Trooper Spencer Morris, 34, of Crittenden County, was awarded the Arkansas State Police Trooper of the Year Award for 2021 today during the department’s annual honors and awards ceremony.
Assigned to the state police Highway Patrol Division, Troop D, headquartered at Forrest City, Spencer, with four years of service to the department, was recognized for his courageous efforts after being wounded by gunfire while attempting to apprehend a South Carolina fugitive wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Additionally, during today’s ceremony, Trooper Morris was awarded the Arkansas State Police Medal of Valor, making him eligible under department policies and procedures to be considered among candidates for Trooper of the Year candidate. The Medal of Valor is earned for extraordinary acts of valor and gallantry.
On December 16, 2021, while working his assigned interstate patrol duties, Morris answered a radio call from the United States Marshals Service requesting assistance in stopping the South Carolina fugitive who had been observed traveling through West Memphis along Interstate 55 headed toward Memphis. Trooper Morris was the closest law enforcement officer in the area who would have been able to intercept the vehicle.
About 2:30 PM, Trooper Morris observed the suspect’s vehicle and began to position his patrol car for the traffic stop. As he closed in on the car, multiple gun shots from the suspect vehicle were directed at Trooper Morris with one round striking him in the upper chest. Trooper Morris’ body armor slowed the round, causing a minor wound.
Despite the injury and the imminent deadly threat to himself and other motorists traveling into Memphis, Trooper Morris began to return gunfire directed at the fleeing suspect.
As the pursuit approached the I-55 McLemore interchange, the suspect vehicle slowed and came to a stop, the wounded trooper radioed his location and requested assistance. Trooper Morris moved his patrol car to the roadside and at a safe distance exited his vehicle to take-up a defensive position.
Within minutes, local police officers joined Trooper Morris, along with paramedics who extracted the wounded trooper from the scene, moving him to a nearby hospital where doctors determined the wound was non-life threatening.
With traffic diverted from the interstate interchange, a SWAT team moved toward the suspect vehicle to find the wanted fugitive and another occupant still in the car and deceased.
Later, the same day, Morris was released from hospital care and taken to his home where family members surrounded the trooper; all thankful to be reunited.
Earlier this year Trooper Morris was named National Trooper of the Year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, State and Provincial Division. Last month, similar national recognition was awarded to Morris by the American Association of State Troopers.
Trooper Morris was among a field of four candidates considered for the Arkansas State Trooper of the Year honor. The other nominees were:
- Criminal Investigation Division, Company B, Special Agent Billy McCradic for his role in April 2021 assisting Stuttgart police officers locate a missing Stuttgart woman.
- Criminal Investigation Division, Company B, Special Agent Larry McMahen for his investigation of a July 2020 Bradley County homicide which concluded with the arrest of a Drew County man as a suspect one year to the day of the murder occurrence.
- Highway Patrol Division, Troop L, Trooper Zenda Staab for her selfless act of courage during the course of a September 2021 pursuit and apprehension of a suspected car thief. *(See additional information under Medal of Valor recipient).
Alisa Blackerby, 50, of Saline County, was awarded the Arkansas State Police Civilian Employee of the Year. Blackerby is a 20 year veteran of the department and serves as the state’s driver license testing coordinator under the command of the department’s Highway Patrol Division.
Blackerby is credited with envisioning and implementing improvements to streamline the driver license testing procedures, among them, the pre-scheduling of tests and an online video to assist parents in the pre-requisites necessary for teenagers to prepare for the testing process.
The Driver License Testing Section employs 39 testing examiners across the state. It’s Blackerby’s responsibility to coordinate the examiners duties and training. Annually, the state police administers approximately 140,000 written tests and 54,000 skills tests annually *(combined commercial and non-commercial testing).
Twenty-six other Arkansas State Troopers and civilian staff members were also recognized during the ceremony and were presented the following awards.
