By John Lynds
Last year a tranquil fall night was shattered as a routine domestic call turned into an ferocious gun battle between police and a suspect on Gladstone Street in East Boston. The incident left two Eastie officers critically wounded. While the wounds of that October night have healed, the stories of heroism and valor have lived on.
Last Wednesday night at the State House Governor Charlie Baker presented Officer Richard Cintolo, Officer Matthew J. Morris and Officer Eric Schmidt with the state’s highest award, the George L. Hanna Medal of Honor. Cintolo and Morris were the two officers critically wounded in the shootout while Schmidt was pinned down, and returned fire in an effort to protect his fellow officers.
Also honored last week were Sergeant Norberto Perez, Officer Lenin Ortiz and Officer Clifton Singletary who all responded to the gun battle and provided life saving measures to the down officers. The three were presented with the the George L. Hanna Medal of Valor.
“The officers we are privileged to honor today earned their awards through extraordinary acts of bravery and a deep commitment to public safety,” said Governor Charlie Baker at the ceremony. “They did what any officer would do in the face of danger to defend others, and we in the Commonwealth are very fortunate for their devotion to protecting and serving our communities and families.”
Gov. Baker provided a narrative of the incident at the ceremony that put into perspective just how heroic all these Eastie officers were the night they were confronted with unspeakable violence.
At almost 11 p.m. on October 12 of last year, a 911 call was placed to the Boston Police Department in Eastie. The caller stated that he was having issues with his roommate and a check of prior history indicated that a firearm was in the house.
Officers Schmidt, Morris and Cintolo arrived on scene and after interviewing the caller they were told a firearm was not involved in argument he was having with his roommate.
As officers encountered the suspect, later identified as Kirk Figueroa, they observed him wearing a bullet resistant vest. Morris and Cintolo frisked Figueroa for weapons and located a firearm on him. When Cintolo yelled “gun” a violent struggle ensued. During this violent struggle several rounds were fired by Figueroa, and Cintolo and Morris were critically hit by the gunfire. Morris was struck with a round in the left leg, severing the femoral artery. Cintolo was struck by bullets in the neck and upper chest.
Both Morris and Cintolo fell to the ground and Figueroa fled across the basement apartment while he continued to shoot at the officers. Schmidt and Morris were able to return fire, but became pinned down and were running low on ammunition. Morris who was down with a critical leg wound was still able to throw an extra magazine to Schmidt, which held his position long enough for the suspect to yell “I give up”.
The officers gave commands for Figueroa to show his hands and throw out the gun, but there was no response from him. Figueroa feigned surrender and told officers that he would give up, but was still failing to comply with the officers’ orders. Schmidt could hear the distinct sound of Figueroa chambering rounds into a shotgun.
Figueroa then pointed the shotgun at the officers and another gun fight ensued. Schmidt fired multiple rounds into the wall where Figueroa was barricaded–causing him to fall, but he was still in possession of the loaded shotgun.
Schmidt realized that Cintolo had stopped responding, and that Morris was losing a lot of blood. Schmidt then noticed Perez coming down the stairs and told him to get the injured officers out of the house while he provided cover fire.
Perez immediately went to the aid of both downed officers. Using his body to shield the injured officers from further gunfire, in complete disregard for his own safety and welfare, Perez began immediate medical treatment to the two downed officers.
Singletary then ran into the basement to assist Perez and Schmidt. Singletary used a bullet resistant shield to help protect Cintolo from gunfire, as well as using his body to protect Morris while attempting a rescue. Singletary then continued to shield and protect both downed officers until both officers were removed from the basement of the home.
Schmidt continued to provide cover for Singletary and Perez.
Again running low on ammunition, Schmidt requested SWAT Officer Lenin Ortiz, who had responded to the gun battle, to throw one of his long rifles to him. Schmidt said that he saw the suspect’s hands on the shotgun move, and he discharged the rifle several times until the suspect movement stopped. The SWAT team arrived in the basement and proceeded to clear the apartment.
Outside the home, Perez had taken off his belt and applied a tourniquet to Morris’ leg in order to slow the severe bleeding while Singletary placed his finger inside the gunshot wound, finding and plugging the severed femoral artery.
“It is no exaggeration to say that if these officers had not taken that action, Officer Morris would not have survived his injuries,” said Gov. Baker at the ceremony.
Both Cintolo and Morris have endured multiple surgeries and extended rehabilitation during their recovery.
“It takes a special kind of person who commits to taking that oath and everything it involves,” said Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett. “We deeply appreciate the work that police officers do in communities across Massachusetts and thank them for putting their own lives on the line for the sake of our security.”
According to the state’s website the Medal of Honor is, “The highest and most prestigious award is given to a police officer who demonstrates actions above and beyond the call of duty, exhibiting extraordinary bravery and courage in the face of extreme risk and certain and imminent danger to life or limb. The police officer’s actions are performed in the course of a dangerous incident to protect or save the life of a colleague or citizen, in selfless disregard for the officer’s own safety and often result in great cost to the officer, including loss of life. Medal of Honor recipients should display exceptional levels of professionalism, competence, leadership, and clear thinking during a dangerous incident while on or off duty. The officer’s actions must be so outstanding that they clearly distinguish heroism from lesser forms of bravery” while the Medal of Valor is, “The second highest award is given to a police officer who demonstrates actions above and beyond the call of duty, exhibiting valor, courage and bravery while disregarding the potential for danger or great risk to him or herself and whose actions do not rise to the level of Medal of Honor, during the course of an individual incident.”