Sheriff Garcia, Precinct Constables, Representatives from the County Judges office, esteemed deputies, officers, surviving family members and friends.
Thank you for this invitation and your warm introduction. In a world that seems to race forward at an ever increasing speed dictated by e-mails, texts, and tweets, I am truly honored and proud to be a part of this moment as we pause to remember and honor those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Tonight, I’d like to take a line from the National Law-enforcement Memorial in Washington, DC, “we honor them and remember them not because of how they died, but because of how they lived.”
President John F. Kennedy once said, “A Nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers. As these valiant men and women died because they made it their duty to protect and serve, it is our duty to honor and remember them for their selfless contribution to our communities.
As a 30 year career law-enforcement officer and the son of a police officer, the brother of a career police officer, and the brother-in-law of a current Police Chief, I feel a strong personal and intimate bond with each and every one of you, my brother and sisters in the law-enforcement family. That bond and kindred spirit with the police community continues for me now as I have the opportunity and honor to teach and train police officers around the world with the U.S. State Department’s, Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. This past year I have had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to train with our law-enforcement partners in the Philippines, the Middle-East, Mexico, and Colombia. Just a week ago, I returned from east Africa where we trained a group of state and federal police officers in Counterterrorism strategies within the small country of Djibouti, a former French colony in the horn of Africa, that shares a common border with Somalia. This is also a special moment for me personally because each year at this time when we honor those who have given their lives in the service of our nation and its citizens, it brings back the pain I felt as a young FBI, Special Agent, when in April of 1986, I lost a good friend and colleague, Jerry Dove, in a Miami Bank robbery shootout. Jerry and I were buddies and teammates in our basic SWAT training class just months before Jerry was struck down in the streets of Miami. As Jerry lie wounded in the street and attempted to reload his weapon, the heavily armed Bank Robbers ran up and summarily executed him in the street.
Jerry was great guy; he had a lot of charisma and a great sense of humor. I remember in SWAT training as we got pushed to the edge during the long, hot days of summer, we could always count on Jerry to get a laugh out of all of us with one of his classic lines or pranks. He was smart, diligent, had a great sense of humor and, as his Mom said at his funeral; he died doing what he always wanted to do, be an FBI agent. That shootout cost the lives of two FBI agents, along with Jerry, Ben Grogan, a senior well-respected agent and the serious wounding of a third agent, Ed Mireles, who incidentally was able to reload his shotgun despite being seriously wounded and kill both suspects at the scene.
In the follow-up analysis of the shootout, it became evident that the bad guys were outgunning us on the streets and the FBI and law-enforcement community as a whole, reassessed our weapons and the move from revolvers to semiautomatic pistols with higher capacities and higher firepower became the law-enforcement standard. I found solace in the belief that Jerry’s death may not have been in vain because this shift and upgrade of weapons may have indirectly saved the lives of many law-enforcement officers that followed.
Lt. Ruben Diaz was kind enough to send me a copy and bio of each of the 39 Harris County Sheriff Office deputies that have died in the line of duty. While I was overseas, I read each one and pondered the circumstances and senselessness of each of their deaths. I also thought of those they left behind; the wives, the children, the Moms, the Dads, the brothers, the sisters and how time may ease the pain of their loss somewhat, it never fully subsides. Today, we also honor and pray for you, those victims of the fallen, that you find solace in knowing that your loved ones died honorably and in service to their community and their country.
It’s not feasible to recall each of the fallen 39, but I would like to mention a few of those that we wish to remember today. DEPUTY CARL COURT was the first HCS deputy killed in the line of duty on Nov. 30, 1895 at a shootout in a bar while working in what was described as the western side of town and in a somewhat lawless part of the county, then called Chaneyville or Chaney Junction near what is today the area of Washington Street and Studemont. Imagine a Harris County where Washington and Studemont were considered the wild edge of town.
In the fall of 2008, Sergeant THOMAS LUELL KEEN died responding to the Emergency call out of Deputies during Hurricane Ike. Sergeant Keen was trying to get out of his neighborhood and stopped to help others in his neighborhood clear trees that had come down during the hurricane and were blocking the streets. While cutting the trees which were in contact with fallen power lines, Sergeant Keen suffered a serious injury and died 2 days later from his injuries. Sgt. Keen was two-tour U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, a husband and a father. He left behind his wife, Jana, his son, Cody and a brother, Mike Keen.