Medal of Valor
The Medal of Valor is the highest award presented to a commissioned or civilian employee of the Arkansas State Police. The Medal of Valor is earned for extraordinary acts of valor and gallantry that clearly set the individual apart from other employees.
- Trooper Brady Nuckels, Highway Patrol Division, Troop J, was recognized for his brave actions on January 19, 2021 in Perry County when he responded to a local residence where a barricaded suspect had fired a rifle at approaching law enforcement officers. Upon his arrival, Trooper Nuckels began to assess the situation, directing other arriving law enforcement officers to secure a perimeter and moving his patrol vehicle into a position providing additional cover for sheriff’s deputies who had already been fired-on by the suspect. Approximately one hour after his arrival, Trooper Nuckels witnessed the suspect exit the front of the residence holding a rifle and ordered him to drop the gun. As the suspect complied with Trooper Nuckels order, deputies left their cover and began to approach the house. The suspect then picked-up the rifle and shouldered the gun, pointing it toward the approaching law enforcement officers. Trooper Nuckels fired his rifle at the suspect and rushed toward the gunman, continuing to fire, incapacitating him and preventing harm to the approaching sheriff’s deputies.
- Trooper Spencer Morris *(see previous narrative, Trooper of the Year).
- Trooper Zenda Staab, Highway Patrol Division, Troop L, was recognized for her selfless act of courage on September 21, 2021 in the apprehension of a fleeing suspect who had stolen a vehicle in Georgia earlier the same day. While on patrol assignment along Interstate 49 in Benton County, Trooper Staab initiated a traffic stop involving a speeder who she would later learn was the driver of the stolen car. Initially the speeder slowed and stopped, but while Trooper Staab approached the vehicle on-foot, the suspect driver re-engaged the car, fleeing the traffic stop. With Trooper Staab in pursuit, the chase continued through the Bentonville area, then turned north into oncoming traffic along U.S. Highway 71 near Bella Vista. As the pursuit continued, the recklessness of the fleeing driver heightened. Trooper Staab’s concern for the safety of other motorists led to her decision to pass the suspect vehicle then initiate a U-turn, positioning her patrol car in a direct path of the fleeing suspect. With little regard for her own safety, Trooper Staab, struck the front of the suspect vehicle forcing it off the highway. Still undeterred and attempting to flee, the driver abandoned the vehicle with Trooper Staab in foot pursuit, capturing the suspect moments later.
The Trooper’s Cross is awarded to a person employed as a law enforcement officer for the Division of Arkansas State Police who demonstrates courage at a level not justifying the Medal of Valor but that sets the individual apart from other employees.
- Trooper Tyler Langley, Highway Patrol Division, Troop A was awarded the Trooper’s Cross for his courageous effort to stop the driver of a speeding stolen car along Interstate 40 in Faulkner County. The suspect driver refused to stop after Trooper Langley activated his patrol car’s emergency lights and siren. Exiting the interstate highway and headed into Conway, the driver steered the westbound vehicle into the eastbound lane of traffic, endangering the lives of other motorists. As the pursuit drew closer to a university campus, the driver of the car began firing a rifle at Trooper Langley. With relentless bravery under continued gunfire, Trooper Langley returned fire from his moving patrol car and continued to pursue the vehicle which attempted an abrupt turn onto another street, the driver losing control and crashing in a residential yard. The driver abandoned the car and fled on foot, still firing the rifle at Trooper Langley who had left his patrol car following the suspect. A short distance later, Trooper Langley engaged the suspect in a struggle, apprehending him, without either being injured.
The Gold Shield is an award designed to honor Commissioned Officers who, under honorable conditions, suffers permanent disfigurement, permanent impairment of health, or extremely serious physical injury in the line of duty.
