El Paso, Austin officers honored for heroism during Walmart shooting and flooding rescues

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SAN MARCOS (KXAN) — Every year, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) gives “Officer of the Year” awards to officers from each region who’ve gone above and beyond their duties.

This year, CLEAT held the award luncheon in San Marcos.

The El Paso region honored a 19-year veteran of its police force who was one of the first people to respond to the Walmart shooting. On August 3, a gunman shot and killed 22 people and injured dozens of others.

“[He] basically saw a lot of things a lot of officers shouldn’t have to see,” said Sgt. Ron Martin, who is El Paso police union’s president. “It was a lot of officers that went in that store that saw pretty gruesome things you’re not accustomed to seeing on a day to day basis. You can’t really train for that.”

Martin said Officer Mark Campos was off-duty.

When Campos first heard that shots rang out at Walmart, he said, “I thought it was a joke.”

When he arrived, he helped to clear the scene. “Like an unreal event. And when you get there and you see the chaos, that’s when the reality hits you. This is really happening,” Campos said.

Campos grew up in El Paso. He said, “I went to school there. Graduated from high school. I went to college there.”

Martin explained, “We’re not like most cities where the officers can’t afford to live within the city in which they work. El Paso’s different. Most of these guys are kind of intertwined with the community. They work, and their kids go to school, go to dinner and go to movies, so when it hit El Paso, it hit us pretty hard.”

Campos and Martin said the officers have received a lot of support from the El Paso community.

“El Paso’s a great city. It always has been. I love serving, and like I said, I’m just shocked I’m here right now,” Campos said. “It’s just an honor, and I’m very humbled by it.”

Austin police officers recognized for harrowing low water crossing rescue

For the Austin region, Austin police officers Matthew Valli, Ben Cochran and Kevin Perrydoor received the Officer of the Year award.

Back in May, they had to act quickly when heavy rain trapped three women and their dog at a low water crossing.

Their harrowing rescue was captured on their body cameras.

They used a rope to get to the women. At one point during the rescue, strong currents pulled under water one of the officers, the last person to be rescued and the dog.

Eventually, they were all able to make it to safety.

Message from the keynote speaker, Sen. John Cornyn

Senator John Cornyn gave the keynote speech at the luncheon.

He said with the spotlight on how to prevent mass gun violence, he values law enforcement officers’ input. “I think they know better than anybody else as results of their training, experience and their commitment to public safety what the right response is,” he said.

At the federal level, Cornyn explained, “Congress’ intent is to make sure people who’re in the business of manufacturing or selling firearms have to get a federal firearms license, and by definition, they do background checks.”

In the Odessa-Midland shooting spree that killed seven, it was revealed the shooter bought a gun in a private sale without a background check, after being federally barred from possessing a firearm.

Cornyn said, “We’re going to be looking at that and make sure Congress’ intent is carried out and that people who are in the business get a federal firearms license.”

In Texas, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick talked about requiring background checks for private gun sales, and Governor Greg Abbott has formed special committees to address gun violence.

State Senator Pete Flores who was also at the luncheon said, “I would say that let’s see what the committee comes up with, that bipartisan committees come up with recommendations and examine them and determine whether there should be more statutes or shall we just enforce the ones that we already have.”

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