Saying goodbye

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2007

Diane Harris served as Butler County Sheriff for 12 years, before losing the Democratic primary to Kenny Harden in June 2006. Harris started her law enforcement career as a dispatcher with the Greenville Police Department in 1976. She concluded service with the city in 1993 as a Lieutenant, serving as commander of the 2nd Judicial Task Force. The Advocate sat down with Harris on Friday to find out her plans for the future and what she hoped Butler County's citizens would remember about her tenure as sheriff.

What are you feeling here on the last Friday before turning over your duties as sheriff?

I'm happy. We had me a retirement celebration last night and the turn out was real wellŠI'm just waiting for the 14th to roll around when I'll be able to go home and do the things that I haven't had time to do.

What will you miss most about

this job?

Being able to assist people in whatever category that comes around. Being able to get out and see the folks, which I'll be able to have more time now than I had, because being the sheriff hereŠwhen you have things going on outside you have to be there. Then people expect you to be in the office whenever they come around. Well you can't be two people. You have to put your priorities (straight). I'll be able to slow down now.

What are your immediate plans for the future?

I'm just going to sit back and relax, take a vacation, go see my familyŠdo some of the things that Diane's wanted to do for 12 years.

Considering how close the Democratic primary race (Harris lost to Harden by 68 votes) is there any consideration to run again for sheriff in four years?

I don't know. I don't know at this particular time. I'm sure the future is going to hold a lot in store for me. But right now I'm going to sit back and not think about anything or about what I'm going to do. I'll make my decisions later on.

Looking back over the last 12 years, what do you feel are some of your biggest accomplishments?

One of the biggest accomplishments was the upgrading of equipment around here. It was bad. I've been able to put us on Southern Linc and upgrade the radios where we'd be able to reach one another in the field, whether in Forest Home or McKenzie and being able to talk to any other agency that needed help. Another was being able to put on more staff at the jail. When I come here there was one person working each shift at the jail. Now there's two people each shift and there's a jail administrator.

Some of the worst things are the times when I've had to arrest my employees. Of course the one that stands out the most is when I had to arrest one of my investigators and three (deputies) walked out (last year). It seems like it's been a bumpy road ever since. We've not neglected the county in any way. We've done our job. I'm proud to go out on a clean slate. I've got one unsolved murder - I believe from 1997 - on Silas Davis. I've got one escapee from the jail from either '96 or '97. All the others who escaped from the jail were apprehended shortly thereafter. I'm just proud of the job I was able to accomplish while I was here as sheriff. Had a lot of good people. Some of them turned out to be sour. But most of them kept an open mind and was willing to get out and help the people.

What do you feel is the general public's perception of the sheriff's job and what is the actual reality?

It's a lot different then people realize and it's certainly not CSI. We cannot go to a call one minute where someone's been killed and tell them the time of death like TV portrays it. It's nothing like that.

The general public thinks that being the sheriff you work eight to five and you go home and do whatever you want to do thereafter. Crime doesn't stop at five o'clock. Crime doesn't start at eight o'clock. There has to be somebody around to do the job around the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a yearŠ366 on leap year (laughs). Several of the calls we've had, I've got up in the wee hours of the morning and never seen home for two days. It was according to the severity of it. When you get something like that going on, you can't just turn it over and say ‘I'm going home, I've got to have some rest.' You start getting one piece of evidence and you follow it up until something breaks.

The excitement of the jobŠeveryday is different, every call is different. That's why I got into law enforcement. Because of the excitement. Something's always happening. Whether or not it's pulling a dog out from a plastic jug where he's hung his head, or killing a snake in a house, or running a goat or horses or cows, to doing a murder, or suicide, or rape, or theft. Every call is different.

What stands out in your mind as one of the most difficult cases you've worked?

The Silas Davis case. Because it remains unsolved. It's still fresh on my mind. The circumstances surrounding that case make it hard. I've had a lot of people say ‘well, the one who killed him later killed himself.' But I can't rule it out like that until it can be proven out that's what happenedŠthat's the one that weighs on my mind so heavyŠit's something that you don't forget. The worse thing is the children. Sex abuse cases. Sudden death syndrome. And wrecks galore.

How do you want the people of Butler County to remember your tenure as sheriff?

That I was fair and equal. I see no color. Whether you're young, old, middle aged, it doesn't matter. If I can help you, I'll help you. If I can't, I can't. If I tell you one time, then you don't need to be doing that. And if you want to go ahead and buck the systemŠI've done told you one time. I'm sorry. That's just the law.