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'Real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear badges': Idaho police officers receive state's highest honor

“Real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear badges.” Officers were honored Wednesday with Idaho's highest recognition - the Idaho Medal of Honor.
Credit: Brian Myrick/ Idaho Press
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador provided opening statements during a ceremony Wednesday.

BOISE, Idaho — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

On Wednesday, five police officers were honored with the Idaho Medal of Honor, the highest recognition granted by the state to law enforcement officers, firefighting professionals and emergency medical service providers.

Four of the men selected are from the Pocatello City Police Department and one was selected from the Heyburn Police Department.

On July 16, 2022, Corp. Cole Kuta of the Heyburn Police Department was on his way home after a 12-hour night shift. He was listening to a radio broadcast about a suspect who committed arson and had stolen the car of someone who had stopped to help him. Kuta went back on duty and searched for the suspect, setting up a tire deflation device that the suspect evaded. The suspect then drove through a median, driving the opposite direction of traffic, and collided into Kuta’s patrol vehicle. Kuta exited his vehicle and the suspect ran through the open door of the police car to steal it. Kuta deployed and fired his taser twice, missing the suspect both times, while the suspect tried to run him over. Kuta then fired his gun and hit the suspect in the arm.

“It’s the most adrenaline I’ve ever felt in my life,” Kuta said. “You don’t want anybody to get hurt or die. You just want others to be safe.”

The decision to shoot the suspect was one Kuta did not take lightly. After the incident, he wasn’t able to talk to many people about what had happened, since it was an officer-involved shooting.

He quickly learned there’s nothing wrong with getting help.

“Nationwide, everybody’s starting to see the importance of mental health and what it comes to this occupation, before it was considered taboo,” Kuta said. “Officer suicide rates are, I think, three or four times the general population. And every year, unfortunately, officers succumb to those demons.”

Credit: Brian Myrick / Idaho Press
Sgt. Cole Kuta is with the Heyburn Police Department, during a ceremony Wednesday at the state Capitol.

Kuta’s actions went above and beyond his responsibilities, Heyburn Chief of Police Ryan Bertalotto said.

“He just happened to be listening to the radio, understood the nature of the call, understood the seriousness of the problem and he came back in,” Bertalotto said. “We’re a small agency of eight officers. The badges may be a little bit different. But ultimately, we all have that same goal across our great state.”

The suspect survived the incident. Since then, Kuta has been promoted to detective.

On July 5, 2022, Officer Jordan Johnson and Detective Joel Weinheimer of the Pocatello City Police Department responded to a call about a vehicle that was overturned and submerged in a canal. Together, they entered the canal with the knowledge that someone was trapped in the vehicle. Weinheimer broke a window using a knife, reached inside the vehicle and the two pulled a woman from the vehicle.

The woman received life-saving care and survived the accident.

“Her recovery was nothing short of miraculous,” Johnson said.

In situations like that, Johnson said he could almost hear a clock ticking — every second mattered, and arguably, the woman is alive today because of how quickly the two acted.

“It’s hard from, I think, our standpoint, to see it that way,” Johnson said. “From my perspective, I feel like just doing what needed to be done.”

On May 5, 2022, Officer Demetrius Amos and Makenzie Handel, of the Pocatello City PD, responded to a call of disturbance that included a male pointing a firearm at a woman and a juvenile. The suspect was on the back deck of a residence, holding a rifle, which he pointed at officers. Amos fired two rounds at the suspect, causing him to flee. The suspect waited for the officers in an alley, but Handel shot the suspect and took him into custody. During the encounter, Amos and Handel were shot and suffered life-threatening injuries.

“Real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear badges,” Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei said. “They were simply heroic. They went above and beyond and put the lives of other people, the citizens of our community, as well as the other members of the department that were out there, above themselves. When you put that badge on, it’s not just simply a job or a career: it’s a calling.”

According to Schei, this is the first time he has submitted anyone for the Medal of Honor.

“They’re the bravest of the brave,” Schei said. “To be surrounded by heroes is a blessing and I think that’s something our country has lost sight of in other parts, but in Idaho, it’s a great place to be a police officer.”

The Medal of Honor Commission reviewed the nominees last spring and selected the awarded officers.

“We spend a lot of time deciding who the recipient(s) should be,” Attorney General Raúl Labrador said. “It’s actually one of the most interesting things I’ve done in the last eight months as attorney general.”

The Idaho Legislature established the Idaho Medal of Honor in 2004 to honor men and women who put their lives in danger to help others. Since then, over 80 men and women have received the honor.

“There is no more noble work than that of police, firefighters and emergency medical workers,” Labrador said. “Sometimes though, this noble work demands even more. It demands unusual acts of bravery and a disregard for one’s own safety.”

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more at idahopress.com

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