Wounded deputies honored for bravery
Deputy Erik Eissinger embraced his partner Dan Nelson in a bear hug and patted him on the head.
“Thank you, Dan, for saving my life,” Eissinger said Monday at the conclusion of a ceremony honoring the two Douglas County sheriff’s deputies who were wounded Dec. 3 by a suspect at a Harrah’s Tahoe casino lounge.
The emotional moment capped a 30-minute ceremony attended by the deputies’ families, colleagues from the sheriff’s office and the South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado law enforcement agencies and about 150 members of the public.
The deputies were awarded the sheriff’s office Purple Heart and Medal of Valor.
Eissinger and Nelson responded to a report Dec. 3 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Diamond Lounge that Harvey Ex, of Sunset Beach, Calif., was suicidal and armed with a .32-caliber handgun.
According to Sheriff Ron Pierini, Nelson and Eissinger approached Ex, who began to walk away. The deputies ordered Ex to stop and show his hands. Eissinger saw Ex reach into his waistband and wrestled him to the ground. Ex then pulled out the weapon and began to fire.
Ex fired five rounds, hitting Nelson, 29, once in the arm and in the hip. That bullet traveled around Nelson’s body and lodged in his back.
Eissinger, 37, was hit in the abdomen, but was protected by his bulletproof vest.
The deputies returned fire, with Nelson’s shots hitting Ex eight times and Eissinger striking him once.
Ex died at the scene.
District Attorney Scott Doyle ruled the shootings justifiable homicide by a public officer and both deputies have returned to work.
“We’ve been through a difficult situation,” Nelson told the audience which gave the deputies a standing ovation.
“The support we’ve received from the department, our families and the community got us through it. These awards are unbelievable. We are so grateful to be recognized in this way,” he said.
Eissinger thanked his family and dedicated his awards to “everybody and anybody who has anything to do with training.”
Ron Pierini said he was proud of the deputies and the “family” that is the sheriff’s office.
“We are a family, we always will be a family. We will support each other forever,” Pierini said.
He said the sheriff’s office provides the public with “a thin blue line” that keeps the community safe and means the difference between order and anarchy.
Pierini said the Purple Heart is awarded to officers who are injured as a result of very serious assault. The Medal of Valor goes for heroism in the face of personal risk.
Eissinger’s wife Robin said after the ceremony the support from the department and the public had been overwhelming.
“You never think this is going to happen. Erik would go to work every day and I would think, ‘This is not going to happen to him,'” she said.
Since the shooting, she said she and her husband have tried to spend more time together.
“It made us stronger,” she said.
She said she would never suggest that her husband change careers.
“That’s what he loves to do,” she said. “It’s part of being in law enforcement. I support him 100 percent every day.”
Sandi Eissinger, the deputy’s mother, said she prays every night for Erik and her son Andy who is an officer with the Walker River Tribe.
“They love what they do,” she said. “I am so proud of them.”
She recalled her telephone conversation with Robin Eissinger on Dec. 3 when she learned Erik had been wounded.
“That’s one phone call no parent ever wants to get,” she said. “But I would never tell these boys not to do what they love.”
Nelson said the district attorney’s opinion that the shooting was justified helped provide closure for the incident.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “Now, we can go back to being who we are – two Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies. It also reassures the public that there is a procedure in place and we followed it.”
Eissinger said he and his partner never had a doubt that they reacted correctly to the threat.
“It’s nice to close that chapter even though Dan and I knew seconds after it happened that we did the right thing,” Eissinger said.
For Bob and Jerri Gable of Topaz, the ceremony was an opportunity to pay their respects to the deputies.
“We’re here to honor the two officers who protected the community,” Jerri Gable said. “We thoroughly appreciate what they’ve done. Thank goodness they lived through it. It was real close.”