May 22, 2012
Homer officer top cop
Mike Howell was on road patrol in the early morning hours of Sept. 22, when a seemingly routine call led to the unexpected.
The 911 Center dispatched him around 4 a.m. for a suspicious vehicle complaint near the intersection of routes 90 and 281 in Homer. Howell was on James Street at the time.
“I roll up, find a damaged car, the gentleman who was driving it was standing outside the door, dazed and confused,” Howell recalled. “All I could get out of him was that someone had choked him.”
A witness told Howell the assailant was running toward the Glenwood Cemetery.
“I took off and we got in a bit of an altercation,” Howell said. “From there, I just acted naturally. I didn’t want him to get away. I knew what he was capable of doing, could do in the future and I had to bring him in.”
Howell’s efforts to capture Geoffrey Thompson for a violent assault rarely seen in the community earned him the 2012 Lawman of the Year award, presented Monday evening at the Cortland Elks Lodge.
“I’m amazed, not what I expected,” Howell said Monday, as he thanked his fellow police officers and Homer Police Chief Dan Mack.
Howell was among four Cortland area police officers nominated for the prestigious award. The award recognizes local police officers for their dedication, bravery and heroism in the line of duty, among other achievements. Monday was the 42nd year of the award ceremony.
Other nominees for top police officer were now-retired Investigator Jeff Hall of the state police, Deputy Irving Reynolds of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, and Ken Bush of the Cortland city police.
Mack nominated Howell for the Lawman of the Year award.
“Officer Howell reacted promptly and professionally to the situation at hand, regardless of any apprehension he may have had and the risk of being harmed or killed in action,” Mack said in his nomination letter.
The whole thing went by quickly and Howell recalled he did not have time to get all the details when he arrived to the scene. It was the first time Howell had encountered such a situation in his career as a police officer.
“I didn’t know who he (Thompson) was, only that he was a large man that just about strangled a person to death,” Howell said. “I reacted on training.”
Howell managed to corner Thompson in the cemetery while other police officers responded. He held the suspect at gunpoint and ordered him to lie on the ground. Howell was also commended for resolving the incident quickly and without anyone else being hurt, considering Thompson was a much larger man.
Thompson had choked and nearly killed the cab driver he hired in New York City to take him to Buffalo. He was originally arrested on attempted murder and other charges, but pleaded guilty to felony strangulation and received probation after getting treatment for a mental illnesses that prompted the attack.
Howell joined the Homer police department in 2007, right after graduating from the police academy. He is also a trained emergency medical technician with TLC Emergency Medical Services. On Monday he was awarded a plaque and Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver.
This year’s Lawman of the Year candidates also walked away with commemorative watches. Special recognition awards were also handed out to Cortland officers Roger Stafford, Rob Reyngoudt and Hall.
Stafford was credited for his work in a standoff Oct. 16, when 18-year-old Patrick Cobane barricaded himself in his Port Watson Street home and wounded a state trooper with a BB gun shot to the head. Stafford talked to Cobane over the phone for several minutes, learned he had a BB gun and tried to calm him down to resolve the incident.
Reyngoudt’s work with the Cortland city school district as its school resource officer, along with spearheading the Cortland Junior Police Academy for the past two summers, earned him a special recognition award as well. The two-week event will be held again this summer, with help from local and regional police agencies.
Hall retired in March after nearly 30 years with the state police. His diligence in closing major criminal investigations and dedication to the job were lauded by Cortland County District Attorney Mark Suben.
A special recognition was also given to Samantha Noll, who graduated from SUNY Cortland this month. Noll helped Cortland police officers identify a suspect moments after he allegedly robbed Jodi’s Hallmark store on Main Street Jan. 31. Noll saw the suspect flee the store and followed him, keeping a safe distance away, and pointed officers in his direction, Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said. Noll’s help was “instrumental” in arresting the suspect about two minutes after the robbery, Catalano said.
Noll accepted her award Monday evening. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminology.
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