- Sergeant Nicholas Brown, Highway Patrol Division, Troop A, while in foot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, sustained life threatening injuries in Little Rock on the evening of January 16, 2021. The suspect had abandoned a vehicle and attempted to scale a wrought-iron fence and became entangled. While Sergeant Brown was taking custody of the suspect, the trooper climbed to the top of the fence, but quickly lost his footing and was impaled by a sharp decorative spike. The wound penetrated his groin, causing a rapid and significant loss of blood. He was later freed with the assistance of other troopers and local law enforcement officers who transported him to a hospital where he underwent surgery. Days later, Sergeant Brown was released from medical care and was eventually cleared by physicians to return to his duties as an Arkansas State Trooper.
The Lifesaving Award is presented to department employees who, through direct personal intervention, including the application of CPR, the Heimlich maneuver or any other lifesaving measures performed on a victim, prevents immediate death.
- Troopers Brandon Love, Dakota Davis, Jeb Little and Korbyn Freeman, all assigned to Highway Patrol Division, Troop A were each presented the department’s Lifesaving Award for their efforts in rendering emergency medical aid to Sergeant Nicholas Brown who sustained a life threatening wound while attempting to apprehend a fleeing suspect *(see previous narrative, Gold Shield Award).
- Trooper Zenda Stabb was presented a state police Life Saving Award for her actions during the early morning hours of Christmas Day (2021) when she was directed to an unconscious man lying on the ground behind a Rogers restaurant. Unable to detect a pulse or breathing by the victim, Trooper Staab began chest compressions on the Missouri man, simultaneously directing a by-stander to the trooper’s state police patrol car where an automated external defibrillator (AED) was stored. While continuing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Trooper Staab asked other bystanders to call an ambulance and remove the victim’s young child from the scene. Upon the return of a woman with the AED, Trooper Staab set the device ready to deliver a charge to the victim. Once paramedics arrived Trooper Staab assisted them and followed-up at a nearby hospital to learn her life saving measures had succeeded in ensuring the victim would recover.
- Troopers (Lt.) Philip Hydron, (Sgt.) Levi Flemming, Garrett Byrd, Heath Gurley and Tyler Nelson, all assigned to Highway Patrol Division, Troop D, were each awarded a state police Life Saving Award for their combined effort during the pre-dawn hours of March 15, 2021 in preventing a Missouri fugitive from harming himself and others. The incident began with a pursuit by state troopers as the suspect drove his truck into on-coming traffic along Interstate 40. Troopers were able to force the vehicle off the highway at which time the driver placed a knife to his throat. The troopers were able to establish cell phone communication with the suspect and began conversations that might de-escalate the threat and lead to the man’s surrender to state police. After more than an hour of negotiations, troopers fired less than lethal rounds of gas and projectiles into the truck as the suspect began to stab himself with the knife. Following a brief struggle with the suspect, troopers were able to subdue the suspect, eventually having him transported to a nearby hospital where he was treated for the stab wounds and later released to Missouri authorities.
- Troopers (Sgt.) Greg Smith and (Cpl.) Michael Bowman, both assigned to the Highway Patrol Division, Troop H were awarded Life Saving Awards for their valiant efforts on April 13, 2021 that ultimately prevented a man standing at the edge of the Interstate 540 bridge across the Arkansas River from taking his own life.
- Sergeant Brenda Gibbons, Highway Patrol Division, Troop J, was presented a Life Saving Award for her intervention on June 30, 2021 where she found bystanders attempting to help a man lying alongside an exit ramp on Interstate 40. Sergeant Gibbons assessed the man’s medical condition and began administering Naloxone carried by all Arkansas State Troopers. As paramedics arrived at the scene, the victim’s medical condition had begun to improve and was transported to a Russellville hospital where he was later released in good condition.
An Official Commendation may be presented to a department employee for exemplary service when the employee, through diligence and perseverance, performs beyond the call of duty. The Official Commendation Award should not be limited to the protection of life and property or the apprehension of criminals, but may include performing assigned duties over a period of time or performing specific tasks in an exemplary manner.
- Trooper Ronnie Boyd, Highway Patrol Division, Troop L, for his role on January 31, 2021 in assisting state police CID special agents and Boone County sheriff’s deputies in the apprehension of a murder suspect.
