Darren Doyle, story and photos
Detective Wally Ritter was presented with the National Sheriff's Association Medal of Valor, one of the nation's highest honors tonight at the Edmonson County Courthouse in a surprise ceremony hosted by the Edmonson County Sheriff's Office.
Ritter was nominated for the award last year by Sheriff Shane Doyle for actions that then Deputy Ritter took while responding to a home invasion at the residence of Harlin Tarter in March 2015.
Ritter was off duty at the time the invasion took place, but had stopped in the Sheriff's Office. When Ritter heard the call over the radio, he immediately responded to the scene with Sheriff Doyle. Both men entered Mr. Tarter's home through the front door and found the intruder, Rickey Brooks, 35 of Glasgow, fighting with Mr. Tarter while attempting to arm himself with a rifle.
Either of the officers would've been justified in using deadly force, but both officers were able to knock the rifle out of Brooks' hands. As Brooks attempted to disarm the sheriff during a struggle, Deputy Ritter was able to strike the assailant in the face, keeping him from gaining the Sheriff's weapon. The Sheriff then held Brooks on the ground while Ritter calmly communicated the situation to dispatch.
As the Sheriff held Brooks down, Brooks attempted to grab the nearby rifle again, but Ritter intervened once more. Brooks, who was intoxicated over three times the legal limit, was eventually handcuffed and subdued.
According to the National Sheriff's Association, "The Medal of Valor is given for an act of outstanding personal bravery, intelligently performed, in the line of duty at imminent personal hazard of life," and is the organization's highest honor.
Ritter received a standing ovation from a courtroom full of officers from the Sheriff's Association, State Police, the Sheriff's Office, Brownsville Police, as well as several county officials, family members, and friends.
Sheriff Shane Doyle became extremely emotional while presenting Det. Ritter the award. "Nobody in our department has ever been nominated for an award like this," Sheriff Doyle said. "We've given out different awards within the department, but as far as a state or national level, we've never had this, and it's a great honor for Detective Ritter and our entire department."
Ritter was overcome by emotion as he accepted the award. "It's the most violent encounter I've ever been part of," said Ritter. "It's the closest I've ever come to shooting someone, and I thought I was going to have to take that man's life; however, things went differently." Ritter was quick to credit his fellow officers for their work and character. "There's not a person in this room that wears a uniform that wouldn't have done the exact same thing. That's one of the reasons I work here. I'm very fortunate to work with the men and women that are here."
One of the most interesting things about the presentation is that the whole thing was a surprise to Ritter. He was told that Chief Deputy Jeff Brooks was receiving a School Resource Officer award, a gag that everyone in the Sheriff's Office was in on.
"It was hard going through that much dishonesty," joked Sheriff Doyle. "Wally kept trying to help me with Jeff's ceremony, so that was difficult. But that's Wally...he's just so dang helpful."
Ritter said he was totally taken off guard and was amazed that the entire office was able to keep the secret. "I was totally shocked," he said. "I just didn't have the words."
Detective Ritter's mother, Melinda Ritter, was asked if she was proud of her son. "Oh, yes, I'm proud of Wally, but not just tonight. I'm proud of him all the time," she answered.
Det. Ritter will also be featured as the "Hometown Hero" in an upcoming segment for a local television station.
Any law enforcement officer that does the job for the right reasons will never look for awards or accolades, nevertheless, Ritter now has an impressive piece of hardware that isn't seen just anywhere you go.
"I'm very grateful," he said with emotion. "But I think all the officers here tonight have done something at some point that's also deserving of this award. I can testify to that."