Anoka County Sheriff’s Office presents annual awards

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Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Feb. 21 presented eight law enforcement officers and one citizen with awards for their outstanding contributions to public safety last year.

Seven Anoka County Sheriff’s Office deputies and detectives were awarded office commendations Feb. 21. Photos by Olivia Alveshere
Seven Anoka County Sheriff’s Office deputies and detectives were awarded office commendations Feb. 21. Photos by Olivia Alveshere

Office commendations were presented to Special Deputy Kandi Gunia, Detention Deputy Shawn Young, Deputy Matthew Aker, Deputy Travis Bolles, Detective Gary Patterson, Detective Patrick O’Hara and Detective Michael Schantzen. Detective Thomas Strusinski received the medal of merit for demonstrating “an obvious self-sacrifice and devotion to duty without regard for personal safety.”

Finally, Peter King received the citizen award of honor for performing “an act of gallantry and valor at imminent personal hazard to life.”

Sheriff James Stuart thanked award recipients for going above and beyond.

“We live in challenging times,” Stuart said. “It bothers me to see our protectors being declared as the enemies in so many parts of our nation. … These are good men and women who have raised their hands and sworn an oath to serve and protect our citizens, even if that means laying down their own lives to do it.”

Office commendations

Gunia was commended for her calm, quick thinking during a robbery at the Coon Rapids Wal-Mart Dec. 2, 2016, just before midnight.

She was off duty and happened to be present when the business was robbed. She called 911 and provided suspect and possible getaway vehicle information and remained on scene to help with the investigation.

Gunia, who is a lieutenant within the volunteer reserve unit, normally assists with routine patrol, traffic control, vehicle lockouts and security at large events like the Anoka County Fair.

“Special deputies are not trained to handle a burglary, and Kandi’s calm manner and attention to detail in a dangerous situation greatly assisted the investigation in the case,” Chief Deputy Kevin Halweg said.

Young began working as a deputy within the Anoka County Jail in 1994. In 2003, he was transferred and started working as courthouse security, but he has continued to pick up extra shifts in the jail with staffing shortages.

Working both in the court and jail, “Deputy Young has acquired advanced knowledge of the criminal justice system that makes him an invaluable asset to our agency and community,” Halweg said, awarding Young an office commendation.

On Thanksgiving, Aker responded to an Andover home after receiving a report that someone had unexpectedly died. Family members began to arrive at the victim’s residence because that individual was supposed to host Thanksgiving dinner.

With his own money, Aker purchased 20 submarine sandwiches for the family.

“This embodies the sense of compassion that we try to instill in all our staff,” Halweg said.

For his actions, Aker was commended.

The afternoon of Nov. 17, 2016, was a busy one for law enforcement in Anoka County as a report came in that a man had been shot in the proximity of Cooper’s Corner gas station in East Bethel. The suspect fled, reaching speeds of more than 150 mph.

Bolles was one of the primary units during the pursuit, which ended with the suspect being non-fatally shot near Highway 10 and Seventh Avenue in Anoka.

“It was noted by other assisting officers that you, Deputy Bolles, were the reason that nobody died in this pursuit,” Halweg said.

Bolles was recognized for his “calmness under pressure in an extremely dangerous situation.”

Patterson received an office commendation for tackling a majority of overdose investigations for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.

“Despite all of the roadblocks in these investigations, Detective Patterson has not given up and pursued information to the point where he can either show who supplied the drugs to our victims or if there is no more information,” Halweg said.

Last year, Patterson built three cases that led to third-degree murder charges.

On top of his investigative work, Patterson teamed up with prosecutors and legislators in the last year to work to bridge gaps in current statutes that prevent law enforcement from charging drug dealers.

O’Hara and Schantzen were both awarded office commendations for work that began in July 2015 when a mother reported that a man was recruiting her 17-year-old daughter to become a prostitute through Facebook.

The suspect was found guilty of five sex trafficking crimes, 14 pornography crimes and one count of committing a felony involving a minor when required to register as a sex offender.

Their “thoroughness, conscientiousness and determination” stood out, according to Halweg.

Medal of merit and citizen awards

Strusinski was the lone individual to receive the medal of merit this year after his heroism Nov. 23, 2016, in Bunker Hills Regional Park.

Law enforcement closed off the park after finding a man suspected of shooting his wife at her workplace in West St. Paul near Bunker Beach.

The man shot himself and attempted to flee in his vehicle. He did not get far because Strusinski backed his squad into the man’s path, and the man collided with the squad, preventing further attempts to flee.

Strusinski was out of state for the awards ceremony, as was King, who received the only citizen award this year.

Deputy Curt Grabmeier stopped a vehicle in Oak Grove April 1, 2016, and attempted to arrest the driver for driving under the influence, but the driver fought with Grabmeier, and they both ended up on the ground.

Observing the conflict, King pulled over in his truck, walked across Viking Boulevard and helped Grabmeier secure the man until backup came.

“That’s what real heroism looks like,” Stuart said. “He didn’t raise his hand and swear that oath, but he was wiling to put himself in harm’s way in order to make a positive difference. I’m grateful for his actions.”

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Sheriff James Stuart presents Special Deputy Kandi Gunia with an office commendation for her valuable assistance during a burglary at the Coon Rapids Wal-Mart when she was off duty. Sheriff James Stuart poses with Detention Deputy Shawn Young, who was awarded an office commendation for his high level of performance and dedication to the office. Deputy Matthew Aker receives a pat on the back from Sheriff James Stuart as he shakes hands with Chief Deputy Kevin Halweg. Aker was awarded an office commendation for buying 20 sub sandwiches for a family who lost a loved one on Thanksgiving. Sheriff James Stuart poses with Deputy Travis Bolles, who received an office commendation for his calmness under pressure during the Nov. 17, 2016, pursuit of a suspect from Cooper’s Corner in East Bethel to Highway 10 and Seventh Avenue in Anoka, where the suspect was non-fatally shot.  Sheriff James Stuart, left, and Chief Deputy Kevin Halweg flank Detective Gary Patterson, recognized Feb. 21 for his outstanding work in opioid overdose death investigations. Detectives Patrick O’Hara, right, and Michael Schantzen receive office commendations for their excellent investigation in a sex trafficking and child pornography case that led to the federal prosecution of an individual who was found guilty of 20 crimes Dec. 16, 2016.
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Sheriff James Stuart poses with Deputy Travis Bolles, who received an office commendation for his calmness under pressure during the Nov. 17, 2016, pursuit of a suspect from Cooper’s Corner in East Bethel to Highway 10 and Seventh Avenue in Anoka, where the suspect was non-fatally shot.