ST. JOSEPH — Several St. Joseph Township police officers have received commendations for their roles in solving the murder of Tyrone Hassel III and in prosecuting his killers.

The commendations, delivered by St. Joseph Township Police Chief Randy Leng, came from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office and the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.

The sheriff’s office commended Sgt. Michael Lanier, Lt. Richard Knapp, Officer Ron Sarratore, Officer Eric Wolff and Officer Derrick Arwood for their roles in solving the homicide. The prosecutor’s office commended Sgt. Lanier and Officer Jaramee Peppers for their work during the investigation and prosecution of Kemia Hassel and Jeremy Cuellar.

Kemia, Tyrone Hassel’s wife, and her lover, Cuellar, plotted while serving in the U.S. Army in Korea to murder Tyrone, an army sergeant, while home on leave for the holidays. Their plan culminated with Cuellar fatally shooting Tyrone Hassel in the driveway outside his father’s home in St. Joseph Township, where he and Kemia, along with their baby, were staying over the holidays in December 2018. 

Cuellar shot Hassel in the head Dec. 31 after Hassel delivered food to Kemia and the baby from a New Year’s Eve party at another location. He was gunned down as he left his father’s house to return to the party.

In a letter to Chief Leng, Berrien Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli said Peppers spent many hours meeting with prosecutors on his own time to prepare the case. Kemia Hassel was found guilty of first-degree murder in a jury trial and is serving life in prison without parole. Jeremy Cuellar pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 65 years.

“I spoke with the family of the victim at length throughout the case,” Pierangeli wrote. “They specifically stated that they were extremely grateful for all the work and time Officer Peppers had put into the case and for the outcome. He was one of the first officers to talk with the victim’s father at the scene and was professional in every way while doing so during a tragic situation.”

Pierangeli said Lanier was extremely helpful in all aspects of the prosecution of the case.

“He was willing to go above and beyond for any request I made of him. And I made a lot of requests, even sometimes in the middle of the night,” Pierangeli wrote. “His can-do attitude about this case and others I have had with him shows the pride he takes in his work.”

The commendations from the sheriff’s office for Arwood, Knapp, Wolff, Sarratore and Lanier came from Detective Lt. Gregory Sanders, co-coordinator of the Berrien County Homicide Task Force. 

“I would like to especially acknowledge their professionalism and team work approach that directly contributed to the suspect, Kemia Hassel, being found guilty of first-degree murder ... ,” Sanders wrote to Chief Leng. “Please accept my thanks and appreciation for all their hard work and pass on their awards/letters of commendation which are included with this letter. Their efforts reflect well on your leadership and agency.”

Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa