Law enforcement community honored at banquet
This past week, communities across the country celebrated National Police Memorial Week and honored those who serve the country’s citizens on a daily basis and those who have bravely given their lives to that service.
In Franklin County, a special banquet was held on Thursday evening to show appreciation to members of the local police departments and sheriff’s office for the job they do day in and day out in this area.
“A law enforcement officer doesn’t expect praise for the job they do, and oftentimes, they receive criticism instead,” said Russellville Police Capt. Mike Prince, who co-organized the event along with Lt. Scotty Lowery.
“But without law enforcement officers, we would have no law or order in this country. It is a dangerous job, and you never know when you go out for a shift if you will get to return home to your family.”
Prince said in 2012, 120 law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice and died in the line of duty. He said an additional 41 officers have been killed in the line of duty just this year.
“I salute my brothers and sisters that have made the ultimate sacrifice in order that others might be safe,” he said.
“They are the main reason we gather for this banquet – so we can honor their memory and their sacrifice.”
Law enforcement officials gathered at the A.W. Todd Centre in downtown Russellville Thursday to hear renowned national speaker Robert H. Paudert, who is a retired police chief from West Memphis, Tenn.
Paudert travels around the country speaking to law enforcement officers about the measures they can take to remain safe while they are on the job, since he knows first-hand the devastating effects of losing an officer in blue.
On May 20, 2010, Paudert was employed as the chief of police in West Memphis, Tenn., when he heard over his police radio that an officer had been shot on I-40.
A few minutes later, a dispatcher confirmed that now two officers had been shot at the I-40 location.
Because of the radio traffic, Paudert believed it was members of the state police and not anyone from his own West Memphis police unit, which contained many good friends as well as his own son, Sgt. Brandon Paudert, but he decided to head to the scene and see if he could help.
What he discovered wasn’t something he could have ever prepared for.
Paudert told the crowd that when he pulled up to the scene, he saw several of his own unit’s vehicles, which surprised him since he didn’t think they were involved.
The next few minutes were a blur as he learned first that one of his most highly trained officers, Off. Bill Evans, had been shot 11 times with an assault rifle and was lying in a ditch just off the interstate while other officers attempted to get him medical attention.
While he was still processing this information, Paudert said he remembered the dispatcher said two officers had been shot so he began to look for another wounded officer.
“I went up the hill and there was an officer standing there by the police car and he said, ‘Chief, you don’t want to go around there,’” Paudert said.
“But I pushed my way around and I saw my son lying on his back with his 40 caliber glock still clutched in his hands. He had been shot 14 times – three times in the head and the others in his heart and body.”
Paudert said he had trouble understanding what he was seeing.
“I could feel my life drain out of my body at that moment,” he said. “The passion I had just drained out of me.
“I had decisions to make as a father and decisions to make as a chief since there were two killers on the loose in our city.”
Paudert said a man driving a FedEx truck had witnessed the entire event. He said Evans had apparently tried to stop a late-model white van for a traffic violation. When his partner, Brandon Paudert, arrived ten minutes later, the 58-year-old white man and his 16-year-old son became hostile and the son opened fire on both officers, shooting them multiple times and killing Brandon Paudert on the scene and fatally wounding Evans, who died later at the hospital.
Paudert said after a manhunt in the city, the van was spotted at a local Wal-Mart 90 minutes later and after a shootout that wounded two more officers, the father and son were both killed by law enforcement.
After telling the local law enforcement officers about what happened to his son and his partner, Paudert gave the officers advice about how to stay safe while on duty so the same thing wouldn’t happen to them.
“If they had some of the information you will receive tonight, they would probably be alive today,” Paudert said.
Even though it is hard for him to re-live his son’ death week after week through his speaking engagements, Paudert said he message of safety had to be addressed.
“It is worth it to me to get this message out to you,” he said. “I may have lost a son, but I have gained thousands of sons through what I do now.”
Prince said he invited Paudert to speak at this year’s 2nd Annual Law Enforcement Banquet because the message of safety is such an important one for police officers.
“We never know when our last day may be in this line of work,” Prince said.
“Having Ret. Chief Paudert speak to our local law enforcement here was something I thought was fitting for National Police Memorial Week because we always want our officers to stay safe and to come back home safely to their families, and being safe and being prepared is the best way to ensure that will happen.”
Prince said the banquet is also a time to honor those in law enforcement who have gone above and beyond what is asked of them, so an awards ceremony was held prior to the speaking event where the RPD honored the following officers:
Officer of the Year 2012 – Michael Miller; Distinguished Police Service Medal – Joey Franks; Chiefs Distinguished Service Medal – Sgt. Jake Tompkins, Lt. Scotty Lowery, Chaplain Bobby Brown; Attendance Award – Brandi Whiteley, Michael Miller, Sgt. Jake Tompkins; Physical Fitness – Sgt. Chad Sheffield, Adam Mitchell, Rodney Belue (Red Bay Police Department), Sgt. Jake Tompkins, Cpt. Steve Thornton, Lt. Scottie Belue (Red Bay Police Department), Tony Behel (Franklin County Sheriff’s Office), Sgt. Josh Tompkins, Justin Green, Ronnie Rose, Ryan Zedrow; Advance Physical Fitness – Michael Miller, Cpt. Mike Prince, Inv. Terry Zills (Franklin County District Attorney’s Office); Certificate of Appreciation – Lt. Jeff Michael for work with the Reserve Program and the Explorer Program.