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Sheriff's Deputy Earns National Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) Of The Year Award

Posted 7/25/2013 11:12 AM by MDGREGORY
Sheriff's Deputy Earns National Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) Of The Year Award image

Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Thurman recently won the National Tactical Flight Officer Of The Year Award. The award was presented to him by the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) earlier this month at a convention in Orlando, Florida.

The process involved Deputy Thurman being nominated by his supervisor (see attached nomination document), which then goes to ALEA's award committee who selects the winner. There are over 200 airborne law enforcement aviation units in the United States, many of which nominated TFO's for the award.

Here’s a copy of Deputy Thurman’s nomination letter submitted by Sergeant Dave Ellis:

ALEA Tactical Flight Officer of the Year Award Application

On June 19th 2012, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Michael Northway and Matthew Spink conducted a traffic stop on wanted drug suspect Charles Wallace. During that traffic stop, Deputy Northway was shot four times and Deputy Spink was shot once, leaving both deputies critically injured. Wallace then fled the scene, triggering a massive manhunt.

Tactical Flight Officer Jeff Thurman (along with Pilot Jason Snyder and second Tactical Flight Officer Brandon Armstrong) were paged out to provide air support for this search. The flight crew responded to the hangar, and were airborne within approximately 15 minutes of the request.

During this time, Wallace broke into an elderly woman’s house, assaulted her, and stole her vehicle. Wallace then fled the scene in the elderly woman’s vehicle.

TFO Thurman began coordinating perimeter containment, as well as checking on various possible sightings of Wallace. A short time later, Detective Tim Madsen advised that he had located Wallace in the carjacked vehicle, and was in pursuit of it. Detective Madsen then advised that Wallace was shooting at him during the pursuit.

TFO Thurman responded and was almost immediately overhead of the pursuit. TFO Thurman began calling the pursuit for the ground units, which helped to immediately calm the chaotic radio traffic that can be created from officer involved shootings and pursuits. During the pursuit, the suspect began driving on a busy highway during rush hour traffic, going the wrong way on the highway at over 100 miles per hour, and driving in between oncoming cars. TFO Thurman’s actions in the helicopter allowed pursuing ground units to not have to worry about the suspect getting away (which reduced the dangerous speeds being driven), allowed units to not have to drive on the wrong side of the freeway, focus on driving and not talking on the radio, and increasing distance from the suspect who was shooting at them during the pursuit. TFO Thurman was able to warn ground units setting up spike strips about Wallace’s location, and about his shooting at law enforcement during the pursuit.

The pursuit continued on for approximately twenty minutes, with TFO Thurman using excellent camera control to maintain visual surveillance on the suspect as he traveled through wooded areas which could have easily obstructed his view. TFO Thurman also used excellent Crew Resource Management to communicate with Pilot Snyder as to how he needed the helicopter positioned. At the conclusion of the pursuit, Wallace drove over spike strips, crashed into a patrol car, and then shot himself in the head.

News stories and video from this incident can be found here:


In another incident, TFO Thurman (along with Pilot Jason Snyder and second TFO Mike McNab) responded to a double shooting on New Year’s Eve (12/31/12). In this incident, the suspect had shot two males (killing one of them) and fled the scene. TFO Thurman and the flight crew responded immediately, and began setting up a perimeter around the scene while using thermal imaging and a search light to search for the suspect. A short time later, a vehicle crash was broadcast in the general vicinity, but outside of the perimeter. Further information indicated that the driver had fled the scene of the crash. Using good judgment and relying upon their law enforcement experience, the flight crew responded to the area of the crash and began searching there, as they believed it was likely that the crash was related to the double shooting. Working together, the flight crew located a heat source amongst some rocks near the Spokane River. The heat source was motionless, and could have easily been dismissed. Instead, the flight crew requested ground units respond to the area and check the suspicious heat source. TFO Thurman used the search light to illuminate the heat source, and was able to confirm it was a person. TFO Thurman continued to illuminate the person, and safely directed ground units to the area. Ground units were then able to safely call the suspect out to their location, where he was taken into custody. TFO Thurman’s actions allowed for the double shooting suspect to be safely taken into custody, and prevented ground units from having to walk into an unknown location and encounter a hiding shooting suspect.

News accounts and video from this incident can be found here:

In these two incidents (and numerous others), TFO Jeff Thurman masterfully operated advanced law enforcement aviation technology and equipment, while effectively communicating with ground units and directing an aerial law enforcement, all of which directly led these potentially life threatening situations to a safe and successful outcome. TFO Thurman is to be commended for his actions, which portray the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the Spokane Regional Air Support Unit, and all of airborne law enforcement in a positive manner!

Sergeant Dave Ellis
Spokane Regional Air Support Unit
Spokane County Sheriff’s Office
Western Region Deputy Director – Airborne Law Enforcement Association

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