ORLANDO, Fla. – When a police officer puts on their uniform and starts a shift, there’s always a chance they might not come home, Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said Tuesday following the passing of Officer Kevin Valencia, who died this week more than two years after he was shot while responding to a hostage situation.
Valencia was shot in the head on June 11, 2018 as he tried to enter an Orlando apartment where a man had barricaded himself and four children inside.
After 33 months, including rehabilitation, the Orlando Police Department announced Monday Valencia had died of his injuries. He is survived by his wife, Meghan, and their two sons.
“It goes to show that these officers, when they put on their uniform, when they set out to perform their tasks it’s never guaranteed that they may be able to come back home to their families,” Rolon said. “It is a job that a lot of people just don’t realize how, not only dangerous, but how also it affects the family members, friends, relatives of those officers who have the honor to serve our country as a law enforcement officer.”
After laying a wreath in front of Orlando Police Department headquarters Tuesday, Rolon briefly spoke to reporters about Valencia and the lasting impacts of his death on his family and the OPD family.
Rolon said in the past year as calls for changes to police policies have mounted, he believes some changes are needed but not when it comes to qualified immunity, referring to the legal doctrine that protects government officials, including law enforcement officers, from civil suits when they are acting in the line of duty.
“When you start talking about doing away with qualified immunity and not recognizing that this is afforded to politicians, to attorneys, to judges and that could hinder the ability for an officer to go out there and perform their tasks, and be mindful of the fact that that split-second decision that then now they have to take into consideration,” Rolon said, adding “to me it is irresponsible, and I think our country needs to evaluate what it is, what changes need to happen in the law enforcement profession.”
Valencia was afforded the ability to do the job he was trained for with qualified immunity, Rolon said.
“He acted as a hero, trying to make sure that we could get into that apartment to save those children, but unfortunately the actions of that deranged person who was inside of that apartment, ultimately took the lives of four children, the life of the individual and now officer Valencia,” Rolon said. “We need to protect our officers, and we need to give them the tools and the ability to protect themselves against harm.”
Almost 24 hours after police arrived at the apartment, Irayan Pluth, 12; Lillia Pluth, 10; Aidan Lindsey, 6; and Dove Lindsey, 1, were found shot to death in their beds, police said. The suspect, who was the father to two of the victims, had also taken his own life.
Prior to his death, the department most recently shared hopeful news that Valencia was showing signs of improvement.
Rolon said when Valencia was first shot, “He was given no hope, to be honest. Then he went to rehab, and it showed that he was a fighter. It showed that here recently in the last few months, he showed enough progress where we were really, in all honesty shocked, he was able to actually touch the head or the hair of his wife, give her a kiss.”
Ultimately, Rolon said the toll of the injuries on his body “was just too much for him to be able to overcome,” adding he believes prayers helped keep him alive long enough to give him ”the best quality life that he could have with his condition.”
A service for Valencia will be held at Orlando First Baptist Church on March 24 at 11 a.m.
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