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Police officers hit by SUV at protest praised by colleagues for their decades of service

Police officers hit by SUV at protest praised by colleagues for their decades of service

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Trooper Ronald Ensminger

Trooper Ronald Ensminger Jr. was released from ECMC. (New York State Police photo)

The three law enforcement officers struck by an SUV while positioned along a police line Monday night near a Bailey Avenue police station are all veterans of police work.

State Police Trooper Ronald Ensminger Jr., the most seriously injured, has served for 19 years. Fellow police officers consider him a hero for his actions in helping arrest a man who had held a knife to the neck of the Wyoming County sheriff.

Buffalo Police Officer Joseph W. Walters, who suffered a broken leg, has served three decades on the city force. He's regarded as a mentor willing to provide insight to younger officers.

And Trooper Randall Shenefiel, who sustained a laceration to his arm, is a 17-year member of the State Police. He maintained his spot on the police line even after he was injured.

Ensminger underwent surgery Tuesday and was listed in stable condition at Erie County Medical Center. The SUV ran over him, shattering his pelvis and breaking one of his legs.

Walters and Shenefiel were treated for their injuries and later released.

Monday night’s protest near the Buffalo Police Department’s Northeast District station was one of many across the country since the police custody death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis. A video of a white police officer pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes has unleashed outrage and calls for changes in policing.

Monday night’s incident involving a 2002 Ford Explorer slamming into the line of police has also served as a reminder of the dangers law enforcement officers face.

Ensminger came face to face with those dangers on a country road in Attica in December 2018. The trooper was off duty when he stopped his car and helped Wyoming County Sheriff Gregory J. Rudolph handcuff a man who had put a knife to the sheriff’s neck.

Just before the trooper happened on the scene, a Buffalo News delivery manager had stopped when he spotted the sheriff and a man on the roadside struggling. Jack Harzynski, who was out delivering papers, pulled the attacker off the sheriff, who then attempted to handcuff the individual.

At that point, Ensminger arrived and jumped into action. He and the sheriff subdued the man, who was charged with attempted murder.

Rudolph said he was shocked when he learned that Ensminger had been injured Monday night.

“It’s never good to hear about anybody involved in an incident, but when you hear about somebody you know, it is especially difficult,” Rudolph said. “From my interaction with Trooper Ensminger, there is no finer man or police officer. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.”

Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood said it is difficult to fathom why someone would drive a vehicle into police and that he can only hope all of the injured officers quickly recover. Lockwood expressed gratitude for the help the State Police provided Monday.

Of Walters, Lockwood said, “Joe was just doing his job and it is unfortunate he was part of that scene.”

Walters, 56, serves in the department’s radar unit, which is part of the traffic division. He is also a member of the emergency response team.

“We were lucky. It could have been really tragic,” said John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, the union representing city officers.

Evans described Walters as “a rock solid guy.”

“He is a 30-year veteran of the department and at this stage of the game, he doesn’t have to be out there," Evans said. "He chooses to still hit the bricks every day. That is admirable.”

Shenefiel works as a K-9 handler in Niagara County.

“He is the type of guy who comes to work and puts in 110%. The K-9 detail is an exceptionally hard detail to get on,” a State Police spokesman said.

But what has really impressed Shenefiel's colleagues is that after the SUV hit him, he refused to leave the police line.

"He wrapped a bandage around his lacerated arm and stayed on the line," the spokesman said.

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