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Florida's Newest Top Cop
Deputy Mike Braswell Receives National Honor at White House
WINTER HAVEN | Squint and you might be able to see Polk County Deputy Mike Braswell in a recent C-SPAN video, standing somewhere behind President Barack Obama.
Last week, Braswell, 33, found himself in the White House rose garden and face to face with Obama. He left Washington, D.C., with a national law enforcement award, the heavy, granite-base statuette tucked away in his luggage.
Almost a year has passed since Braswell fired the shot that killed Matthew Tutt, 21, which authorities said saved his life and that of his partner, Paul Fairbanks III.
Tutt suddenly opened fire on them the morning of June 25 after they stopped him in Lakeland while he rode his bicycle. The deputies and Tutt lay wounded after an initial crossfire, and Braswell has said Tutt was still reaching for his gun. That's when he fired.
The moment has made the dangers of law enforcement work more visceral for the 11-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office. Since then, he has developed a more cautious, methodical approach to his work.
"When you see it in front of you, that someone is actually trying to kill you, it changes your perspective," he said. "But it doesn't change what you want to do. I still love that part of the job."
The National Association of Police Organizations selected him from hundreds of nominees as Florida's Top Cop and one of 30 nationwide. The organization flew Braswell to Washington, D.C., last week, where he and the 29 others were honored with a ceremony and trip to the White House.
"The whole thing was phenomenal," Braswell said. "It's something that many people don't get to do, to meet with an actual, sitting president."
They met Obama in the Roosevelt Room, he said, just across from the Oval Office. He greeted the officers one by one and expressed how much he enjoyed meeting the honorees each year.
In an address televised on C-SPAN, Obama called the honor the "Heisman Trophy presentation for law enforcement."
"A moment came when their actions earned recognition. It wasn't talk, it was what they did," said the president, officers standing behind him. "They didn't know it that morning as they pinned on a badge, strapped on a vest or holstered a weapon, but that day something would happen that would make them worthy of the honor."
Nominations come from all over the country. A committee picks one for each state, and then selects the top cases for the nation. This year, 30 officers from 10 cases were honored.
The award ceremony is emotional for the winning officers, their families and agency members who come for support.
"Mike needed his family to get through (the shooting), and the support of his agency," said Elizabeth Loranger, a spokeswoman for the organization. "It's an award to all of them to honor his accomplishment."
Braswell stood among officers who survived shootings, solved a cold case murder and the federal agents who investigated a terrorist plot to bomb Times Square.
"To sit in the presence of those kinds of officers, it just puts you in a state of awe," Braswell said. "Everyone was so humble about it. We're just doing our job."
This is the second time the Polk County Sheriff's Office has had a deputy named Top Cop. In 2007, Sgt. Andrew Williams and deputies Billy Osborne, Michael Parker and David Clements were honored for saving a man during an alligator attack.
Sheriff Grady Judd, who attended the Washington, D.C., ceremony, said Braswell will receive a Purple Heart from the Sheriff's Office and a Medal of Honor, its highest award.
"It's very easy to talk about what he would do during a gunfight, but he did exactly as he was trained to do during a gunfight," Judd said. "That's difficult because you have to fight through the fear of dying in order to win a gunfight, and he did. And he saved his partner in the process."
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