Six honored for valor

With only standing room available, six Keizer police officers were awarded the Medal of Valor for their heroic efforts in July 2021 when a routine interaction turned into a shootout and car chase.

Chief Andrew Copeland, along with the Keizer city council, awarded Keizer Police Department (KPD) officers the highly prestigious award on Monday, Nov. 20 in the Robert L. Simon council chambers.

Sgt. Kevin Demarco along with Officers Scott Keniston, Michael Kowash, Jeremy Darst, Chad Fahey and Cody Stupfel were those honored.

When asked about their reaction, Demarco said that he was “very humbled, especially by the group of people who will be standing up there with me. [I] couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to share this honor with.”

Demarco also noted that the work of being an officer is one of giving back to your community. “As [someone] who’s been doing this for, well, I think I’ve been in law enforcement nearly 20 years, including my volunteer time at the beginning.”

Demarco went on saying “I would say all of us share a servant mentality. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. For us it’s important to be able to put back what maybe folks have given to us growing up, coaches, teachers, things like that.”

On the morning of July 28, 2021, Keizer officers responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle on River Road. Officers sent to investigate were informed that the vehicle was reported stolen.

Police approached the vehicle and identified two individuals in the vehicle with one of them visibly armed.

When attempting to confront them, one being Washington resident Sean K. Beck, officers gave repeated orders to surrender though Beck refused to comply.

Despite the other suspect surrendering, Beck opened fire on the officers as he made an attempt to flee.

Officers returned fire, hitting Beck several times, then pursued the suspect on a chase which resulted in the death of 64-year-old Salem resident Becky Dietzel who was struck by the fleeing Beck as he ran a red light.

Beck did not stop after this but was eventually stopped by police in the parking lot of Home Depot on Cherry Avenue.

After a 20 minute standoff with law enforcement, Beck was arrested and taken to Salem Hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds.

It was found that Beck’s blood-alcohol level was 0.35, more than four times the legal limit.

Beck pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter, five counts of unlawful weapon use, three counts of possessing a firearm as a felon and driving under the influence.

He was sentenced nearly two years later in July 2023 to 16 years, 8 months in prison. 

Copeland weighed in on the efforts of the officers saying, “it’s just an honor and a privilege to be able to recognize the officers that went through such a traumatic event. They were heroes that day. Amidst complete chaos, they were calm, they reacted appropriately, and, [I’m] super proud of them. 

“You train for the worst case scenario your entire life. You never know how you’re going to respond when your life is at stake. [In] most instances we respond to, we may be physically assaulted or there may be the presence of danger or the assumption that something is going to go wrong. 

This [was] a rare occasion when someone shoots at you and how these officers responded to that made them worthy of a medal. They were amazing. Calm [and] cool under pressure and did the best they could to keep the community safe that day.”