Lewis Griswold

Tulare sheriff awards Medal of Valor to two veteran officers

Sgt. Victor Bonilla and detective Richard Ramirez wear their medals of valor following an awards ceremony.
Sgt. Victor Bonilla and detective Richard Ramirez wear their medals of valor following an awards ceremony. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

Tulare County sheriff’s detectives Richard Ramirez and Victor Bonilla last week received the department’s Medal of Valor for saving lives when a gang member opened fire inside his home.

They kept their cool as bullets crashed through walls for 27 minutes, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said.

Only six people have been given the Medal of Valor.

Boudreaux said the two risked their lives in a dangerous situation requiring immediate action or the consequences would have been dire – and could have been deadly for them and others.

“Your multiple acts of bravery and self-sacrifice for the good of your teammates was clearly above and beyond the call of duty,” Boudreaux said.

On the evening of Nov. 14, 2014, six members of the gang violence suppression unit paid a visit to a home in Porterville because a Norteño gang member parolee with a history of violence reportedly was stockpiling guns.

Ramirez stayed on the perimeter in case the parolee tried to run for it, while Bonilla and two others went inside to get him from his bedroom.

When they ordered him to exit, an eerie thing happened: “They heard him say a prayer and ask forgiveness for what he was about to do,” Boudreaux said.

They instinctively moved for cover. “Once he started praying and asking for forgiveness, you know something’s wrong,” Bonilla said.

They didn’t know it, but “the parolee had been on a seven-day methamphetamine binge and was in a delusional altered state,” Boudreaux said.

He fired through a window at detectives outside, then through the bedroom door and wall into the hallway. A bullet hit his brother in the face.

Bonilla covered for two other detectives as they got the injured brother out of the house. (He lived.) But the gunfire kept coming through the door, and Bonilla was pinned down.

Ramirez realized Bonilla was still in there, so he went inside to rescue him. He thought Bonilla might have been shot, since he didn’t come out with the others.

He found Bonilla trying to coax the suspect’s mother out of the house. Together, they got her out, and then they moved to a safer location in the home, but the bullets kept flying.

“For 27 minutes, you took direct fire while bullets were striking sporadically overhead the entire time,” Boudreaux said.

As this was happening, they could hear the parolee telling his mother he was going to kill everyone in the house.

The SWAT team and crisis negotiators arrived. Two aunts who also were in the house eventually were removed safely.

Twelve hours later, the parolee surrendered. Tear gas helped him reach that decision.

“Not a single round was fired by any member of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office during this highly stressful incident,” Boudreaux said.

Ramirez and Bonilla are both 17-year veterans who started together in the jail and have worked together on the SWAT team, gang suppression and other assignments.

Bonilla, now a sergeant, grew up in Corcoran and has four children – three boys and a girl. He said what he likes most about Ramirez is his honesty.

“If something goes on, you want Richard there,” Bonilla said.

Ramirez, who grew up in Reedley and has a son, said he knows he can count on Bonilla.

“If something is going to happen, he’s one of the guys you want there by your side,” he said. “He’s going to do what he needs to do to take care of his partners.”

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold