RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — A Riviera Beach police officer is in the nation's capital as the recipient of the National Association of Police Organizations 2021 Top Cops Awards.
The award, being given on Friday evening, recognizes the actions of law enforcement who went "above and beyond the call of duty."
On Feb. 5, 2020, Detective Jemel V. Headings responded to fallen highway patrolman Trooper Joseph Jon Bullock who had stopped to assist a disabled vehicle on Interstate 95 in Martin County.
The situation would turn deadly but more lives could have been lost.
Flanked by his wife in an airport terminal, WPTV caught up with 11-year Riviera Beach Detective Jemel Headings on his way to Washington, D.C.
"It's bittersweet, it is," Headings said. "I love all of the awards that I'm getting, but I guess I feel like it was also a hard time in my life, and I'm sure it was a hard time for the families — not only Trooper Bullock but the family of Franklin Reed."
But he's the son of a former Michigan police chief who knows a cop's watch never sleeps.
Headings was traveling south on I-95 from Port St. Lucie when he noticed Trooper Bullock on the ground.
"I thought maybe he got hit by a car or maybe like a medical problem — all I knew was there was something wrong with him," he said.
Headings turned around, put on his bulletproof vest and approached a crowd of bystanders looking at a trooper bleeding with a gunshot.
"At that time everybody's a suspect," he said.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Trooper Bullock had stopped for a disabled vehicle that needed tow service, but once the tow truck arrived 28-year-old Franklin Reed III was upset with the cost for the tow.
While Bullock did paperwork, he was shot in the head without warning. When Reed went to shoot the tow truck driver the gun jammed giving the tower time to flag down motorists and off-duty detective headings.
"I had my gun on him," Headings said. "I ordered him to the ground he refused. And at that time he pulled out his gun and he fired at me, and I returned fire and fortunately for me I hit him."
Franklin Reed would turn the gun on himself, but Headings calls his swift action the result of Riviera Beach police training.
"Our trainers are second to none — Maj. Walker, Maj. Thomas, Sgt. Newton, Capt. Christoffewl — all of the trainers are second to none," Headings said. "If it wasn't for their training, I believe it's very likely I wouldn't be standing here talking to you right now."
WPTV caught up with one of his trainers.
"Vigilance, situational awareness and being ready and being in a position that you can act when you really need to," said Maj. Steven Thomas, Riviera Beach Police Department. "Law enforcement is 24/7. That's why we're here."
"We're good people, good officers," Headings added.
Headings was selected from hundreds of nominations from federal, state, county, tribal and local agencies.