Four Lubbock-area law enforcement officers will be honored by the Office of Governor Greg Abbott with the “Star of Texas Award” this fall. The award recognizes the sacrifices of Texas law enforcement and first responders who were critically injured or killed in the line of duty.
All four Lubbock-area officers nominated for the Star of Texas Award received it: Jacob Flores formerly of Lubbock Police, Detective Ryan Durrett of Lubbock Police, Deputy Ryan Burns of the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office, and Officer Ricky Wallace of Texas Tech Police.
The awards ceremony will be held on September 12, 2016 at 2:30 p.m. the awards program will be streamed live from the Texas Capitol in Austin.
Because of ongoing investigations and legal matters, these officers were not at liberty to share all of the details of what happened to them during the incidents that caused their injuries.
Jacob Flores worked as an officer with the Lubbock Police. He was injured in February 26 2014.
“It just so happened I got off of work and decided to go help look for an Amber Alert suspect and ended up having a tibia plateau fracture,” Flores recalled.
He explained that the recovery from his injury has been difficult. He said it was the help of loving family members and LPD coworkers that allowed him to make his hectic schedule of medical and therapy appointments.
“It would have been a lot easier if it had just been the fracture itself, but the first day I was in the hospital, I immediately had complications that continue to this day, so it’s been really hard and difficult both physically and emotionally,” he said.
Flores felt that police work was a calling for him, and said it was upsetting to have his career cut short.
Because of his injuries, Flores had to medically retire from the police department, his last day was July 15.
“It was definitely a hard decision, if it would have been just my decision I probably would have found any way possible to go back, but I have a family and it would be unfair to them to make a decision on my own that would effect them as well,” Flores said.
Cpl. Ryan Durrett works as a detective with Lubbock Police. He was injured on August 25, 2015.
“I sustained a fracture on the outside part of my femur, fractured my patella, and severed the patellar tendon in my my left leg,” he explained.
“I was on injury leave for two or three months and then went back to light duty after that, then back to full duty in eight or nine months. During that time it was physical therapy and after physical therapy it’s on your own,” he explained.
Durrett is working on full duty currently and said that most days he feels some pain related to his injuries.
He explained that he’s always cautious and aware that he could be injured again while working, but he doesn’t fixate on that fact. He said his number one priority is simply to do his job.
Officer Ricky Wallace with the Texas Tech Police Department was injured August 25, 2015.
“I was going after a fleeing subject, and as I was checking my territory, I was going to move to a different territory– it was about two in the morning–I fell into a hole, it was about five feet deep,” Wallace recalled.
He said he broke his tibia and fibula in his lower left leg, he injured his back, broke three ribs, and tore his meniscus.
“I was in the hospital three to four days, had surgery on my leg, and been in physical therapy starting since October,” Wallace said. “I’m still doing therapy today, I still cannot run, I’m trying to piece everything together.”
Taking time off of work was physically and emotionally difficult for Wallace
“My wife works so, I’m at home staring at walls by myself, you go into depression, there are no words I can express about it,” he said.
Now, Wallace is back on light duty.
“It takes a toll not only on you, your family your kids, I can’t go out to play soccer with my kids like I used to, it’s been traumatizing since day one,” he said.
Wallace added that because of his injuries, he may need another surgery in the future.
“If there’s other officers out there [struggling with this], the biggest thing I can tell you because I went through it: if you’re depressed, just reach out to a friend, a coworker, because it will eat you,” Wallace said.
Deputy Ryan Burns with the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office was injured January 11, 2016.
“That was the date of the wreck and as a result of it I suffered acetabular fracture which is a broken hip, a concussion and four broken teeth,” Burns said.
“The recovery process has been taxing, I was in the hospital for seven days and after that I was laid off of work for three months and going through physical therapy; that took another month,” he explained.
Burns is now back working but still has lingering aches and pains.
“It was horrible, when I remember waking up in the hospital and becoming cognizant of what was going on, I didn’t think I’d be able to walk again, I didn’t think I’d be able to run again, it was pretty terrifying,” he said.
Burns said he doesn’t dwell on the fear of future injuries while he’s at work.
“There’s a job that needs to be done and someone needs to get out and do it, and that’s why we all took this position,” he said. “I don’t think it scares me, the possibility of it happening of course exists, I think about it, but I don’t let it scare me.”
It was Mary Duncan who organized these officers together, she is the president of West Texas Crime Victim Coalition as well as a representative for Peace Officers Angels Foundation. With over 30 years of experience as a victim advocate, Duncan sees this type of public recognition as valuable to both the victims and their families.
“It is very important for this community to know that peace officers and first responders can be victims of crime as well, ” she explained.
Duncan was responsible for nominating these officers. She is also working with them to propose new legislation to help injured officers, she wants to see more done to help those officers with their long term care.
There are two main policy components she hopes to accomplish:
1) “If you had to medically retire because of being injured in the line of duty, that you are to get your full pay,” Duncan said.
2) “These officers should be able to walk into any clinic at any time for the rest of their lives and receive the medical care that they need without any questions asked regarding workers comp, regarding insurance, they need to be taken care of like thy took care of us,” she added.
Duncan has also been working with local politicians to put legislation on the table that would benefit injured officers.
“For people to see and read about the Star of Texas recipients, it couldn’t come at a better time, because I believe the care and valor and commitment that these guys have is representative of the vast majority of law enforcement around the country,” said Jodey Arrington, Republican nominee for Congressional District 19.
“I am proud that State of Texas will honor these men who put service above self to protect our community. It has never been more important that we take the opportunity to recognize the sacrifices our peace officers, firefighters and emergency make, or are willing to make, for us each and every day.” said Texas Representative Dustin Burrows in House District 83.
For Wallace, while he’s appreciative of the award, he isn’t accepting it for himself, but rather for people dear to his heart.
“This award is not just for me, not just for my department, but it’s for my kids, so come September 12, my kids will be with me and they will be receiving the award right alongside me,” Wallace said.
The four officers all agreed that danger and possible injuries were part of the responsibility they take on as law enforcement.
“We’re just people like everybody else, we’re just trying to do a job like everybody else to support our families,” Durrett said.
“I did this job to serve the community and did my job every day and not looking for recognition or awards or rewards,” said Flores. “Sometimes it feels like there’s other officers who are more deserving of this award than me, it just feels like I was just doing my job, I didn’t do anything different than any other police officer would have done.”
Flores acknowledged though, that the physical and emotional tolls of his injury have had rippling impacts.
“It’s just a tough hard journey that affects a lot of people, not just the officer, the police department, the citizens and of course families as well,” Flores said. “So it’s not just an officer being hurt or injured, it’s the entire community that has to deal with the injury itself because there’s gonna be an officer whose out for a while recovering, so it’s a loss for everybody.”
The four officers all agreed that they are glad that organizations in Texas help to honor and support officers who have been injured.
“Especially today with everything that’s going on, people need to see both sides of an officer’s life,” said Burns.
“I just think it’s an aspect that not many people are privy to, not a lot of people see,” Burns continued. “Especially in the news we see all this negativity, I don’t think people look at this officer and what his family has to go through.”
“It means a lot to us because it makes us aware that there are people who’ve got our back, it’s not just words, it’s showing they’ve got our back,” Wallace added.