Oklahoma Governor: Awards for Heroism to Police Officers, NG Soldier

Governor Stitt to Present State Level Awards for Heroism to Police Officers, National Guard Soldier

Oklahoma City, OK (STL.News) Governor Kevin Stitt announced today that he will present three police officers with the Oklahoma Purple Heart and the Oklahoma Medal of Valor to an Oklahoma Army National Guardsman in a ceremony scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, in the Blue Room at the Oklahoma State Capitol.  These will be the first state level awards for heroism given through the Oklahoma State Awards Program.

The three police officers to be honored are Oklahoma City Police Officer Zachary Barby, Tulsa Police Officer Aurash Zarkeshan and Tulsa Police Sergeant Craig Johnson.  All three officers earned the Oklahoma Purple Heart for their bravery and personal sacrifice in the line of duty. Johnson’s award will be presented posthumously to his family.

The Oklahoma Purple Heart award is given annually by the Governor on behalf of the State of Oklahoma.  The award is presented exclusively to first responders, living or deceased, who are seriously injured in the course of their assigned duties.

Officer Zachary Barby is receiving the award for his actions on the morning of Nov. 11, 2020, when several Oklahoma City Police officers attempted to apprehend an individual suspected of two murders and a kidnapping.  The suspect initiated a brief police pursuit, which ended near downtown Oklahoma City.  Before he could be apprehended, the suspect began shooting at multiple police officers including Officer Barby, who was struck once in his torso.  Fortunately, the bullet was stopped by his ballistic vest. By the end of the gun battle, the suspect had been shot and killed.  Officer Barby was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for severe bruising to his upper right abdomen and released.

Officer Aurash Zarkeshan and Sgt. Craig Johnson are being recognized for their bravery during a traffic stop in Tulsa on June 29, 2020.  At 3:06 a.m., Officer Zarkeshan stopped a vehicle and called for backup.  A few minutes later, at 3:13 a.m., Sgt. Craig Johnson arrived on the scene and the officers instructed the driver to exit his vehicle, but he refused.

The officers attempted to remove the driver using less than lethal means with no success.  They decided their only remaining option was to physically remove the driver from his vehicle.  After a few moments of struggling with the officers, the driver produced a handgun and shot both officers at close range. Sgt. Johnson fell to the ground and the driver shot Zarkeshan a second time, hitting him in the head and rendering him unconscious.

The driver left the scene, but Zarkeshan was able to provide information to responding officers that led to the quick apprehension of the suspect.

Sadly, Johnson died from his injuries the next day.

Zarkeshan returned to the Tulsa Police Department on modified assignment in early November 2020, after completing nearly five months of physical therapy and taking some time to heal.

Oklahoma Army National Guard Sgt. Pedro Gonzales, III, will receive the Oklahoma Medal of Valor for his actions that saved the life of his elderly neighbor.

The Oklahoma Medal of Valor is an awarded annually by the Governor on behalf of the State of Oklahoma to any person, living or deceased, in recognition of extraordinary acts of valor by public safety members and other citizens whose actions display great moral strength and personal courage in the face of fear, danger or difficulty while actively engaged in public service activities.

On Sept. 19, 2020, Sgt. Pedro Gonzales, III, a member of the Oklahoma National Guard, stepped between his elderly female neighbor and a man violently attacking her with a knife.  Gonzales was able to hold off the attacker long enough for his girlfriend and his neighbor to escape and call 911.  The altercation resulted in Gonzales receiving multiple stab wounds to the face and neck.  Gonzales has since made a full recovery, though the road to recovery was not an easy one.

Sgt. Gonzales’ willingness to put himself in harm’s way to save the life of his friend and neighbor reflects the finest qualities of our military. He has since returned to duty and continues to serve the people of Oklahoma as a soldier in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.

The award recipients were determined by the Oklahoma State Award Program Committee, which was established by the Legislature.  The nine-member committee is chaired by Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell and includes The Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard, state public safety officials and members of the Oklahoma law enforcement community.