Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

2008 Medal of Merit Recipients


Medal of Merit citation for:

Downstate Correction Officer Terry C. Dyson

On Oct. 3, 2007, Correction Officer Terry C. Dyson of Downstate Correctional Facility was in her vehicle outside a Poughkeepsie funeral home where a service had just taken place for a homicide victim when she witnessed an argument among several mourners. She overheard one ask for a gun, then noticed the mourners passing a shotgun from car to car while trying to hide the weapon. Aware of the imminent threat of a use of deadly force – and the possibility that mourners could be injured or killed - Officer Dyson reacted immediately, leaving her vehicle and seizing a red bag containing the gun and rounds of ammunition from one of the cars. She promptly turned the gun and ammunition in to the Poughkeepsie Police Department.

Officer Dyson, who was off duty and not in uniform, did not think twice about jeopardizing her own safety to protect the safety of others. Her actions demonstrated extraordinary courage and bravery, and may have saved lives and serious harm.

Officer Dyson, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 53
DOCS work history: 06/04/1984
Start date at Downstate: 03/24/1988

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Medal of Merit citation for:

Mid-State Correction Officer Stephen Chmielewski

Correction Officer Stephen Chmielewski was on his way to work at Mid-State Correctional Facility at 6:15 a.m. on July 10, 2007, driving along Route 365 in the Oneida County Town of Holland Patent, when he noticed a vehicle on its side and in flames in the ditch along the highway. He stopped and saw a man trapped inside the burning vehicle. Despite the obvious possibility of imminent explosion, Officer Chmielewski and Correction Officer Rodney Pfendler, who had also spotted the vehicle and stopped, approached the scene. Disregarding the fire, heat and danger, Officers Chmielewski and Pfendler climbed on top of the vehicle, pried the driver’s door partially open and lifted the man out. The two Officers were assisted by passerby Clayton Boucher, who had arrived on the scene moments earlier. Mr. Boucher broke the rear window, crawled inside and helped push the man up to the two Officers, who then dragged the man across the road to safety just seconds before the vehicle exploded. Calmly, Officers Chmielewski and Pfendler administered basic first aid and comfort techniques to the man, 67-year-old Lyle Robison, until the local fire department and ambulance arrived and took control of the situation.

Mr. Robison had suffered a diabetic insulin deficiency and lost consciousness before the accident. Courageously, Officer Chmielewski risked his own life to save the life of Mr. Robison.

Officer Chmielewski, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 38
DOCS work history: 11/08/1993
Start date at Mid-State: 05/12/2005

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Medal of Merit citation for:

Fishkill Correction Officer Vito Rohr

Correction Officer Vito Rohr of Fishkill Correctional Facility was working on his home computer at 2:15 a.m. January 31, 2007 when he went out to his vehicle to retrieve a tool, smelled burning plastic and noticed smoke billowing from behind his house. He investigated and found his neighbor’s garage on fire. Immediately, he went to the front of his neighbor’s house and evacuated the occupants, a grandfather, grandmother, their granddaughter and her small children. Officer Rohr then quickly returned to the garage with the grandfather and they heard someone talking inside the burning structure. Despite the obvious danger around him, Officer Rohr tried to open the garage door and was immediately hit with intense heat and flames as the door pulled shut. Undaunted, he enlisted the grandfather’s help and was able to pull the door open again and keep it open. As explosions ripped through the smoke- and flame-filled garage, Officer Rohr fearlessly entered and found a man, his upper body in flames, lying on a burning cot. Officer Rohr pulled the man from the garage by his ankles and rolled him in the snow to extinguish the flames.

Officer Rohr and the grandfather then rolled the victim, 71-year-old Charles Taylor, onto a blanket and pulled him from the area. Officer Rohr went to his own house, located in Newburgh, and evacuated his wife and four children, ages three to 14. The fire department arrived at the scene and treated Mr. Taylor for severe burns. Officer Rohr was transported to St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns to his right hand. Officer Rohr’s selflessness, bravery and sacrifice helped save Mr. Taylor’s life and protected his family and the lives of his neighbors.

Officer Rohr, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 32
DOCS work history: 10/11/1999
Start date at Fishkill: 01/27/2000

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Medal of Merit citation for:

Eastern Correction Officer Owen Garritt

A sudden, severe thunderstorm hit while Correction Officer Owen Garritt of Eastern Correctional Facility was riding in a charity motorcycle event in the Sullivan County Town of Forestburgh on June 16, 2007. As Officer Garritt and three other participants attempted to take shelter, they were struck by lightning. A bolt entered through Officer Garritt’s feet and exited through his back, knocking him unconscious. When he came to, Officer Garritt found himself shaking uncontrollably and partially paralyzed, unable to move his legs. Nonetheless, he was called upon by another rider, Federal Correction Officer Ed Duplessis, to assist in reviving 13-year-old Matthew Conklin, who had also been struck, was unresponsive and had smoke coming from his body and mouth. Still in shock and unable to move his legs, Officer Garritt disregarded his own condition and pulled himself along the ground with his hands and tremendous determination until he reached Matthew. The boy was in cardiac arrest, and the disabled Officer Garritt began and continued the breathing aspect of cardio pulmonary resuscitation on Matthew for approximately 10 minutes as Officer Duplessis performed the compression function. Officer Duplessis flagged down a passerby and as Matthew was placed in a vehicle to be transported to a local hospital, the boy’s heart began to beat again, thanks in large part to Officer Garritt’s heroism under extreme duress. Matthew was later air lifted to Westchester Medical Center, where he was expected to make a full recovery. Officer Garritt himself regained full feeling and use of his legs 10 minutes after the lightning strike and did not miss a day of work.

