Leland officer receives medal of valor

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By Brian Slattery

Leland Police Officer Ernie Mejia received a Medal of Valor award at Leland’s Nov. 21 town meeting.

Police Chief Mike James presented the award to Mejia for assisting his fellow officer during an assault that occurred during a traffic stop.

On July 11 Leland police were dispatched to 1613 Grandiflora Drive in reference to a disturbance.

Leland Police Sgt. John Keel stopped a vehicle that matched the description of one that was described as involved in the disturbance.

The driver, Joseph Allen Lambert, became hostile after Keel stopped the vehicle.

Lambert attacked Keel and the two men went to the ground just as Mejia arrived to assist Keel.

“Sgt. Keel came across the vehicle and conducted a traffic stop. He saw an open container in the car and asked the driver to step out of the vehicle,” Mejia said.

“The driver started a fight.”

Mejia said Lambert was tasered by Keel twice but continued toward him, tackling him.

When the men hit the ground, Keel broke his elbow.

Mejia said he arrived as Lambert was accosting Keel. He also tasered the suspect twice but again it didn’t stop him from attacking Keel.

Mejia said he considered using his handgun, but realized there was no way a shot wouldn’t also endanger Keel.

Instead he used a “compliance hold” or a chokehold around Lambert’s neck to subdue him.

After a two-minute struggle the officers subdued and arrested Lambert.

At Thursday night’s meeting James gave Mejia a plaque recognizing his actions protecting a fellow officer.

A statement included on the medal of valor plaque stated: “Had it not been for Officer Mejia’s swift response and effective actions, it is almost certain that Sergeant Keel would have sustained substantially more damage than he did. In this instance, deadly force was authorized, however Officer Mejia opted to use a less lethal approach in order to prevent Sergeant Keel from any fratricide that could have resulted (from) the use of his weapon,” the award stated.

“Officer Mejia’s actions reflect great credit upon himself, the Patrol Division, and the Leland Police Department.”

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.