Deputy Tyler Thoman of the Brevard County, Fla., Sheriff’s Department has been selected as the 2021 NRA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for exhibiting outstanding bravery and courage while facing an armed and violent suspect during a traffic stop. Deputy Thoman’s actions that day saved the life of a fellow Brevard County deputy—as well as his own.
Since 1993, NRA’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award has recognized exceptional acts of service by law enforcement officers. The NRA Law Enforcement Division administers the program. Smith & Wesson, a longtime supplier of police firearms, also supports the NRA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award by providing an engraved firearm to the recipient.
Last August, Deputy Thoman was part of a group of Brevard County sheriff’s deputies conducting a joint interdiction operation in tandem with U.S. Border Patrol officers on Interstate 95. Spotting a vehicle with a broken taillight, Deputy Thoman conducted a traffic stop near the intersection of Highway 192 and Columbia Lane in West Melbourne, Fla. The vehicle had four occupants: a male driver, a female in the front passenger seat, another male in the right rear passenger seat and an infant in a child safety-seat behind the driver.
When the driver was unable to produce a driver’s license, Deputy Thoman asked him to exit the vehicle, also requesting assistance at the scene. Fellow Brevard County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Brian Potters responded, parking his marked patrol vehicle to the right of Deputy Thoman’s patrol vehicle. While standing in front of his patrol vehicle, Deputy Thoman then asked the woman in the passenger-side front seat to exit the suspect vehicle and come to him so they could talk.
Next, Deputy Thoman requested Deputy Potters, who was standing near the suspect vehicle, to ask the male passenger to exit. As the suspect exited the vehicle, he produced a stolen rifle and began to fire at the deputies, who returned fire with their pistols. The suspect was wounded in the leg, and Deputy Potters suffered a gunshot wound to his left ankle. Unfortunately, while seeking cover behind Deputy Thoman’s patrol vehicle, the deputies lost sight of the suspect.
Suddenly appearing behind Deputy Potters, the suspect struck him with the rifle, landing multiple blows to the back of his head. Both men tumbled to the ground in an armed struggle. The suspect continued hammering Deputy Potters in the face with the rifle. Meanwhile, Deputy Thoman moved to a position where he could fire his pistol at the suspect, striking him multiple times and ending his savage attack.
Deputy Potters suffered multiple jaw fractures, a fractured orbital socket and lacerations to his head and underwent surgery for the gunshot wound. He has since recovered. The suspect, who died from injuries sustained during the gunfire exchange, was a career criminal with more than 40 previous arrests—including 23 violent felonies. At the time of the incident, he was out on bond for two felony drug charges and two outstanding felony warrants.
In May, the National Rifle Association honored Deputy Thoman for his bravery at the 2022 Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Houston, Texas, during a special presentation.