Officer Tied To President Obama T-Shirt Flap Hailed As Hero

12:58 PM, May 2, 2013   |    comments
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(ARIZONA REPUBLIC) -- A Peoria officer once marginalized in his department and investigated by the Secret Service over a questionable picture of the president he posted on Facebook was hailed as a hero Wednesday for helping save the life of a sheriff's deputy.

Pat Shearer and fellow Officer Ryan Bakke on Jan. 8 rushed to a reported shooting at a gas station near Deer Valley Road and 83rd Avenue in Peoria, where they found Maricopa County sheriff's Deputy Ruben Garcia on the ground and covered in blood. Authorities have said Garcia was shot by someone he pulled over.

Bakke, who arrived first on scene, began administering first aid to Garcia, who had been shot twice in the face and once in the shoulder.

"I just wanted to make him more comfortable - make him aware that he just wasn't alone," Bakke said.

Shearer arrived shortly thereafter and took over caring for Garcia and helping him breathe while Bakke secured the area.

"I didn't want him to feel alone, and I remember holding his hand," Shearer said.

Peoria police officials said the medical attention Shearer and Bakke gave Garcia saved his life.

Garcia hailed Shearer and Bakke as "my heroes" during a news conference at Peoria Police Department headquarters.

Police Chief Roy Minter called Bakke's and Shearer's actions "brave and heroic."

"Because of what you did on that night, this lady is here holding the arm of her husband," he said, gesturing to Garcia and his wife, Georgina.

The praise is a dramatic turn for Shearer, who in January 2012 got into trouble when he posted on Facebook a picture of a bullet-riddled Barack Obama shirt. The picture was posted days before the president was scheduled to visit the Valley, with the caption "Another trip to the ranch." Several teenagers from schools in the Peoria Unified School District were standing in the picture, some with rifles.

The picture grabbed national headlines, sparked a Secret Service inquiry, which was later dropped, and drew criticism from the city and the public. Shearer was eventually demoted from sergeant to officer.

Shearer, who spoke to The Republic after the news conference, reflected on the past year and a half of his life.

When asked if he has proved his detractors wrong by his heroic actions, Shearer did not answer directly but said, "The people who know me, know me, and know who I am and what I'm about."

"I'm a better person for everything that's happened to me in the last year," he added. "I feel good about everything. We all make mistakes."

Shearer called Garcia an "inspiration," saying Garcia has spent 29 years risking life and limb to protect his community, "and that night, he stopped a vehicle with the intent of helping somebody and ended up being the one in need."

"I know he's going to say or feel like he's not a real hero, but he is," Shearer said. "I'm proud of him, and I'm proud that he's standing here today."

The incident started as a domestic-violence call in an unincorporated area of the county near Peoria. A woman reported to authorities that her ex-boyfriend was threatening to hurt himself or others.

As Garcia was leaving the woman's home, he spotted her ex-boyfriend's Ford pickup.

Garcia stopped the truck near 83rd Avenue and Deer Valley Road, in part to check on the driver's well-being, given reports that the man could be suicidal. Police later identified the driver as 54-year-old Donald Miller Sr.

Witnesses later said they heard gunshots and saw Garcia fall to the ground as Miller fled.

Peoria police later spotted Miller's truck and chased him into the desert, where officers and Miller exchanged gunfire. When Miller stopped responding, SWAT officers approached and found him dead.

Garcia said he does not remember much of what happened the night he was shot. He said he's still recovering, but he did suffer some brain damage in the shooting and is awaiting additional surgery to repair the damage done to his face where the bullet entered his right cheek.

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