Benton County, Oregon Sheriff’s Sgt. David Peterson is back in action. He has returned to the same shift he was working two years ago, when both his life and his career nearly ended at the hands of a wanted fugitive.
On August 11, 2012, Peterson was working as a shift sergeant, supervising a squad of 3-4 to officers. He was near the end of his shift when he received a text message from his wife, Dana, asking if he would be home early.
“I will, as long as the world doesn’t end tonight,” Peterson texted back.
For Peterson, his world almost did end that night. He had no idea that two hours later he would be fighting for his life.
Shortly after Peterson sent that message, he and his fellow deputies were involved in a multi-agency pursuit of a stolen vehicle driven by a wanted felon from California. During the foot chase that followed, the vehicle’s driver suddenly opened fire on the officers. Peterson was shot 3 times: once in the left shin, once in the left knee, and once in the abdomen, just below his protective vest. Sgt. Peterson and Deputy Greg Goller returned fire.
During the exchange of gunfire, Corporal Andrew Connolly of Salem Police Department was also shot in the right leg; he is still recovering from his injuries.
The suspect, Demecio Cardenas, was shot multiple times, but he recovered from his injuries. Despite his attempted murder of numerous officers, endangering the lives of both officers and civilians, and his flagrant disregard for human life, Cardenas was sentenced to only 20 years in prison.
Peterson nearly lost his life several times, as doctors worked to save him. He has endured 4 surgical procedures, two major surgeries, a five and a half week hospital stay, eight months of physical therapy, and numerous other medical procedures and hardships.
When Peterson asked how soon he could return to work, doctors told him to “Forget about it.” Peterson accepted that as a challenge, and he vowed to prove everyone wrong. He has achieved major milestones since. He went back to work part time, assigned to desk duty, in December, 2012. In May, 2013, Peterson began to work full time, light duty. This past Monday, December 2, he achieved his biggest milestone of all when he returned to his shift.
In October, Peterson was awarded Oregon’s Law Enforcement Medal of Honor. He is the first officer to receive that distinction since it was established in 2006.
“I truly don’t believe that I did anything out of the ordinary that the other 900,000 cops who work in the U.S. wouldn’t have done in my situation,” Peterson said. “These people choose to leave the safety and security of their homes and families, and they risk everything to keep everyone safe.”
Peterson said, “It impossible to truly thank everyone involved in saving my life that night and those who helped me through the intense recovery, from Salem Police Officers Verhaar and Hernandez, Deputy Miller; to the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists; to all the family and friends that provided support. Today is a victory not only for me, but for all law enforcement and the sacrifices they make every day. I am ecstatic to be able to return to the people and to the job I love.”
“This event was very traumatic for every member of the Sheriff’s Office,” said Benton County Sheriff Scott Jackson. “The impacts from the incident have rippled throughout the county. Having Sgt. Peterson back on the job is a critical milestone for him, for his family, and for our agency. I am proud of Sgt. Peterson’s recovery and thrilled to have him back in uniform, doing what we all love to do: keeping our community safe.”
Peterson’s story isn’t over; he is still fighting on behalf of all wounded officers. For one thing, he hopes to change the loss of retirement benefits for wounded officers. Peterson himself lost an estimated $11,000 in state retirement and personal retirement contributions; they stopped when Peterson went on Worker’s Compensation.
“Cops shouldn’t be punished for getting shot,” Peterson said. “Each agency does it a bit differently, sometimes because of union agreements. The bottom line is: If you’re shot on duty, you should get full pay and benefits.”
Peterson also hopes to go to the legislature to enhance the penalty for shooting a police officer.
“Ten years for shooting a police officer not enough,” Peterson said. “In other states, it is much higher.”
Captain Bill McDonald of the Texas Rangers said, “No fella in the wrong can stand up against a fellow who is in the right that comes up from behind and keeps a’comin.” (Or in this case, several men in the right.) Team LET wishes Sgt. Peterson and Corporal Connelly continued healing, success, and blessings upon their families and their careers.
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