In 2009 and in 2004, Detention officers, DIONICIO CAMACHO and THOMAS FLORES DOUGLAS each respectively died during training exercises. DIONICIO was U.S. Marine veteran and left behind a wife and son. Deputy SHANE BENNET died in the line of duty in 2002 in a gun battle with home invasion suspects in north Harris County. He left behind his wife and 20 month old daughter. Deputy Joseph Norman Dennis was shot and killed while apprehending a gun-wielding suspect leaving behind his wife Rene and his 2 children. Deputy Barrett T. Hill was shot and killed pursuing 4 suspects that were breaking into vehicles in an apt. complex in north Harris County in the early morning hours of December 4, 2000. He was remembered as always being a positive force to those around him. He left behind his wife and 2 daughters, ages 18 and 7. Deputy JOHN RISLEY was shot and killed Oct. 23rd of that same year when he responded to a disturbance call in the Tomball area by a shotgun wielding suspect. In an ensuing gun battle, the suspect was shot and killed by other deputies but Deputy Risley lost his life leaving behind a wife and 2 daughters, ages 16 and 11.
16 and 11 is just too young to lose your Dad.
Deputy OSCAR C. HILL IV was killed as a result of severe injuries sustained while pursuing armed suspects that had created a disturbance at a night spot in north Harris County. Associates of the suspects in a second vehicle ran over an injured Deputy Hill as he lay wounded in the street. Deputy Hill was U.S. Marine veteran who had served tours of duty in Southwest Asia and Somalia. He died days later as a result of his severe injuries. He left behind his Mom and Dad, a brother and 3 sisters.
Finally, let’s remember, Rebecca Ann Shaw, a Field training officer, 14 year veteran of the department and the only woman to die in the line of duty when her patrol vehicle was struck by a train in northwest Harris County. They are part of the more than 19,000 law-enforcement officers that have fallen in the line of duty. Incidentally, in the history of Policing, Texas leads the nation in law-enforcement death with nearly 1600 far exceeding states such as California and New York with larger or comparable populations.
Today, on average, one law-enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty every 53 hours. In a single week-end this past January, we may recall because it became a national story in the media, 13 Police officers and federal agents were shot in a four day period throughout the U.S.; four were shot fatally and several others critically wounded. As we pay tribute this evening, that tribute will ring hollow unless we do all we can to support the men and women who keep our society more lawful and our lives more secure, to help them as enforcers of the law and do all we can to keep them from being victims.
Improved training, better equipment and tougher criminal justice laws have made a difference. But that is of little solace to the survivors of those who we lost last year. And there are troubling signs on the horizon. A weakened economy has threatened training, equipment and corrections dollars. Already this year, 69 officers have been shot and killed nationally…….that’s a 17 % increase over the same time last year. This is certainly no time for complacency. Recent news reports have carried frightening stories of militia plots against police and terrorist threats against our citizens. The simple truth is that America’s law-enforcement officers have never been more challenged or more vital to our safety and security. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude tonight and always. They have been collectively called the THIN BLUE LINE. That line is nothing less than a shield against chaos, against the worst impulses of humanity, a protection we may not always think about often take for granted until it is raised in our own defense.
The safety of our citizens in their homes, where they work, where they play…it all depends on that Thin Blue Line….and, so, it behooves us to strengthen, respect and reinforce that Blue Line and to make it as strong as we can.
A scholar once said, without law and order in a society, nothing else may be realized. There can be no economic, social or political growth. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples within societies around the globe and throughout history wherein chaos and anarchy overshadow the principles of law and order. Those societies became void of any growth and opportunity for its citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you, the role of police and the judiciary in any free and democratic society is critical to its very existence.
Tonight, we honor the men and women that represent and humanize those very principles. These officers and deputies reported to work not knowing that fateful day would be the end of their devoted watch. In the words of a colleague of one fallen officer, “we all take for granted that they will come back safe and sound after their shift. Then, one day, they don’t.” That is part of the selfless heroism of law-enforcement – knowing that the most routine of calls can turn suddenly violent.
In the worst of moments, it is that heroism that faces danger to protect a victim and risks all safety in the protection of citizens. Each and every moment of the day, our country is indebted to all the men and women in patrol cars, on bikes, on foot and standing post….we must never take them for granted.
This closeness to danger inspires a special loyalty among those who carry a shield and enforce the law. When one is lost, the family left behind is cared for, and held close by the brotherhood of law-enforcement. Tonight, as we honor those who have fallen, let’s remember their calling in life was to keep the peace and we pray that they have now found peace in the presence of God Almighty. As a closing thought, I’d like to read a quote from the esteemed psychiatrist and writer, Dr. ELIZABETH KUBLER-ROSS in her book titled, Death: the Final Stage of Growth.
“Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of death during conflict and have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experience with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means.” Death is the final stage of growth in this life. There is no total death…only the body dies. The self, the spirit, whatever you may wish to label it, is eternal”.
Thank you and Godspeed.
This presentation was given by James Conway at the Law Enforcement Memorial Service, May 10, 2011 hosted by the Harris County Sheriffs Department.