LENOX -- Two members of the town's police force have been hailed as heroes by Massachusetts State Police for their role in subduing a Lee man accused of shooting and wounding his stepson three times, as well as killing the family dog last month.
Officers Michael Smith and Sean Ward, part of a large-scale, mutual-aid police team who responded to the scene on Beartown Mountain Road in South Lee on the evening of Dec. 13, were cited during a presentation of certificates from the state police and Lee police during the Lenox Select Board meeting this past week. The Lenox officers were among those singled out for entering the home, risking their lives, to defuse the situation.
The officers, who attended the session with family members and department colleagues, received a standing ovation after their commendations were read by Police Chief Stephen O'Brien.
"The officers certainly acted above and beyond the call of duty," according to the state police report on the incident. First responding to the scene, in addition to State Police Trooper Gary Ruef and Lee Police Sgt. Jeffrey Roosa, were Smith and Ward. They learned that the shooting suspect, Phap Nguyen, 51, was inside the house, still armed, after allegedly shooting and wounding his stepson, Jeremy Lee Deane, 30.
Officers Smith and Ward, along with state police and Lee police, moved in on the house, aiming to rescue Deane "in an act of outstanding bravery and complete disregard for their own safety," according to the state police citation. "During the rescue effort, all of the officers exposed themselves to great and possible mortal danger since the shooter could have opened fire on them."
After offering first aid to the victim who had suffered three gunshot wounds, the officers confronted the assailant and took him into custody. They also found a cache of firearms in the second-floor bedroom where the suspect had reportedly been during the rescue, the state police report added, including two assault-style rifles and a 9-mm handgun with a jammed round of ammunition.
Each of the Lenox officers "will tell you it was their job to rescue this injured man and take out the assailant, who was arrested and transported to the hospital," O'Brien commented. "But it really wasn't, they acted above and beyond the call of duty. They deserve a commendation not only from me and all of their fellow officers, but they need to be recognized by the town."
Letters of commendation to Ward and Smith from the Select Board expressed "recognition of your heroic action. The town is lucky to have police officers of your calibre."
"A lot of us go through our days doing good things," commented Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler. "Rarely do we have the chance to save someone's life. This is clearly what you did in this situation."
"This force is just exceptional and I'm proud to have it here in Lenox," added Selectman John McNinch.
Members of the Berkshire County Special Response Team as well as officers from Stockbridge and Pittsfield also responded to the scene. Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis has awarded commendations for meritorious action to Smith and Ward, as well as Lee officers Roosa and Stephanie Burdick, state Police Trooper Ruef and Sgt. George Hamilton of the state police.
Nguyen, the suspect, remains under psychiatric evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital until his next scheduled court appearance Jan. 31 to determine whether he is competent to stand trial. Deane, his stepson, was released from Berkshire Medical Center five days after the shooting following treatment for three gunshot wounds.
Held without bail since his Dec. 14 arraignment in Central Berkshire District Court, Nguyen -- originally from Vietnam -- had pleaded guilty to one count each of armed assault to murder and animal cruelty.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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