Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - On January 29, 2024, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Thomas Tafoya received the Medal of Valor, the agency’s highest award. To qualify for the award, troopers must show an act of heroism and bravery, knowingly expose themselves to obvious life-threatening peril, or react to a situation without regard for personal safety to effect aid or rescue. 

On March 18, 2023, Trooper Tafoya responded to a call from dispatch that the Shoshone County Sheriff's Office in Idaho was pursuing suspects from an armed robbery that occurred in Idaho. Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen explains. 

“Idaho State Patrol reached out to Montana Highway Patrol, and we interdicted that at the top of lookout pass at St. Regis,” Knudsen said. “That turned into a hostage situation, and it was a horrible deal. I remember it very vividly because it was right in the middle of the legislative session and that was a really bad weekend. In the span of about 12 hours, we had three different active shooter situations, but this was by far the worst one.” 

What Exactly Happened

One occupant was detained, and the other occupant was observed on the board walk at the Travel Center pacing back and forth. Trooper Tafoya, along with three Mineral County deputies and two Sanders County deputies, approached the travel center in patrol cars. As Trooper Tafoya exited his patrol vehicle, the suspect began shooting and ran around the back of the buildings. 

Trooper Tafoya moved into an alley and began to move to the back of the buildings as civilians began running down the alley toward him. After Trooper Tafoya assisted the civilians, he began to move down the alley again.  

When the suspect came out of the front of the travel center holding a gun to the head of a hostage, Trooper Tafoya immediately moved toward them and found cover. The suspect moved to the hostage’s car and then shot him. Trooper Tafoya and several deputies fired, ultimately killing the suspect. 

The Attorney General and Colonel Give Praise

Knudsen was especially impressed by how Trooper Tafoya handled the situation because he said there was a lot of bad information flying around during that time. 

“We were getting reports there was somebody far holding people hostage,” Knudsen said. “That ended up not being accurate. In these situations, you get a lot of data flying around and a lot of it is not always correct. So, for him to be on the ground, keep a level head, and handle this case appropriately, this is a very deserved award. So yeah, I am very proud of this trooper.” 

MHP Colonel Steve Lavin presided over the ceremony and presented the award. 

"There is no doubt that Trooper Tafoya saved many lives on this day,” Lavin said. “He risked his own life to save others. This is just one of the many brave and heroic acts that our men and women of the Montana Highway Patrol perform on a daily basis. The Montana Highway Patrol is proud of this act of heroism, and I know that the citizens of Montana are proud." 

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