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Police officers honored by Farragut Rotary

Receiving an award for placing themselves in the line of fire was the farthest thing from the minds of six local police officers one day in March 2004. Those six officers — Sgt. Roger Sexton, officers Sam Hardy, Patrick Lawson, Gabe “Woody” Mullinax and Todd Sleet, all from the Knox County Sheriff’s Department and Tennessee State Trooper Sgt. Mike Melhorn — were the first recipients of the Farragut Rotary Club’s “Service Above Self” award presented at the club’s luncheon meeting Wednesday, Feb. 2.

Hosted by KCSD Farragut sector Capt. Ben Harkins, the presentations honored the bravery demonstrated by the six officers who risked their lives in order to retrieve the body of fallen Loudon County officer Jason Scott, who was killed while responding to a domestic call in Loudon County March 12.

Harkins said, “Most officers will go their entire career and not face what these officers did on that day in March 2004. What a great honor it is for me to be part of our local law enforcement community and serve with these officers.”

Harkins added that the officers also had been nominated for officer of the year recognition.

“It’s hard for us to deal, to relive this stuff,” Mullinax said. “It’s nice that the community is aware of what we do. To get an award like this, it really means a great deal, it’s kind of hard emotionally to relive it. … We appreciate it.”

Sleet added, “It’s an honor for them to honor us with this award. This doesn’t happen often and it recognizes all the officers that were involved, not only this event, but other events that occurred. It honors them and it lets us know that the community really appreciates what we do for them.”

Sgt. Sexton said he was surprised to be honored by the Rotary Club and more so to hear that the group had been nominated as officer of the year candidates.

“I was shocked to hear that we were getting an award by the Rotary Club,” Sexton said, “and I was also shocked to hear we were put in for officer of the year. That was the first we heard about that.”

Sexton added that he had been with the sheriff’s office for 21 years and had never been in a similar situation as the incident in Loudon County.

Recounting the events of that day for Rotary Club members and guests in attendance, which led to the officers’ awards, Harkins said, “On March twelfth, two thousand four, Loudon County officer Jason Scott was shot while answering a domestic call on Palmer Drive, less than one mile from the Knox County line. Two other Loudon County officers were fired upon as they responded to assist officer Scott.”

Harkins added Loudon County called Knox County for emergency assistance. A number of officers responded.

“When our officers arrived, Officer Scott was still lying next to his cruiser in front of the suspect’s house, still in the line of fire,” Harkins said. “It was not known if Officer Scott was dead or alive.”

Later, It was discovered the suspect was barricaded inside the house armed with an AK-47-style rifle, a shotgun and a pistol.

Harkins said, “As a group of Knox County and highway patrol officers worked their way through a wooded area to locate officer Scott, Knox County Air Watch was able to pinpoint his location. At this time, Sgt. Sexton devised a rescue plan.

“Sexton asked officers Gabe Mullinax and Todd Sleet to assist in the rescue. Highway patrol officer Sgt. Melhorn volunteered to go with them.

Harkins said the four officers covered the side windows of a cruiser with body armor and began to drive to where officer Scott laid wounded. Another group of officers that were approaching on foot arrived moments before the rescue vehicle and were able to provide cover for the rescue attempt.

Harkins added that when the rescue vehicle got to Scott, Sexton, Mullinax, Sleet and Melhorn had to move directly into the line of fire in order to reach Scott.

“They did so without being able to defend themselves,” Harkins said, “having to rely solely on the other officers in the area to provide cover for them.”

Harkins said the rescue attempt proved difficult as Scott was a large man and was covered with blood, which hampered the officers’ ability to carry or drag Scott to the car and get him inside.

“Noticing that they were having problems,” Harkins said, “officers Hardy and Lawson, who were part of the cover team, immediately holstered their weapons and broke from cover to help the rescue team. With the additional help, they were able to get Scott in the vehicle and get him to emergency medical personnel that were waiting approximately a quarter of a mile away. Unfortunately, officer Scott did not survive his wound.”

Harkins added, as an example of the danger the officers were in during the rescue attempt, “A short time after Scott was taken to safety, the suspect opened fire on officers that were in the same area where the rescue attempt took place … wounding three officers.”

Harkins said after Scott was taken to safety the standoff continued and ultimately the 16-year-old suspect took his own life sometime during the night. The Knox County SWAT Team cleared the house and found the body of Michael Harvey the next day.

The Rotary’s Service Above Self award is not new to Rotary Clubs. Linda Bellich, a Rotary Club member with roots in Pennsylvania, brought the idea of the award to the Farragut chapter.

Bellich said she had recently moved to the Farragut area from just outside Pittsburgh, where she served as president of the Murraysville-Export Rotary Club.

“[The Service Above Self] award was started about 1996,” she said. “We had a chief of police who was a member of the club … at that time there was some issues going on and the police were getting a lot of bad press. What [the police] were doing was a great job. We decided that as public servants and as somebody who is interested in community service ourselves that we should tell the community the great things” the police were doing. The club came up with the Service Above Self award.

Harkins said to the audience at the conclusion of the ceremony, “These officers would have done the same thing if it had been one of you that needed to be rescued.”


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