Officer Garritt, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 26
DOCS work history: 06/07/2004
Start Date of Eastern: 08/19/2004

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Medal of Merit citation for:

Marcy Correction Officer Rodney Pfendler

On July 10, 2007 at 6:15 a.m., Correction Officer Rodney Pfendler was driving along Route 365 in the Oneida County Town of Holland Patent on his way to work at Marcy Correctional Facility when he noticed a vehicle on its side and in flames in the ditch along the highway. He stopped and saw a man trapped inside the burning vehicle. Despite the obvious possibility of imminent explosion, Officer Pfendler and Correction Officer Stephen Chmielewski, who had also spotted the vehicle and stopped, approached the scene. Disregarding the fire, heat and danger, Officers Pfendler and Chmielewski climbed on top of the vehicle, pried the driver’s door partially open and lifted the man out. The two Officers were assisted by passerby Clayton Boucher, who had arrived on the scene moments earlier. Mr. Boucher broke the rear window, crawled inside and helped push the man up to the two Officers, who then dragged the man across the road to safety just seconds before the vehicle exploded. Calmly, Officers Pfendler and Chmielewski administered basic first aid and comfort techniques to the man, 67-year-old Lyle Robison, until the local fire department and ambulance arrived and took control of the situation.

Mr. Robison had suffered a diabetic insulin deficiency and lost consciousness before the accident. Courageously, Officer Pfendler risked his own life to save the life of Mr. Robison.

Officer Pfendler, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 35
DOCS work history: 01/24/2005
Start date at Marcy: 02/15/2007

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Medal of Merit citation for:

Mid-State Correction Officer Shawn Caouette

Just before 6 p.m. on August 9, 2007, Correction Officer Shawn Caouette was off-duty and driving along Culver Avenue in Utica when he noticed a Utica Police Department patrol car pulled over without its light bar on. As his vehicle approached the patrol car, Officer Caouette saw Utica Police Officer James Garcia struggling with a suspect. When Officer Caouette saw the suspect reach for Officer Garcia’s baton, which was inside the patrol car, he stopped, jumped out of his vehicle, identified himself as a Correction Officer and, upon obtaining Officer Garcia’s permission to help, immediately applied body holds to the suspect. Officer Caouette took the still-resisting man to the ground and restrained him until other Utica Police Officers arrived on the scene about 20 seconds later. Officer Garcia had been attempting to detain the suspect, whom he knew to have a warrant. Officer Caouette, of Mid-State Correctional Facility, combined his training as a Correction Officer with quick thinking and courage to help in the successful apprehension of a criminal without any physical harm to Officer Garcia. Utica Mayor Timothy Julian and Utica Police Chief C. Allen Pylman honored and recognized Officer Caouette on Nov. 1, 2007. Officer Caouette also received a Civilian Citation Award for his courageous role in the incident.

Officer Caouette, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 24
DOCS work history: 11/28/2005
Start Date at:
        Mid-State: 04/14/2008
        Marcy: 10/15/2007
        Downstate: 02/16/2006

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Medal of Merit citation for:

Coxsackie Correction Officer Jody Slater

As Correction Officer Jody Slater of Coxsackie Correctional Facility drove to work in the southbound lanes of the New York State Thruway around noon on March 2, 2007, he saw a white Ford pickup truck trapped underneath a tractor trailer in the northbound lanes.

Officer Slater immediately pulled over and ran across both the southbound and northbound lanes of the superhighway. Dodging high-speed traffic to reach the pickup truck, he saw four occupants inside. Officer Slater pulled three of them to safety, including a woman and a child, but was unable to extract the fourth occupant. Seeing that the pickup truck’s engine had caught fire, Officer Slater ran back across the highway, retrieved a fire extinguisher he keeps in his vehicle as a Hoosick Fire Department volunteer, and despite the danger of an explosion and the obvious threat to his own safety, extinguished the flames. Fire rescue then arrived on the scene and used the “Jaws of Life” to extract the final trapped passenger.

The four passengers were en route to a Bible camp in the Adirondacks when they collided with the trailer, which had missed its exit and was backing up along the highway in the rain. Correction Officer Slater’s quick action in the face of a potentially fatal explosion helped save the lives of all of the truck’s occupants.

Officer Slater, you displayed bravery and courage by willingly placing yourself in harm’s way.

Age: 29
DOCS work history: 03/20/2006
Start date at Coxsackie: 09/14/2006

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