“All officers, all officers, there is an officer shot. There is an officer shot. He’s still breathing,” a distressed civilian said into the San Diego police radio of fatally wounded Officer Jeremy Henwood.
San Diego County Probation Officer Bobby Burns, assigned to the Adult Gang unit, was working nearby on a task force operation with an El Cajon Police officer. They sped to the scene and were among about a half dozen officers who confronted the fleeing suspect and fatally shot him as he reached for his shotgun again.
“There can be no better definition of valor,” said San Diego County Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins. “As a result of his actions and those of other officers, innocent lives were saved, as Officer Burns risked his own.”
On Tuesday, Jenkins presented Burns with the first Chief’s Award of Valor at the department’s biannual award ceremony held at Mission Bay.
“I’m honored to get the award and it’s nice to see our department recognize staff who go above and beyond in the field,” said Burns, 40. “The situation was very tragic but I was fortunate to be in a position to help stop it.”
The newly created award will recognize and commend a staff member who demonstrates extraordinary courage and exemplary performance while fulfilling the department’s mission under extraordinary circumstances.
“The award was inspired by the act and performance of one of our colleagues in a situation that any of our armed officers could be in. It’s the kind of situation that we invest a lot of time and money to prepare for,” Jenkins said.
Burns, who has worked for the Probation department for 18 years, said when he heard the call of an officer down on Aug. 6, 2011, his mind immediately went to the night of Oct. 28, 2010 when San Diego Police Officer Chris Wilson was killed. Less than a year earlier, Burns was also working that night when Wilson was fatally wounded.
He quickly returned to the present, fought the adrenaline, “checked” his emotions, and let his training kick in.
“As we turned the corner, he was coming right at us and we got out and we handled business,” Burns said of the suspect shooting. “You go into work mode and you rely on your training.”
At that point Burns said they knew an officer had been shot in the head and that there had been a shooting in El Cajon but they did not know the connection yet.
Police later said that the gunman had first shot a man in the face with a shotgun as he got out of his car at a fast food restaurant. He then fled to City Heights where he drove up behind Henwood, flashed his lights at him and then shot him in the head when the officer pulled over and rolled his window down. Both shootings were determined to be random.
“Because of Officer Burns’ actions, the assailant was prevented from continuing on what was a clear plan to randomly shoot as many people as possible,” Jenkins said.
Probation officers typically aren’t in a front line situation like police and sheriff patrol officers, but Burns works for the gang suppression unit which does many searches and compliance checks at the homes of dangerous offenders.