The harrowing incident captured on video occurred a year ago, but the emotional and physical wounds are still raw for Chicago Police Officer Veronica Murillo.
On Tuesday, Murillo and her partner, Patrol Officer George Moussa, received the Carter Harrison Award, this year’s highest honor for police bravery, for the scare highlighted by Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson that nearly cost Murillo her life.
A driver under the influence of PCP had crashed into a liquor store, barely missing pedestrians and other vehicles. The driver — a 28-year-old convicted felon with three prior weapons arrests — grabbed Murillo, punched her in the face, threw her on the ground like a rag doll and ripped the hair out of her head.
During a protracted struggle, Murillo fought hard, but ultimately lost consciousness as the offender overpowered her and bounced her head on the concrete. It took Moussa and several other responding officers to handcuff and restrain the offender.
“We met up with an individual high on PCP. A struggle ensued. He didn’t want to be taken into custody, unfortunately,” Murillo hesitatingly told the Chicago Sun-Times after Tuesday’s awards ceremony in the City Council chambers.
“I took the full situation into account and made the best possible choice I could do, based on the greater good. Fortunately we were able to call for a 10-1 and all of the other officers and medical personnel came to assist us.”
Murillo was using a walker and wearing dark sunglasses as a result of still-lingering injuries she refused to discuss as her daughter stood nearby crying silently.
Pressed on whether she considers herself a hero, Murillo said: “I consider myself a Chicago Police officer proud with all of my brothers and sisters of the uniform — not only in our city but across our country.”
At last year’s awards ceremony, Johnson told the story of a “simple traffic accident” that turned ugly to underscore the hesitation that can mean the difference between living or dying for Chicago Police officers.
“As I was at the hospital…visiting with her, she looked at me and said she thought she was gonna die. And she knew that she should shoot this guy. But she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news,” the superintendent said then.
“We have to change the narrative for law enforcement across this country.”
On Tuesday, Moussa said his only concern on that day was to “preserve life—the offender’s life and my partner’s life.”
Moussa acknowledged that he was concerned the offender would seriously injure, or even kill Murillo.
But he said, “You’ve got to keep fighting.”
The Lambert Tree Award, this year’s highest honor for fire bravery, went to Firefighter-EMT Edgar Gallo and Captain John McAndrew.
They were honored for saving the life of a woman who had sought refuge in a bathtub after being trapped in a raging fire at a two-story commercial and residential building at 6040 N. California.
After pulling two people out of a second-floor window, McAndrew and Gallo climbed a staircase in extreme heat, heavy smoke and total darkness to get to the second floor in a frantic search for trapped victims.
They entered an apartment and called out, but nobody answered. They finally made their way to a bathroom and, feeling with their hands, found a woman lying in a bathtub. She was neither moving, nor breathing.
The hero firefighters picked the woman up, carried her through the darkness and delivered her to paramedics outside, who managed to bring her back to life.
“It was 1 in the morning. She had like sleeping clothes on. Because of the heat and smoke, she went into the bathroom thinking, ‘Where might I be safe? Going to the bathroom, turn the water on and hope for the best,’” McAndrew said Tuesday.
“As soon as I heard the water running, I firmly believed there was gonna be somebody in there. You couldn’t see anything. You had to reach in…Luckily, it was in time to get her out. It’s a great feeling. That’s why we do what we do.”
Gallo said the rescue was a deeply “moving” experience.
“You know they can have another birthday, another Christmas. They get to spend some more time with their family and friends,” he said.
He added, “When we found her, now we’re worried about someone else to bring back out. That always adds a bit more difficulty on your exit strategy.”