives of several victims. He risked his safety to assist the wounded out to safety. When the suspect began firing, he responded without hesitation.
The Orlando Police Department requested emergency backup at the Pulse nightclub. Being close by, Deputy Martin immediately responded and upon arrival saw people running out of the club and heard gunshots inside. After being advised that there were victims inside, Deputy Martin entered the club to assist in evacuating patrons and injured victims outside for medical attention. By making continuous trips inside, it is estimated he assisted at minimum 20 injured victims to safety. As an Orange County Sheriff’s Office K9 handler, he also recognized the volume of resources coming to the scene and began to coordinate the arrival of numerous K9 handlers with the staging officer on duty. Deputy Martin's quick response saved many lives. This is the kind of diligence to duty he performs in all tasks assigned to him. He displayed an exceptional level of bravery and courage by risking his life for the protection of others.
On June 11-12, 2016, members of the Reserve Unit were working a crime control detail. After completing two 12-hour shifts in this detail, the Orlando Police Department issued an "officer needs assistance - shots fired" call, and several reserves responded to downtown Orlando. As the tragic events of the Pulse nightclub shootingunraveled, Sergeant Knight and two other reserves were among the earliest first responders to arrive. Sgt. Knight reported that during his code three response to the location, he received numerous updates indicating an escalating "active shooter" situation. When he arrived on the scene, he placed his marked patrol vehicle in a strategic location, and then took up a position with an OPD officer. After an assessment of the scene, he realized that the inner perimeter was well covered and there was an immediate need to extricate victims from the club to the triage area. He responded to the club and assisted other officers in carrying out several victims, returning several times to the active scene with the shooter still inside. When the SWAT team had neutralized the suspect, Sgt. Knight then assisted in evacuating hostages to the hospital.
During his tenure with the agency, Sgt. Westerberg has been assigned to the Uniform Patrol, Specialized Patrol and Criminal Investigations Divisions, and has supervised the Sex Crimes/Child Abuse, Enforceable Writs and the Office of Professional Standards units. He has also served many years with Emergency Response, Hazardous Device/Explosive Ordinance Disposal and the Underwater Search and Recovery/Dive Teams. Before joining the agency, Sergeant Westerberg retired highly decorated from the Coast Guard after 10 years. During his career, Deputy Martin has received a Medal of Valor, a Combat Award, a Certificate of Commendation and numerous commendations and unit citations.
Reserve Sergeant Robert Knight joined the Orange County Sheriffs Office as a full-time deputy in April 1994. He served as an Aviation Observer, a Field Training Officer and a member of the Emergency Response Team. After suffering a severe spinal injury in the line of duty, Sgt. Knight retired from the agency in April 2004. Following five years of physical therapy, he rejoined the agency as a reserve deputy in April 2009. During his service as a Reserve Deputy, Sgt. Knight has volunteered over 3,500 hours, of which 2,345 hours were in patrol. In addition, he has made or assisted in 88 arrests and completed or assisted with 185 reports. He quickly advanced through the ranks and was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. He is currently supervising a squad of eight deputies. Reserve Sgt. Knight has been awarded the Reserve Deputy of the Year Award, a Medal of Valor, a Distinguished Service Medal, five Distinguished Service Awards, two Unit Citations, the Lifetime Presidential Volunteer Service Award, and has received numerous letters of commendation and appreciation.
Deputy Martin joined the Orange County Sheriff's Office in May 2009, and currently serves in the Specialized Patrol Section as a K9 handler. He also has been assigned to the Uniform Patrol Division as a Field Training Officer. Deputy Martin served in the United States Marine Corps and 10 years with the Florida Highway Patrol as a K-9 Handler and a SWAT Team Member. During his career, Deputy Martin has received a Medal of Valor, Medal of Merit and numerous commendations and unit citations.
The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) is one of the largest associations of law enforcement professionals in the United States, representing more than 3,000 elected sheriffs across the nation, and a total membership of more than 20,000. NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising the level of professionalism among sheriffs, their deputies, and others in the field of criminal justice and public safety. Throughout its seventy-six year history, NSA has served as an information clearinghouse for sheriffs, deputies, chiefs of police, other law enforcement professionals, state governments and the federal government.