Okla. officer awarded Medal of Valor for off-duty pursuit of homicide suspect
Officer Ohavyah Soto saw the suspect in a restaurant while she was out with friends; she pursued him, allowing other officers to make the arrest
By Skyler Hammons
Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A Tahlequah Police Department patrolman was awarded the Medal of Valor during the Nov. 6 Tahlequah City Council meeting for pursuing a homicide suspect while off duty.
On Oct. 18, Ohavyah Soto and a few of her friends were finishing their night with a dinner at Braum’s. Their meal ended in a foot chase for a man suspected of killing two people in a shooting earlier that evening.
Soto, who was off duty at the time, said she and a few friends had just finished a jiu-jitsu class when they made their way to Braum’s. Meanwhile, across town at a West Choctaw Street residence, three people were shot, two of them killed and one injured. Jordan Hensley, the alleged shooter, fled on foot, prompting Tahlequah Police Department officers to launch a search.
While Soto was at Braum’s, she noticed a couple of patrol cars driving past, so she pulled up her computer-aided design system on her phone to see what was happening. As the night went on, Soto said she monitored the CAD system to see what was developing. In the notes section of the app, Soto noticed the name “Jordan Hensley” listed as a possible suspect.
“I was like, ‘Oh, man. I know this kid. I just dealt with him last month!’ The people who were with me were like, ‘That’s crazy,’” Soto said.
After the friends finished their meal, Soto trailed behind the group and was the last one to leave Braum’s.
“I glanced over and saw a guy standing there, and then when we locked eyes, I immediately recognized who it was. I knew that it was Jordan Hensley,” Soto said.
Soto said she tried to take the suspect into custody, but he swung at her, grazing her face and breaking her grip on him. Hensley bolted to Casey’s, then headed down East Ward Street, and eventually through the parking lot of Cherokee Elementary, with Soto in pursuit the entire time. After jumping a fence into the school yard, Soto saw Hensley scale another fence, and he ended up evading other police officers who were nearby. Soto said she then lost sight of Hensley, but shortly thereafter, he was arrested by another group of officers.
When it came time to receive the Medal of Valor for her efforts to catch the suspect, Soto said she did not expect to earn an award.
“I just did what I felt like needed to be done. I didn’t even think about it,” Soto said. “I was just like, ‘Here is this wanted suspect that the entire county and every agency in this county is looking for, and he’s literally right here next to me.’ I didn’t even second-guess. I just went straight for trying to get him.”
Soto said Kywin Mooney, an off-duty Cherokee Nation deputy marshal, and two civilians — Miranda Downing and Alley Berry — were the ones eating with her at Braum’s that night. When she decided to pursue Hensley, Soto said, her friends each helped in various ways.
Soto said she laughs with her friends about the incident now, but at the time, she was in her “cop mode” and knew what needed to be done to ensure the safety of others.
Since the chase, Soto said, she uses it as a reminder to always be prepared.
“That right there solidified that I will never go anywhere without my firearm,” Soto said. “I will always conceal carry, just because for me, as a law enforcement officer — maybe not as a regular civilian — I personally feel the need to jump in if something [serious like that] were to happen. I feel like it’s my duty to do that.”
The TPD patrolman has been told by some folks that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time during the incident, but Soto believes she was there for a reason, especially since people were looking for the suspect on the other side of Tahlequah.
“As a Christian, I just believe that God is in control of everything, and everything happens for a reason. I feel like he had me there for that reason,” Soto said.
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