Three California Highway Patrol officers from the Riverside area Monday were awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for coming to a fallen officer’s aid during a gunfight on a freeway overpass.

Retired Officer Robert Paul, along with Officers Vince Mendoza and Ryan Smith, received the nation’s highest award to law enforcement officials for acts of bravery during a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington.

President Joe Biden spoke during the event, which recognized law enforcement personnel from across the nation, telling them, “You possess selflessness that’s really hard to explain. A rare commitment to your neighbors and your fellow Americans. An unusual bravery that inspires everyone.”

CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray released a statement soon afterward acknowledging the three officers for actions that were “noble, courageous and crucial in getting another officer to safety.”

“I am incredibly proud of these officers for their teamwork and the numerous acts of bravery which took place during this horrific incident,” Ray said.

“While we tragically lost one of our own that day, countless other lives were saved because of their heroism.”

On the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2019, Paul was summoned to back up 34-year-old motorcycle patrol Officer Andre Moye after he conducted a traffic stop involving 49-year-old Aaron Luther of Beaumont at the Box Springs Boulevard overpass at Interstate 215.

Luther was driving the vehicle without appropriate documentation, and Moye arranged to have it towed from the location for impoundment as Paul observed, according to the CHP.

Before the tow truck arrived Luther pulled a semiautomatic rifle from the trunk and opened fire, fatally shooting Moye on the spot and seriously wounding Paul in the legs before he took cover and returned fire.

Mendoza and Smith arrived within a few minutes and engaged Luther in a gunfight, with Smith pulling Paul to safety while Mendoza fired at the shooter, drawing him away from the other two, the CHP said.

Multiple law enforcement officers descended on the location, and following a gun battle that lasted 12 minutes, a Riverside Police Department officer shot and killed Luther, whose father suggested that his son wanted to commit “suicide by cop” because of a failed marriage and other problems pushing him into a morbid depression.

Moye was the second CHP officer from the Riverside office killed that year, preceded by 53-year-old motor patrolman Sgt. Steve Lawrence Licon, who was run over and killed on April 6, 2019, by a vehicle driven by Michael Callahan, who was speeding around traffic on the shoulder of Interstate 15 in Lake Elsinore while driving under the influence.

Callahan was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison for that second-degree murder.

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