President Barack Obama honored 13 law enforcement officers Monday with the Medal of Valor, including Officer Gregory Stevens of Garland, Texas, who prevented a bloodbath by ISIS-inspired terrorists a little more than a year ago.
“It’s been said that perfect valor is doing without witnesses what you would do if the whole world were watching,” Obama said in the White House East Room. The Medal of Valor is the nation’s highest award for bravery by a public safety officer.
“The public safety officers we recognize today with the Medal of Valor found courage not in search of recognition; they did it instinctively,” Obama said. “This is an award that none of them sought. And if they could go back in time, I suspect they’d prefer none of this had happened.”
Stevens thwarted an attempted massacre in Garland, a city northeast of Dallas, in May 2015, by two ISIS-inspired fanatics who were angry about a cartoon exhibit of the Prophet Muhammad. The American Freedom Defense Initiative, an anti-Islam group based in New York, had been holding a cartoon contest of Muhammad the evening of the attack.
Renderings of Muhammad are offensive to most Muslims.
(Ralph Waldo) Emerson once said, ‘There is always safety in valor.’
President Barack Obama
The gunmen, carrying assault weapons, shot a security guard as they pulled up to the Curtis Culwell Center, and Stevens, who was guarding the entrance, returned fire with a handgun. Stevens shot both attackers, and after a SWAT team arrived, both attackers were pronounced dead.
“To a person, each of these honorees acted without regard for their own safety,” said Obama. “They stood up to dangerous individuals brandishing assault rifles, handguns, and knives. ... Each of them will tell you, very humbly, the same thing – they were just doing their jobs.”
The acts of valor from 2013 to 2015 included one by a Miami-Dade, Florida, officer, who subdued a knife-wielding attacker who was trying to set off a gas explosion, and three officers in California who secured the campus and saved lives during a school shooting at Santa Monica College.
But the Garland case was the only one involving terrorism. ISIS claimed credit for the attack.
As Obama placed the medal around Stevens’ neck, a military aide read, “Medal of Valor presented to Officer Gregory Stevens, Garland Police Department, Texas, for demonstrating extraordinary courage to save lives. Officer Stevens exchanged gunfire at close range and subdued two heavily armed assailants, preventing a deadly act of terrorism.”
Stevens was unavailable for comment after the event, though many other Medal of Honor recipients spoke to reporters. Garland Police Department spokesman Lt. Pedro Barineau told McClatchy there was good reason for Stevens’ limited access: his personal safety. “If it was our choice, he wouldn’t be there at all,” Barineau said. “There have been other cities who have officers who’ve been put on ISIS-kill lists. We’re trying to be super cautious.”
Stevens’ name was never released by the department and only became public because he was a witness in a trial in Phoenix of a third co-conspirator, who was convicted.
We don’t want him on an ISIS-kill list.
Lt. Pedro Barineau, Garland, Texas, police department
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has been critical of the administration for what he says is a failure to condemn Islamic terrorism, praised Stevens in a statement.
“Last year in Garland, Texas, Officer Gregory Stevens came face-to-face with two radical Islamic terrorists attempting to wage jihad on innocent Americans,” Cruz said in the statement. “Officer Stevens heroically thwarted the attack, preventing what could have been a terrible loss of life. Today, in honor and recognition of his extraordinary courage and decisiveness, Officer Stevens deservedly received the Medal of Valor.”
Maria Recio: 202-383-6103; @maria_e_recio