The man was distraught, in tears and standing on the wrong side of the long bridge above the Mississippi River.
Five St. Paul police officers spent two hours trying to calm the suicidal man’s nerves on a cold December day in 2014. Eventually, he said a prayer, turned to the officers, thanked them, said goodbye and leapt off the High Bridge — but just as instantaneously, the officers’ arms shot out and grabbed onto whatever they could reach.
“To be in that position with these men here, it was automatic,” said Sgt. Don Benner. “You just do what you have to do.”
Wednesday morning, Benner, the four officers with him that day and six other officers were given St. Paul police’s Life Saving Award for heroic deeds performed within the last two years.
Benner and officers Michael DeTomaso, Daniel Gleason, Timothy Hale and Stephen Lentsch were awarded for the bridge rescue. They held the man against the High Bridge’s railing until St. Paul firefighters could help pull him over.
“Officers, your hold was the only thing keeping the male from falling,” said Police Chief Thomas Smith, who handed out each award. “The collective determination … is more than admirable.”
The man struggled, tried to pry the officers’ hands off of his body and tried to climb out of his own clothes.
“He put up a pretty good fight,” Gleason said. “He was using his feet to kick off the bridge.”
Also recognized: Sgt. James LaBarre was awarded for performing chest compressions on an unconscious woman who had apparently overdosed.
Officers Charles Ankney and Jeffrey Boyle climbed through a window into a home engulfed in flames to save a woman and her infant.
Officer Matthew Brodin and his field training officer, who will be recognized at a future date, were responding to an assault when they found a victim with a bleeding neck wound. Brodin applied pressure to the wound until medics arrived.
Officers Nicole Obrestad, Michael DeTomaso and Edward Dion performed CPR on a man found unconscious outside the Dorothy Day Center.
Smith said that recounting all of the officers’ actions was dramatic and touching, but that “if you saw what really happened, it’d hit you in the heart even more.”