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Editorial: Police Sgt. Jeff Salstrom — an officer of distinction

Hoquiam Police Department Sgt. Jeff Salstrom and Enno pose an official department photo in 2010.
Hoquiam Police Department Sgt. Jeff Salstrom and Enno pose an official department photo in 2010.

I can think of no other police officer who deserves praise and accolades for his actions last year than Hoquiam Police Sgt. Jeff Salstrom.

Salstrom, a Montesano resident, coped with a dying K-9 partner, being shot at in a tragic standoff in Hoquiam and saved the lives of three children in a standoff with an aggressive dog. And those are just the incidents that received media attention. It doesn’t include the dozens of times he came in as backup for other officers and routinely helped out police agencies all over the area.

Residents in Montesano may know Salstrom more as a dad than a police officer. His three boys attend schools in the Montesano School District and he is also active in their football and wrestling exploits.

Salstrom has proven he’s an officer who can be counted on in good times and bad. At The Vidette, we don’t (to my knowledge) typically give out police officer of the year honors. And I don’t want to take away from the amazing officers routinely honored by other media in the area.

But I recently had a chance to hear the dispatch call from the standoff Salstrom was involved in and came away with my mouth open in bewilderment. Here, Salstrom had been shot at multiple times, getting hit in the hip. He was dripping blood. And yet he took cover, calling in to dispatch for assistance. He refused to give up his ground and, in perfect calm and clarity, explained the situation to dispatch. It’s no wonder that Salstrom received the department’s Medal of Valor and a purple heart for his wounds.

Salstrom and Officer Phil High arrived at a typical home in Hoquiam last March to serve an arrest warrant when the man they were looking for inexplicably opened fire on them. Salstrom was hit. A standoff resulted for 20 hours involving law enforcement officers from all over the region.

To this day, Chief Myers says law enforcement officers have no real idea why the man opened fire.

Salstrom called in dispatch using a phone since his radio had been shot.

“I think I’ve been hit, I’m not sure, but I’m doing OK right now,” Salstrom told dispatch minutes after the incident, while he’s still in the house. The attacker is somewhere at that point, also still in the house. He had no idea if this maniac was going to come after him again — but you’d never know it from the sound of Salstrom’s voice.

He advises where to stage an ambulance, blocks away from the scene so paramedics’ lives are not put in jeopardy.

“We’ve got multiple shots fired and it’s unknown if the suspect is hit,” Salstrom said. “He’s in the front part of the house, near the front door. He’s wearing a brown sweater. He’s armed with a hand gun.”

“But you’re good?” the dispatcher asks him.

“I think I’ve been hit but I’m not sure — it hit my equipment and my hip hurts, but I’m not sure. Right now, we’re just holding the perimeter.”

The tone in his voice — and the tone of amazement from the dispatcher — that Salstrom is so level headed and clear thinking after just being shot, is the striking thing that stands out in the dispatch tape.

“He’s a professional,” Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers explains. “He had a job to do and he did it. Sgt. Salstrom handled the situation as we expect from our officers, but he also took command as we expect from our sergeants.”

What’s most amazing to me is that Salstrom, arguably, could have had the time off to mourn the recent loss of his K-9 partner — but he didn’t do that. Nobody would have batted an eye if he had taken a full month off when K-9 partner Enno died from cancer in February of last year. Instead, he chose to work. He showed real leadership — filling a gap due to retirements of the upper echelon in the Hoquiam police force during recent years.

Salstrom had cared for the dog with the utmost devotion and respect you’d expect. They were partners for seven years. And Enno lived with Salstrom and his family.

For those outside the law enforcement community, it is difficult to understand how close K-9 officers are with their dogs. Enno was Salstrom’s patrol partner, which means that the trust they have for each other has been forged in life-and-death situations.

But Enno was more than a work dog. He was singularly dedicated to Salstrom. He followed him around the house wherever he went and even slept on the floor next to his place in bed. The two were constant companions.

“I spend more time with him than I do my own family, he’s always there,” Salstrom said in a Daily World profile.

In the fall of 2012, Enno was taken off the force due to health issues. The community rallied to try to provide extra funds to pay for cancer treatments for the K-9 dog. T-shirts were printed. Facebook campaigns were launched. In the end, though, Enno’s health failed and he died at home in February.

“He put up a valiant fight against his cancer for longer than I expected,” Salstrom said in a Facebook post after it happened. “I want to thank you all for your prayers and support.”

Oddly, Salstrom was involved in two other incidents involving dogs late last year.

In October, media reports state that two young children, an 8-year-old boy and his 3-year-old sister, and their 15-year-old babysitter were attacked by a large mastiff in Hoquiam. Salstrom arrived on scene, used a Taser on the dog, but was forced to shoot the dog to stop it from attacking. The dog was later euthanized by a veterinarian.

In this account, Salstrom repeatedly had to fight off this aggressive dog, going back to the scene multiple times to carry away the children — who were in danger of losing their lives.

A fawn-colored mastiff was “biting the head” of an 8-year-old boy, as his 3-year-old sister and their 15-year-old babysitter, who was armed with a rake, sought refuge in an open shed.

“You were the first patrol unit to arrive at the scene,” Myers wrote in a citation praising Salstrom’s work. “Your attention was immediately directed to the backyard of a residence in the 2300 block of Sumner Avenue because of the screaming. Upon vaulting the fence, you discovered a large mastiff had an 8-year-old boy down on the ground and was biting him on the head. The child was bleeding profusely from the head; his pants were also covered in blood.”

Salstrom tried to use his Taser to subdue the dog, but was forced to shoot it, saving the boy, his sister and the babysitter — who had taken refuge in a shed.

“After stopping the threat, you physically carried the 3-year-old and then the 15-year-old to safety beyond the fence,” Myers wrote. “Although the animal had been shot several times, it still had to later be humanely euthanized at the scene by a veterinarian. I believe this fact demonstrates the strength and danger this animal actually posed to the children. You took decisive action when faced with a situation where the lives and immediate safety of three children was in jeopardy by a large, aggressive attacking animal. The children had no way to retreat or escape without intervention. You put yourself in harm’s way in order to immediately stop the attack on the 8-year-old boy, which given the nature of the bites about the head, certainly contributed to saving the child’s life. Your actions also prevented additional attacks against the 15-year-old and 3-year-old girl.”

Salstrom has received the life-saving medal for saving the kids from the dog.

Three weeks later, Salstrom, again, was involved in stopping an attack of a loose pit bull. This time, the dog was attacking a 35-year-old Hoquiam woman and her little dog as they were walking down a street. Salstrom used his Taser again and probably saved the little dog’s life — and definitely stopped the woman from being bitten again.

I like to think that Enno’s spirit or angel was watching out for his former partner. I know he’d be proud. I know I am. And I know Chief Myers is for sure.

Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette. Contact him at editor@thevidette.com

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