Hamilton police officer receives Medal of Valor

Hamilton Police Officer Chad Stafford received his department’s highest honor Wednesday night for his bravery in a shootout on a bitter cold February morning.

Stafford was shot in the head by an 18-year-old teen who was firing shots from a civilian-model AK-47 rifle at 11th Street and Sipple Avenue. Brandon Keeler, who left notes indicating he wanted to die at the hands of police, was shot and killed when Stafford returned fire.

Hamilton Police Chief Scott Scrimizzi presented the 44-year-old with the Medal of Valor, a supreme degree of recognition for selfless bravery during extreme conditions.

“I could not be more proud of the actions Officer Stafford took that Saturday morning, doing what he was sworn to do, protecting the lives and property of the citizens of Hamilton,” Scrimizzi said in the letter that accompanied the honor.

“The events surrounding this incident are both sad and tragic, but we are extremely grateful that there was no additional loss of life or injuries to other officers or our citizens. Knowing what we know now, things could have ended much worse. The suspect was involved with drugs, somewhat fascinated with weapons and had serious mental health issues, a recipe for disaster,” the chief added.

Hamilton Council Chambers was packed with officers, community members and Stafford’s friends and family on Wednesday night. In addition to a ribbon to be worn on his uniform, Stafford was presented with a framed version as well as proclamations from the city council and state lawmakers.

Stafford kept his speech short.

“Just thanks everybody. Thanks,” he said in a voice strained a bit with emotion.

Stafford talked exclusively with the Journal-News after the presentation. He showed his scar, visible through his neat flat top haircut.

The 16½-year veteran of the force returned to work March 20. He said he was waiting for some scars to heal before returning, but it was always his intention to return.

And how is it being back to work?

“Wonderful,” Stafford said. “I wanted to come back and work the street.”

He has responded to shots fired calls since returning, and even to the scene of the February incident.

“I had a call there and there was no place to park, so I parked in the same spot,” Stafford said. “It’s just another part of the city. I’ll never forget, but it doesn’t bother me.”

Stafford said that while he and his family are fine, he does think about Feb. 15 every day, and the way he looks at life has changed.

“I look at things differently. I really value life more and how it can be taken away in a second,” Stafford said.

On that morning, Stafford said he was not alarmed by a shots fire call and really not too alarmed when he got out of his vehicle to face the armed man.

“ It was another Saturday morning. I thought, I am going to tell him to put down the gun and he is going to, but he didn’t,” Stafford said.

He said he remembers returning fire and “I watched him lay down in the snow. I continued to cover him until the other officers arrived,” Stafford said.

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