Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Potter would rather be anywhere than in the spotlight.
"I'm just some guy that somebody decided to put in for an award," he says, shrugging.Potter would prefer that others - namely fellow deputies Sgt. Steve Rowland and Lt. Steve Alexander - bask in accolades for what happened the night of Sept. 22, 1997, when Johnny Lavato barricaded himself in his Magna home and then opened fire.
Alexander suffered a gunshot wound to his head. Rowland held his fellow officer in his arms and applied pressure to wound.
Potter literally crawled on hands and knees to reach the two men and then carried Alexander on his back to safety and a waiting ambulance.
For that, Potter has been named one of 10 "Top Cops" in the United States by the National Association of Police Officers. The award will be presented Oct. 8 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. He is the first Utah officer to receive the award.
Potter has already been honored locally and nationally by the International Footprinter Association, a law enforcement support group.
"In a way I sound ungrateful and I'm not. I'm very grateful, but I don't like the attention over it," Potter said. "A lot of people had parts in this. And I don't think enough has been done for Steve Rowland and Steve Alexander."
It was Rowland and deputy Renee Hanchett who first went to Lavato's West Centennial Avenue home last September to serve Lavato with a protective order.
Lavato barricaded himself in the home and began firing weapons, pelting a patrol car with bullets and critically wounding Alexander. Lavato would eventually keep police at bay for nearly five hours before shooting and killing himself.
Potter, a public information officer for the sheriff's office, first heard of the incident over his police radio while in his car. He headed to the scene, anticipating he'd perform his normal media interfacing duties. But Potter ended up at the center of the rescue effort for his fellow officers and also a target for Lavato.
Bullets started flying in Potter's direction when his movement in front of a nearby residence triggered a floodlight with a motion sensor. The bullets hit the front of the home and a tree on the front lawn. Later police learned that some even penetrated the home and ended up lodged in the wall of a closet.
"I heard them whistle by my ear," Potter recalls. "I knew I had to put (the light) out and I didn't want to shoot it, but it had to go."
Spotting a lawn chair, Potter dashed toward the light, grabbing the chair and using it to knock out the sensor. The light went out.
Then Potter crawled to a fence separating the residence nearest to where Alexander, Hanchett and Rowland were huddled behind a patrol car.
Still 15 feet away, Potter began slapping the sidewalk with his hand as an audible guide the deputies could crawl toward.
"I saw a figure on all fours. It was (Alexander), and he was doing his best to crawl toward me," Potter said. "He faltered a few times, he's lost quite a bit of blood. He was in a weakened state and when he got to me, it was like he was out of gas."
Potter maneuvered Alexander onto his shoulders - no small feat, considering the lieutenant is 6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds - and ran toward the back yard of the nearest house with Hanchett and Rowland on his heels.
Deputies then knocked down a 6-foot chainlink fence and delivered Alexander into the waiting arms of paramedics.
Looking back, Potter says, he wouldn't change too much of what he did. Years of good training in tactical decisionmaking and maneuvers from both the military and the sheriff's SWAT team paid off. But given the chance, he'd get Alexander to safety faster than he did.
"I still feel guilty that he laid there as long as he did. To me, it was too long and when our people are in trouble we've got to get in and get them out," Potter said. "And I probably should have taken a few risks that I didn't."
And if needed, Potter would risk his own life again for a fellow officer.
"I'd do it in a heartbeat, but I'm no hero," he insists. "It's part of my job to get somebody out of danger. That's why citizens pay cops."