BOSTON (WWLP) – An award ceremony was held at the State House in Boston Tuesday to honor the unsung heroes of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association.

The 14 sheriffs across the state were able to nominate employees who have shown exceptional service to their department as well as those in custody.

Governor Maura Healey called upon her time as Attorney General to get a look into what sheriff departments do every day. “You’re working behind the scenes, shift after shift, day after day, with skill, with perseverance, with courage and with compassion, to keep people safe and secure and our communities safer, and with the opportunity to change the course of a person’s life,” remarked the Governor.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi said this inaugural award ceremony was inspired by the selfless work of sheriff department employees during COVID-19. “What they did during the pandemic was nothing shy of heroic, and when you are viewed upon by your leaders, the Sheriffs, the agency heads, as heroic, then there has to be a recognition,” said Cocchi.

Hampden County recognized two individuals, Dr. Thomas Lincoln and Corporal Gina Walters.

Walters walked up to her award as an officer but returned as a corporal as Sheriff Cocchi announced her promotion. “We work hard. Again, we don’t think about it, we just hit the ground running every day and we hope our students take from us what we want them to take from us and we go from there,” said Walters.

Awards were presented for everything from saving lives, providing necessary training and going above and beyond the call of duty. Even though this was just the first award ceremony, Sheriff Cocchi said the plan is to make sure this becomes an annual event.

List of the award recipients:

  1. Meritorious Service Award: John Birtwell (Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office) John Birtwell’s dedication to public service, spanning over five decades, was recognized for his contributions as a prominent reporter, Press Secretary for Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, and mentor, leaving a lasting impact on journalism, law, and public service in Massachusetts.
  1. Correctional Officer of the Year: Corrections Officer Jonathan Manolakis, Corrections Officer Brian Collins, Sergeant Chris DeBeaucourt, Case Manager Corey Decker, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Justin Fagan, and Assistant Deputy Superintendent Rick Vivier (Middlesex Sheriff’s Office) These six corrections professionals demonstrated exceptional bravery and skill when they revived a colleague suffering from a heart attack through CPR and the use of an AED, saving his life during a critical moment of crisis.
  2. Correctional Training Officer of the Year: Corrections Officer Gina Walters (Hampden County Sheriff’s Office) Officer Gina Walters excels as a Defensive Tactics and CPR/First Responders Instructor and has made a positive impact on staff members, instilling departmental expectations and delivering exceptional training, shaping their success post-academy.
  3. Correctional Supervisor of the Year: Sergeant James Ridley (Essex County Sheriff’s Office)
    Sergeant James Ridley exhibited outstanding leadership during critical situations, including performing CPR, administering Narcan, and stopping fights, demonstrating quick thinking and excellent communication deescalation skills.
  4. Deputy Sheriff of the Year: Christopher Ellis (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office)
    Deputy Christopher Ellis exemplifies dedication, contributing to the United States Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force and more specifically the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program (HIDTA). His contributions have helped apprehend high-risk fugitives, ensuring the safety and well-being of the community through his proactive approach and quick thinking.
  5. Jail Administrator of the Year: Assistant Superintendent Rachelle Steinberg (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office) Assistant Superintendent Rachelle Steinberg is a dedicated public servant, pioneering treatment and reentry initiatives, emphasizing equality and inclusivity, and overseeing medical services, ensuring uninterrupted medical care for justice-involved individuals.
  6. Innovation of the Year: Internal Perimeter Security (IPS) Team, Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office) The IPS team implemented cutting-edge protocols, including mail scanning and advanced technology, transforming safety measures in the correctional facility, making it a safer environment for everyone involved.
  7. Strategic Partner of the Year: New England Culinary Arts Training Program (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office) The New England Culinary Arts Training Program, in partnership with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, offers a comprehensive culinary training program to chronically unemployed individuals, empowering them with culinary expertise and employment skills.
  8. Service Provider of the Year: Dr. Thomas Lincoln (Hampden County Sheriff’s Office)
    Dr. Thomas Lincoln’s Public Health Model for Correctional Health Care has reshaped inmate health care nationwide, focusing on quality medical treatment, bridging health care gaps, and fostering diversity and equity in health care, improving the health of justice-involved individuals.
  9. Program of the Year: Supporting Transitions & Reentry Program (STAR) (Essex County Sheriff’s Office) STAR provides support, supervision, and services to justice-involved individuals, aiding successful reentry into communities. The program’s emphasis on clinical, educational, vocational, and employment support contributes to public safety and reduces recidivism.
  10. Employee of the Year: Superintendent Michael Colwell (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office)
    Superintendent Michael Colwell embodies public service and correctional professionalism, reshaping substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health care for justice-involved individuals, setting a new standard for care in the industry. In addition to his role in Suffolk County, Michael is a crucial leader and advocate for all of our sheriff’s offices.
  11. Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Award: Superintendent Michael Colwell (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office) This award recognizes individuals who embody innovation, compassion, and professionalism, leading the way within the field of law enforcement and corrections. Each year the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association will choose and honoree as the recipient of the Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Jr. Award. This year, this prestigious award was presented to Superintendent Michael Colwell an individual most deserving for his legacy of collaborative
    spirit, enlightened approach to justice, and leadership.

Local News

Ellen Fleming is a reporter at the Boston State House who has been a part of the 22News team since 2022. Follow Ellen on X @EllenFlem and view her bio to see more of her work.