- Special Agent Justin Nowlin, Criminal Investigation Division, Company E, for his investigative work assisting the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department in identifying and locating suspects in the disappearance of a local man later found to be murdered.
- Corporal Jerry Oglesby, Highway Patrol Division, Troop A for his selfless act of courage in April 2021 by driving his patrol car into the path of a vehicle traveling the wrong way along Interstate 430 and preventing injury to other motorists.
- Corporal Mark Blackerby, Highway Patrol Division, Troop A, for his response in February 2021 to the scene where a Lonoke police officer had been shot by a North Carolina gunman who had earlier abducted a 14 year-old girl. Corporal Blackerby is credited with pursuing the gunman and safely recovering the teenager.
- Trooper Charles Ross Allen, Highway Patrol Division, Troop F, was recognized for his intervention in a pursuit on April 20, 2021 which ended with Trooper Allen successfully apprehending a Union County kidnapping and murder suspect who had fled from Ashley County authorities.
- Special Agent Jackie Stinnett, Criminal Investigation Division, Company E, was recognized for his three-month long undercover investigation that began in January 2021 and ended with the arrest of a Baxter County man who was propositioning teenage boys for sex through online conversations.
- Corporal Michael Reed, Highway Patrol Division, Troop K, was recognized for going above and beyond duties during the course of an October 2021 motor vehicle crash. Corporal Reed’s extended investigation ultimately led to the identification and arrest of a suspect operating a multi-state theft and forgery operation. Additionally, the investigation resulted in the recovery of equipment and vehicles valued at approximately $350,000.
- Trooper First Class Sor Lee, Highway Patrol Division, Troop L, was recognized for his role on October 17, 2021 in apprehending an armed suspect involved in multiple drive-by shootings in Bentonville and Rogers. TFC Lee recognized a vehicle being driven by the suspect and pursued the vehicle after the driver refused to comply with a traffic stop. Ultimately TFC Lee executed a precision intervention technique in getting the vehicle stopped, taking the suspect into custody, recovering two rifles used in the shootings and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition for the guns.
- Investigator Deleah Racancoj, Crimes Against Children Division, Area 8, for her prolonged work beginning in January 2020 attempting to locate two teenage females who were reported victims of sex trafficking. Months later, Investigator Racancoj’s persistence in the investigation led her to a Pulaski County residence where state troopers and Little Rock police officers were able to assist her in extracting the teenagers and placing them in a safe environment.
- Debra Meachum, Highway Patrol Division, Troop D, administrative assistant was presented an Arkansas State Police Official Commendation and nominated for Civilian Employee of the Year for her role in assisting Troop D telecommunications operators and others as a suspect in a Southaven police officer shooting began traveling toward Arkansas. It was Meachum who received a telephone report from a witness that led Arkansas State Troopers to begin a manhunt for the suspect in St. Francis County and the eventual apprehension of the gunman. Meachum was credited by her supervisors as willing to step-out the comfort of her regular duties and assist others within Troop D headquarters at Forrest City.
Distinguished Service Awards
The Distinguished Service Award honors citizens or law enforcement officers from other agencies who assist the Arkansas State Police in the apprehension of a criminal or who lends assistance in a situation where a citizen or officer is clearly in jeopardy or physical harm.
- Officers Joshua Myers, Terrance Ellington and Bailee Toro of the Little Rock Police Department were each presented the Arkansas State Police Distinguished Service Award for their role in rendering emergency medical aid to Sergeant Nicholas Brown who sustained a life threatening wound while attempting to apprehend a fleeing suspect and taking custody of the suspect *(see previous narrative, Gold Shield Award).
- Stewart Carlton, Arkansas State Parks Superintendent, was presented a Distinguished Service Award for alerting state troopers to a fiery vehicle collision along U.S. Highway 165 in Pulaski County. Superintendent Carlton is credited with extricating the driver of the vehicle consumed in fire and providing medical attention to a second victim before state troopers arrived at the crash scene.