October 28, 2022
Public Information Officer
The Return of the “Courage Awards:” District Attorney George Gascón & LA5 Rotary Join Forces to Recognize Everyday Heroes
A woman who stopped an international kidnapping, another who risked her job to hold a company accountable for wage theft, and a neighbor who sheltered a family under attack from their father were honored today by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.
“The extraordinary and selfless acts of these three individuals speak to what it means to live in community,” District Attorney Gascón said. “Finding the strength to speak truth to power, protect our neighbors from harm and help the most vulnerable among us – Linda McKeown, Edith Lopez and Martin Santillan, serve as inspirations to us all.”
The honorees were a volunteer in a Virginia airport who helped stop a man from kidnapping his children and taking them to Russia; a woman who stood up to her bosses at a company that was stealing from their employees; and a man who sheltered a family on the run from their father armed with a chainsaw and later disarmed him.
District Attorney Gascón recognized the three honorees this afternoon at the Courage Awards ceremony hosted by the LA5 Rotary Club of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office began presenting what they then called the “Courageous Citizen Awards” in 1986. The time-honored tradition, on hiatus due pandemic limitations, has officially returned as the “Courage Awards,” applicable to all who have performed extraordinary acts of valor and selflessness in assisting in criminal prosecutions, aiding victims, preventing crimes or apprehending suspects—regardless of citizenship status.
Awards were presented to:
Linda McKeown, 55, of Centreville, Virginia. (Case BA502187, presented by Deputy District Attorney Tal Kahana)
A Los Angeles mother dropped off her children at school on November 29, 2021, for her ex-husband to pick up later that day for his week of custody. A month before, a family court judge had granted the parents joint legal custody with rotating weeks and ordered that neither parent was to remove the children from Los Angeles County. However, just days later, on December 1, 2021, the father flew with the children to Dulles International Airport and then bought one-way tickets to Russia.
Ms. Linda McKeown was volunteering at the airport help desk that day and noticed a few things out of the ordinary with this family when they stopped to ask for assistance: the father was using new credit cards, the children seemed to be repeating a story they had just memorized and there was no luggage to speak of. She directed the family to get a COVID-19 test and called the police. The police detained the father and children and found no warrants. Still, Ms. McKeown did not give up. She Googled the father’s name and discovered the case in family court. With that information, she found the mother’s name, Facebook page and workplace. It was only when Ms. McKeown tracked down the mother that she was made aware of the events happening across the country. Ms. McKeown re-contacted the police, who were able to stop the family from traveling.
The father pleaded guilty to two felony counts of child abduction and was sentenced to one year in county jail and three years of felony probation. The case was investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Edith Lopez, 57, of Los Angeles. (Case BA488745, presented by California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower)
Ms. Edith Lopez was hired to work as an hourly, full-time employee for Los Angeles-based janitorial contractor company Pacific Commercial Company (PCC). However, it soon became clear to her that the company was committing numerous labor law violations. She was given a one-hour lunch break daily but no other breaks, she was not provided with sick pay/benefits, she was considered an employee during her regular work hours but then misclassified as an independent contractor for her overtime evening hours. Because of that, she did not receive any overtime pay for the additional 20 hours per week of evening work and was given a 1099 tax form to report that part of her income, as if she was self-employed.
When Ms. Lopez raised concerns, she was retaliated against and received a letter of termination. With the help of the tenants of the building she cleaned, Ms. Lopez was able to keep her job, but with reduced work hours, adding stress and health-related issues to her life as she was expected to perform the same amount of work with her reduced hours. Ms. Lopez had the courage to come forward with critical information about the working conditions at the company, putting her job at risk during the investigation. She knew she was not the only victim. Her strong statements contributed to the arrest and prosecution of the defendant for wage theft, workers’ compensation insurance premium fraud and payroll tax evasion. Because of Ms. Lopez’s actions, dozens of other employees at the janitorial company were offered restitution.
The defendant pleaded guilty to one felony count each of workers’ compensation fraud and grand theft. Sentencing is scheduled for June 9, 2023. The case was investigated by the California Department of Labor.
Martin Santillan, 26, of Whittier (Case VA148199, presented by Deputy District Attorney Chad Gillette)
On July 11, 2018, Mr. Martin Santillan answered the door to the knocking of his neighbor’s three young children crying for his help. He was told that their mother was being attacked by their father. Mr. Santillan ushered the children into his home to protect them as he saw the mother run from her home with the father chasing behind her with a chainsaw. Mr. Santillan could see the victim was bleeding heavily from cuts to her head, face and arm. As she fell to the ground next to a tree, the youngest son ran back out to shield her, placing himself in front of her.
As the father approached, holding the chainsaw over the mother’s head while attempting to restart it by pulling on the starter rope, Mr. Santillan walked toward him and attempted to talk and calm him down. Mr. Santillan was then able to get close enough to take the chainsaw away and get the mother and her son into his home for protection. Mr. Santillan’s courageous actions saved the victims’ life.
The father was convicted of attempted murder, aggravated mayhem and three counts of child abuse and sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus 15 years and 2 months. The case was investigated by the Whittier Police Department.