Clallam deputy Cortani ‘humbled’ by top law enforcement award

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Cortani could fill a trophy case with the medals, plaques and ribbons he has received from his heroic actions 16 months ago.

But the Forks lawman was “humbled” by the prestigious honor he received on Friday.

Shot twice

Cortani, who was shot twice by suspect Scott Lincoln Davis in January 2009 near Sekiu, earned the state’s highest award a peace officer can be given — the Medal of Honor — at a sun-splashed ceremony in Olympia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and state Attorney General Rob McKenna presented 14 Medals of Honor to officers who displayed exceptionally meritorious conduct or made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

“The governor and the attorney general both gave very heartfelt, inspirational speeches,” Cortani said Saturday. “I got to meet some very brave officers who also received the awards.”

Among those were Britt Sweeney, who was a trainee grazed by a bullet when Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton was killed as he sat in his patrol car Oct. 31.

Also receiving awards were Seattle Police Sgt. Gary Nelson, Seattle Sgt. Robert Vallor, and Seattle Police Detective Rolf Norton, for their part in the arrest of Christopher Monfort for investigation of Brenton’s killing.

Seven officers who were killed last year received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

They were Deputy Stephen Gallagher Jr. of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Timothy Brenton of the Seattle Police Department, Deputy Walter Mundell, Jr. of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, and four Lakewood Police officers: Sgt. Mark Renninger, Officer Tina Griswold, Officer Ronald Owens and Officer Gregory Richards.

“All of the men and women we honor, did their duty,” Gregoire said.

“They signed up, they put on their badge, they answered when people were in need. Their courage was evident every time they put on their uniform.”

More than 290 names of officers killed in the line of duty since 1854 are carved onto the Law Enforcement Memorial at the Capitol Campus, where Gregoire placed a wreath.

‘Just real humbling’

“I was holding it together pretty good until the first family goes up there to receive the award for their father,” Cortani said.

“That was just real humbling. It made me appreciate that I got through what I got through.”

Cortaini, 42, was responding to a trespassing complaint when he encountered Davis, 60, at a vacant waterfront cabin near milepost 7 along state Highway 112.

Davis opened fire and hit Cortani in the arm and hip. Cortani took cover behind a beach log as Davis retrieved a 12-gauge shotgun from his car and approached the wounded lawman.

Cortani fired back, hitting Davis in the stomach and arm.

After he was shot, Davis surrendered at gunpoint until backup arrived about a half-hour later.

Both were treated at Harborview Medical Center. Davis underwent surgery and Cortani returned to work two months later.

Davis awaits a July 19 trial on charges of first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault. He is being held at the Clallam County jail on $500,000 bail.

Cortani is reminded of the ordeal every time he drives by the cabin.

‘Final closure’

“I’d like there to be a final closure to this,” he said.

“I don’t begrudge anybody or any thing for this. When it’s time to go to court we’ll be in court. It will be nice to get it over with.”

Cortani accepted his award with his wife, Linda, and sons Billy, Skyler and Tyler by his side. His other son, Timmy, was unable to make the trip.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict praised Cortani for keeping his wits about him during the shootout. He said Cortani “represents the best” of Clallam County.

“This is by far the most prestigious award that he’s received,” said Benedict, who joined the Cortani family at the ceremony.

“There is no higher award that a peace officer can get.”

Cortani’s honors

Cortani was named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for 2009 by the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs. He received the National Sheriffs’ Association Medal of Valor and Purple Heart awards that same year.

He earned the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Medal of Valor award and was named officer of the month by the television show “Washington’s Most Wanted.”

While he has never sought attention or awards, Cortani said he was grateful to receive the Medal of Honor.

The Cortani family took some time to tour the state capitol. Bill Cortani said he was impressed with all marble and the four-ton dome chandelier from Tiffany’s.

“The capitol was amazing,” he said.

“We had a lot of fun,” Linda Cortani added.

Bill Cortani began his law enforcement career as a reserve officer for the Sequim Police Department in 1988. He worked as a police officer on Bainbridge Island until he was hired by the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office in October 1990.

Former wrestler

As former wrestler, Cortani works with the Forks High School wrestling team and manages the wrestlers’ weight-loss regimens in accordance to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association standards.

He said athletics taught him self discipline and gave him confidence he used in the shootout with Davis.

“His arms are like tree trunks,” Benedict said.

Tyler Cortani is a two-time state qualifier who placed eighth at the 2009 state wrestling tournament.

Cortani’s Medal of Honor award was Clallam County’s third in memory — and the first given to a living officer.

Forest Service Officer Kristine Fairbanks, who was killed in September 2008, and Clallam County Sheriff’s Deputy Wally Davis, who was killed in August 2000, received the same award posthumously.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

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