ORLANDO, Fla. – A Florida police lieutenant fatally shot in January while trying to arrest a man suspected of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend was recognized with her department’s highest honor.
Lt. Debra Clayton posthumously received the Purple Heart Award and Award of Valor from the Orlando Police Department, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
Her fellow officers – Master Patrol Officer Branden Thornton, Officer Jeremy Sisk and Cpl. Robert Schellhorn – were honored with the Award of Merit for their response to the shooting that killed Clayton on Jan. 9.
Although he’s haunted by what he saw that morning, Thornton said the outpouring of support from the community touches him. Strangers often walk up to him and offer their condolences.
“It’s nice to see the community doesn’t forget Lt. Clayton,” Thornton said.
Thornton was patrolling early Jan. 9 when he heard the call come over his radio: One of his fellow officers had been shot in a Walmart parking lot.
He raced to the scene in time to find his boss, Lt. Debra Clayton, gravely injured. He was with her during the last few moments of her life.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about it,” Thornton said. “If I had gotten there 10 or 11 seconds sooner ….”
Clayton, 42, was shot and killed while trying to apprehend Markeith Loyd. He was wanted in the murder of 24-year-old Sade Dixon last December. Loyd was captured after a massive manhunt. Several of his allies were arrested as well.
Although it’s been nearly a year since Clayton’s death, the department is focused on keeping the memory of the beloved officer alive.
“It’s important for us to honor her memory,” Police Chief John Mina told the Sentinel.
The case prompted a legal skirmish over the death penalty between the State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott said he removed Ayala from the prosecution because she refused to seek the death penalty in any case prosecuted by her office.
Clayton was not the only law enforcement officer who died that day. During the search for Loyd, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis was killed in a motorcycle crash when a minivan turned in front of his motor unit.
Deputy Lewis was a former University of Central Florida Football player from 2000 to 2003. He played as an offensive lineman for the Knights.
Lewis suffered a catastrophic knee injury that almost ended his football career in 2002, however, he attacked his rehabilitation with a remarkable vengeance and was able to play for the majority of the 2003 season.
Lewis obtained his bachelor’s degree from UCF in Criminal Justice in 2004 and was hired by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department the following year.
Deputy Lewis served the agency for eleven years prior to his untimely death.