By William Moore
TUPELO – The Tupelo Police Department created a pair of medals to honor the actions and sacrifice of two officers.
Patrol officer Joseph Maher was presented the Purple Heart and Sgt. Kevin “Gale” Stauffer was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Wednesday.
The officers were involved in a shootout with a bank robbery suspect in December. Stauffer was killed. Maher was shot in the head and continues to recover.
“It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to receive something like this,” said Maher. “It shows that people do care and recognize the sacrifices that officers must make to protect them.”
Police Chief Bart Aguirre said the medals were created to be a lasting honor for the two officers. In the future, officers who receive serious injuries in on-duty tactical situations will be eligible for the Purple Heart. The Medal of Honor will recognize extreme acts of bravery or heroism by an officer while in imminent danger of personal injury.
The medals are based on existing military and police medals. The department ordered the medals in February and they arrived a couple of months later, Aguirre said. Finding the right time to make the presentation to emotional families took time.
“These ceremonies are nice but they tear open emotional wounds,” said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton.
“The families and the officers have been having a hard time emotionally so we wanted to wait,” said Aguirre. “For the past eight months, I have been struggling with my own darkness thinking about Dec. 23. It disturbs my peace during the day and it disturbs my sleep at night.”
Beth Stauffer accepted the Medal of Honor for her late husband. Maher made a public appearance to accept the award himself. Maher has undergone multiple reconstructive surgeries and is anxious to return to the department.
“Joseph Maher has been amazing,” said Shelton. “We are having to refuse to let him to come back to work just yet.”
But that hasn’t stopped him from dropping by the department and visiting with fellow officers. For the medal presentation, Maher wore his full uniform and was joking around before the general assembly. Wednesday was the second time Maher has worn his TPD uniform since the shooting.
“Recovery from something like this is a long road,” said Aguirre. “When he is able to return depends a lot on the doctor. We hope that he can return to the department in some role pretty soon.”
Maher and Stauffer responded to a bank robbery Dec. 23, 2013, on South Gloster Street. When the officers tried to stop a suspect near Crosstown, gunfire erupted.
The suspect, Mario Edward Garnett, was shot and killed by law enforcement during an attempted bank robbery Dec. 28, 2013, in Phoenix, Arizona. Garnett also was linked with an attempted bank robbery in Atlanta several hours before the Tupelo bank was robbed.