Two Grass Valley officers’ uniforms are carrying a little bit more weight these days, each bearing the glimmer of a new Silver Medal of Valor.
The Grass Valley Police Department’s Sgt. Clint Bates and Officer John Herrera were ceremoniously bestowed the medals earlier this month for their involvement in a May 2012 high-speed pursuit and shoot-out that ended with a suspect reportedly taking his own life beneath the Bear River bridge.
“Basically what these officers were involved in was a gun battle with an individual and risking their lives to try to apprehend this suspect,” said Chief John Foster at a Dec. 10 meeting of the Grass Valley City Council where the medals were awarded. “These two officers showed extreme bravery and were heroic in their actions. They showed great tactics and came home safe.”
The May 17, 2012, incident began when Rod Dankers, 65, reportedly met an unidentified man to complete a transaction for 25 pounds of marijuana, according to the Nevada County District Attorney’s investigation of text messages on their cell phones.
When the transaction allegedly spiraled out of control over the price of the marijuana, Dankers struck the would-be buyer several times with a metal pipe and the victim fled. In pursuit, Dankers fired a shot into the escaping driver’s window, according to the District Attorney’s independent investigation.
Dankers then pursued the other man toward Grass Valley and into the downtown area, where the chased man drove around the GVPD headquarters several times, honking and trying to get officers’ attention, Foster said.
Herrera and Bates, who Foster said were getting ready to start their shift, jumped in a squad car and attempted to stop Dankers’ vehicle.
“As they tried to make a car stop, the person did not obey the lights and sirens to pull over and they had a pursuit,” Foster said. “During that pursuit, the officers were able to confirm the driver was brandishing a handgun.”
The ensuing pursuit up Brunswick Road onto Highway 174 involved speeds in excess of 80 mph, often into oncoming traffic, according to the District Attorney’s report.
The chase ended when Dankers left the highway and crashed his vehicle on a service road under the Bear River bridge, where he exited his vehicle with a weapon in each hand.
Bates, the driver, exited his patrol vehicle to attempt to approach the suspect, who reportedly fired on him.
While Bates returned fire, Herrera exited his vehicle and Dankers continued to shoot at the officers from behind a concrete barrier. As gunshots were exchanged, Dankers moved to another location by the bridge, engaging the officers in a short, running gun battle.
More than six months later, the investigation into the incident concluded that a fatal gunshot wound to Dankers’ head was self-inflicted.
“I’ve read the account of what you and John went through that night,” said Mayor Dan Miller while awarding the medals. “I remember the night. It was alarming, what was going on. It’s people like you that keep our community safe.”
The criteria for a Silver Medal of Valor includes an employee showing outstanding bravery in the performance of his or her duty, risking his or her life with full knowledge of the danger involved, where their objective is of sufficient importance to justify the risk.
Foster said Herrera and Bates more than met the criteria.
“These ribbons that we have up here,” said Foster, pointing to his chest where accommodations are pinned, “they mean a lot to the officers. But there are very few times that you will see one for valor.”
At the packed city council chambers where the two men were awarded the medals, Bates’ words were brief.
“Any one of us could have been in this situation and we all would have done the same thing,” he said.
But Foster said the incident was nothing to dismiss.
“Sometimes we take for granted that we live in a safe community, but what we shouldn’t take for granted is when officers put their lives on the line like these two officers did,” Foster said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.