California Highway Patrol Officer Vincent Mendoza answered a desperate call for help after Officer Andre Moye Jr. was fatally shot during a traffic stop on the Eucalyptus Street off-ramp of the 215 Freeway in Riverside on Aug. 12, 2019.
Moye’s backup officers, Ryan Smith and Robert Paul III, also had been shot several times, suffering severe wounds to their legs, but continued to exchange gunfire. Mendoza took a position on the far side of the road and from 110 yards away, over his hood, unloaded on the gunman, providing Smith and Paul cover to move further to safety.
For their actions that day, President Joe Biden on Monday, May 16, presented Smith, Paul and Mendoza with medals of valor in a ceremony in the White House’s East Room where 12 other police officers and firefighters were similarly honored with the nation’s highest honor for public safety employees.
“I don’t remember anything I was thinking specifically,” Mendoza said in an interview afterward. “If I can get him to duck or to stop his attack, then all those people in his line of fire would be much safer. My efforts were just to stop the threat.”
Mendoza, 54, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Anaheim. He graduated from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and moved to Riverside after getting married. He started with the CHP as a mechanic in Temecula and became an officer in 2003.
Mendoza said he was prepared for that moment in 2019.
“I’m a big believer in training. The critical skills, driving, shooting, personal weapons, because that’s the stuff that’s going to save your life or someone else’s life,” Mendoza said, adding, “I always think there can be more.”
Mendoza, Smith and Paul, who all work out of the Riverside CHP office, met with Biden one-on-one and also met Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and posed for photographs. Later, they were called to the front of the East Room, where Biden put medals around each officer’s neck, shook their hands and spoke to them briefly.
“The ceremony was fantastic. It was amazing. It was surreal in some cases. You’re walking around and (asking yourself) ‘How am I here?’ Mendoza said. “(Biden) told me congratulations and that he was very proud of the work we were doing.”
Biden, in livestreamed remarks at the start of the ceremony, noted that when trouble strikes, police officers and firefighters must rush to danger while others are running away.
“You possess a selflessness that’s really hard to explain. A rare commitment to your neighbors and fellow Americans. I know you don’t do this work for recognition, but to reflect the best part of who we are as Americans. These medals reflect the profound gratitude of our nation,” Biden said.
Paul, who has medically retired, and Smith received medals of valor from Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021.
Moye had pulled over Aaron Luther and called for a tow truck to impound his vehicle. Paul arrived next, and as Moye began the paperwork, Luther went to his truck, ostensibly to retrieve property. Instead, Luther pulled out a rifle and opened fire. Moye, a 34-year-old Riverside County native, fell about 20 feet from Paul, and then Luther shot Paul. Smith arrived, and despite being shot, dragged Paul 100 feet from the line of fire. Mendoza joined the gun battle, which lasted about 12 minutes. Other officers arrived, including some from the Riverside Police Department and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and killed Luther.
Mendoza credited Paul and Smith, despite the chaos, with having the presence of mind to radio incoming officers about how to approach to avoid the gunman’s barrage.
“Without that information, a lot of officers would have rolled into a really bad situation and there could be more loss of life and injury,” Mendoza said.
Source: Orange County Register