EO police and fire officers given top honors at awards banquet

EAST ORANGE, NJ — The New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association Inc. awarded the bravery and service of two members of East Orange Police Department during their annual Valor Award Banquet in Atlantic City on Saturday, Nov. 21.

East Orange Police Department Detective Damon Johnson and Sgt. Michael Williams Jr. were celebrated for their dedication and service, with Williams receiving a Gold Medal of Valor Award and Johnson receiving a Meritorious Service Valor Award.

Williams, a 13-year-veteran and a karate instructor with the East Orange Safe Haven Police Athletic League, was awarded for his valor during a routine stop.

On the morning of Thursday, Nov. 5, Williams was patrolling the area of North Oraton Parkway and New Street when he attempted to stop a man riding on a bicycle for a quality-of-life violation. The man turned on Williams and shot him in his torso.

Though Williams was injured by the impact of the gunfire, police officials credited a bulletproof vest for possibly saving his life.

Johnson, a 15-year-veteran, was on routine patrol on Saturday, March 14, in the area of North Arlington Avenue and William Street, when he observed two men engaged in fight.

As Johnson got closer, he observed one of the men fall to the ground while the other man stood above him pointing what Johnson believed to be a gun.

When Johnson pulled over and yelled for the man to stop, the suspect started to run, tossing his weapon in a nearby driveway.

Johnson eventually caught and apprehended the suspect, who police later learned was the brother of the other man involved in the incident. Johnson was acknowledged for his swift action and courage in diverting what could have been a terrible tragedy.

“It is an honor to have police officers like Sgt. Williams and Detective Johnson on our side, risking their lives every day to protect the citizens of East Orange,” said Mayor Lester E. Taylor III. “It is because of their commitment that our city is safer than it has been in over 50 years.”

It has been a banner year of recognition for the East Orange Police Department. On Thursday, Dec. 3, East Orange Police Chief William C. Robinson also will be honored by the Association of Police Chiefs of Essex County with the “Municipal Law Enforcement Executive of the Year” Award.

“Chief Robinson is a visionary leader whose ongoing efforts to combat crime have once again restored faith and pride in our once troubled community,” said Taylor. “It is wonderful to see him recognized among his peers for doing such an outstanding job.”

After a three-year hiatus, the city of East Orange had the first joint East Orange Police and Fire Promotion and Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Among the most notable achievements was the promotion of Tasha Hayes-Smith to captain, making her the first female captain in East Orange history.

Hayes-Smith has served as a member of the East Orange Fire Department since August of 1993 and is the wife of Capt. Donnell Smith.

She is one of only three women to ever serve for the Fire Department.