When an airline passenger tried to subdue a Juneau Police Department officer at the airport and take her weapon, Sgt. Christopher Burke put his partner’s safety above his own. Thursday, those efforts were recognized with a Law Enforcement Purple Heart medal.
“Courage is the mental and moral strength to protect others and promote truth and justice in the face of danger, difficulty, uncertainty or pain without being overcome by fear,” JPD Chief Bryce Johnson said, presenting Burke the medal during the department’s quarterly award ceremony.
Burke’s actions during the April 2 incident at the Juneau International Airport also earned him a JPD Medal of Valor. He helped his partner, Officer Kim Horn, walk away with minor injuries including a bite on her face and a sprained wrist. Burke underwent surgery to repair his left shoulder.
Burke was all smiles during Thursday’s ceremony. It was the first time he wore his police uniform, complete with Haida regalia from his Eagle-Frog clan, since the incident.
On April 2, an Alaska Airlines passenger was caught smoking a cigarette in the plane’s bathroom. He was removed from the plane when it landed in Juneau, but he fled from Horn and Burke on the tarmac. When they caught up with him, he fought. Police said he wrestled Horn to the ground and tried to take her holstered weapon. Burke got the man off of Horn by punching and hitting him in the head rather than by using deadly force.
“If you’re trying to pull (an officer’s) gun out, that’s getting to the level of deadly force,” Johnson told the Empire in a previous interview.
Looking back at the event, Burke said that didn’t enter his mind.
“In the moment there, I was thinking I need to help her, I need to get him off, and we need to get him into custody safely,” he said.
His wife, Monica Burke, sat in the audience and watched her husband be honored, along with nearly two dozen other community members and city officials.
She said she enjoyed the time at home with her injured husband, but she knows he’s anxious to get back to work where he strives to make a difference every day.
“It’s good for him to know he’s appreciated,” she said. “His work has not gone unnoticed, and it’s important for the community to know there are officers who go out and put their lives on the line everyday.”
The Law Enforcement Purple Heart award is different from the Purple Heart military medal awarded to those who have been wounded or killed while serving the country, on behalf of the president. The Law Enforcement Purple Heart is given out by authority of the Military Order of the Purple Heart First Responder Program and honors law enforcement officers and firefighters injured or killed in the line of duty.
The specific criteria to receive the award varies by police department.
“The Purple Heart may be awarded to sworn members who received a serious wound or injury sustained in the line of duty, where they use good judgment in accordance with the high standards of the Juneau Police Department,” Chief Johnson said in a speech.
Officers Carl Lundquist and Paul Overturf also received awards for exemplary police work during the ceremony. The two officers were patrolling downtown Juneau when they found a man on the ground. They realized he was in cardiac arrest, and he didn’t have a pulse. They gave him CPR until Capital City Fire/Rescue medics arrived on scene.
Johnson awarded both officers a lifesaving medal for “services in the name of another’s welfare.”
“Due to your quick response in identifying a medical emergency, your performance of lifesaving measures you were ultimately able to save the man’s life,” Johnson said.
Before the start of the award ceremony, Daniel Darbonne was sworn in as JPD’s newest officer. Darbonne hails from New Orleans where he worked at the U.S. Federal Reserve Law Enforcement Division. He graduated as “top gun” from the Federal Law Enforcement Academy. He previously worked as a detective and SWAT team member for the Gretna Police Department in Gretna, Louisiana.
Despite his experience in law enforcement at the federal level, Darbonne said he wanted to work for JPD because of its commitment to community values. He said he expects to learn a lot from his new colleagues.
“I’ll be learning more from them than I can give to them,” he said