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Thomas Johnson III in a booking photo from the Florida Department of Corrections. He served 2 1/3 years in prison there for a felony weapons possession conviction between 2003 and 2006. / Provided photo

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- An Army veteran and a father of two young children, Rochester Police Officer Daryl R. Pierson was a calming and steady member of a tight-knit unit charged with dealing with some of the department's most chaotic and dangerous situations.

Pierson - 32, and an eight-year veteran with the RPD - was shot and killed Wednesday during an exchange of gunfire between police and a man officers were pursuing.

"He was an outstanding officer, he is known for great work on the street, and he gave his life for the Rochester community last night, trying to take a dangerous person off the street," said Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, former police chief and mayor of Rochester.

"Officer Pierson's family was basically destroyed by that suspect's bullet."

Rochester police chief Michael Ciminelli said Thursday that the doctors at Rochester General Hospital worked with "absolute fury," and "tried to pull off a miracle, which was not to be."

Ciminelli also said Pierson's partner, Michael DiPaola, 41, fired at, wounded and apprehended the suspect, who police sources identified as Thomas Johnson III. Another news conference with Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley is scheduled for this afternoon.

Pierson graduated from East Rochester High School, served in Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Army and attended Monroe Community College before he became a police officer in August 2006.

An East Rochester resident, he's survived by his wife, Amy, and their two children. He died the same day his 4-year-old started school in East Rochester. His other child is just three months old, Ciminelli said. He was also a member of the Army National Guard.

Mayor Lovely Warren said, "there are no words" to diminish pain felt by the Pierson family. "I ask people to understand the great sacrifice Officer Pierson made last night. He lost his life trying to protect and serve this community."

East Rochester's interim superintendent Richard Stutzman Jr. said grief counselors will be on hand for students and staff at the 4-year-old's school, as many there knew the fallen officer and his family, he said.

Pierson was a member of the department's Tactical Unit - a group known for proactive and aggressive policing - and had a reputation for being a calming influence in often-chaotic scenarios.

"He was a very solid officer, never over-the-top or high-strung," said Todd Baxter, executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center, former Greece police chief and a longtime member of the RPD.

"He was the guy you want next to you when you're stepping out on street corners, the guy you want next to you when you're going on a robbery call because you know he's always going to be there."

Baxter met Pierson when Pierson went through the police academy.

"He brought the ultimate sense of professionalism to a scene, even a chaotic scene. He was usually the calming factor."

The tactical unit is put in areas of high crime and used to bolster the division's regular patrols. Because of the intense nature of the work, its officers typically work in pairs, and the unit typically focuses on areas plagued by illegal guns, drug sales, robberies and violence. They often conduct corner enforcement and surveillance.

Ciminelli described Pierson as an "exemplary officer" whose actions "speak volumes" about his character, as he listed eight years' worth of awards and accolades Pierson accumulated during his career. Among his honors were a 2010 Officer of the Month award, a 2013 Good Conduct award and 11 chief's letters of recognition, most of which commended his efforts in removing illegal guns from city streets, he said.

"They are proactive, they enjoy shutting things down," said James Sheppard, Rochester's former police chief.

"If there is a pattern of shootings, they are going to go in and shut it down. If there is a pattern of robberies, they are going to go in and shut it down, they are going to make those arrests," Sheppard said. "Because they cover the whole city, they know the whole city. They have informants, they work closely with homicide, they work closely with narcotics."

Most members of the Tactical Unit work Fourth Platoon, from 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., while a smaller component works days.

"He was one of the stars," Sheppard said of Pierson. "One of the guys who worked real hard doing it."

Duffy agreed.

"It is a unit with a long history and his assignment there reinforces the respect that the department had for him and his abilities and what he did to serve," he said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Rochester officer Pierson lauded for 'great sacrifice'

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