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Niagara County deputy’s action at scene of shooting is a profile in courage

Despite the drumbeat of reports of black men dying at the hands of police, we shouldn’t lose sight of this fact: Most officers go about their jobs, day in and day out, in a lawful, respectful manner.

These officers do not get a lot of media attention. Video recordings of their encounters with citizens do not go viral.

Still, there are times when the routine becomes extraordinarily perilous and officers respond heroically.

That’s what happened to Niagara County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph L. Tortorella when he answered a call that he thought might have been a child playing with a phone and dialing 911. It turned into a fight for his life and for the lives of at least two others, in addition to a threat to a school full of children and adults.

By the end of that very harrowing day, Tortorella had demonstrated the courage necessary to work in law enforcement, whether, local, state or national. These men and women take extraordinary risks every time they go to work, determined to do their very best effort to keep the rest of us safe. All of us.

Tortorella took on that task while on patrol in Wheatfield on April 17. News staff reporter Lou Michel recounted in riveting detail a sudden confrontation between the deputy and an armed young man with bloodied hands. The young man’s parents were in the house where Tortorella had answered a call. They had both been shot in the back of the neck and were bleeding profusely.

The dramatic scene that unfolded next would seem more suitable to a network television police drama as the two men exchanged gunfire. Fortunately, Tortorella lived to tell his story, in part because he was wearing a protective vest that stopped a bullet headed for his chest. The gunman, Duane A. Bores Jr., 25, did not survive. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

But before that tragic ending, the deputy and his colleagues who rushed to the scene put themselves at risk, because that is what they signed up to do. Tortorella, because of his quick thinking, aided by years of experience and on-the-job training, prevented the incident from turning even worse. As he later said, he had to win the battle between himself and Bores – not so much to protect himself, but to protect those in the nearby school, which included his son, daughter and wife.

There have been cases of improper and even criminal activity by law enforcement, and there will be more. These bad apples must be forced out of uniform and hauled before a judge if necessary.

Still, these so-called public servants are the exceptions. We should celebrate the quiet courage of Tortorella and the many officers like him.