The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office honored seven crime victims and good Samaritans Wednesday during its 30th annual Citizens of Courage Awards.
As part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the District Attorney’s Office annually honors local residents for their roles in deterring or preventing crimes in the region.
Last year’s awards were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also prompted the 2021 event to be held virtually.
“By honoring these brave individuals, we are highlighting the extraordinary courage of victims and good Samaritans, who were placed in dangerous and trying circumstances,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “We’re also shining a light on the thousands of crime victims our DA team has the honor of serving every year and the importance of supporting victims’ rights.”
This year’s Citizens of Courage recipients are:
Sherveen and Warshan Ali, a brother and sister whose estranged father abducted them when they visited him in Turkey. Prosecutors said their father took them into his home country of Iraq and told them they would never be allowed back to the United States, where they lived with their mother in San Diego.
The children were beaten, tortured and confined at home under their father’s watch, but managed to outsmart him to escape. Though he had their cellphones disabled, the District Attorney’s Office said they were able to download applications that made them operable, then surreptitiously messaged their mother.
They also shared details of his conduct with his family and friends, and he was eventually pressured to return them after 491 days in Iraq.
Isabel Rosales, who was stabbed in the neck by her husband in front of her three children. Rosales survived the stabbing and testified against her husband, who was sentenced to state prison for attempted murder.
Prosecutors said Rosales has since become deeply involved with helping other domestic violence victims.
Deputy District Attorney Abigail Dillon said, “When you have a case like this, you are expecting to meet a victim at their most broken because of what they’ve gone through and instead, the person I met was just so, so incredibly strong.”
Kevin Eslinger, who was struck in the head by a fellow surfer wielding a carbon fiber paddle in the water at Sunset Cliffs. Eslinger suffered serious injuries, including skull fractures and brain damage. He was credited with helping see the case through in order to protect other surfers from similar incidents and for testifying at the defendant’s trial, despite difficulties he had with speech as a result of the injuries he sustained.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Greco said, “Mr. Eslinger had to overcome the effects of this assault in order to obtain justice and his willingness to participate in the process, to confront his attacker, and to do it in a way with dignity and humility really stands out.”
The other surfer, Paul Taylor Konen, was convicted of assault and sentenced to five years in state prison.
LaMar Johnson, who alerted authorities when he heard a neighbor screaming and assisted in her assailant’s capture.
Johnson saw a man trying to get into the victim’s home with the aims of sexually assaulting the woman, prosecutors said. Johnson called police and directed responding officers to where the suspect had fled. According to the District Attorney’s Office, the victim’s parents nominated Johnson for the Citizens of Courage Award.
Alicia Villegas, who was honored for assisting police in gathering evidence in the case of her brother, Chula Vista resident Omar Medina.
After Medina went missing, Villegas led efforts to search for her brother, leading her to discover Medina’s abandoned car, then request a welfare check at her brother’s home, prosecutors say the defendant had been tearing apart the room where Medina was killed to conceal evidence.
Medina’s body was found weeks after he went missing inside a barrel floating in San Diego Bay. He had been stabbed 66 times.
His housemate, Timothy John Cook, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced last year to 56 years-to-life in state prison.
Emma H., who overheard a student threaten to shoot up her school, then reported the threat to authorities, leading others at school to ridicule her. The student she reported later threatened to kill her, her friends and family.
The District Attorney’s Office honored her for continuing to speak up about the incident, even after the intimidation she received for initially reporting the threat.
Emma H. said, “I’m really grateful that it happened to me in a weird way. It’s allowed me to develop a voice to try and speak out about something I’m passionate about.”
Deputy District Attorney Hung Bach said, “She knew what she did was right, despite everything that was happening to her day-in, day-out at school,” and despite “having every reason to crumple under pressure.”