Remembering our fallen officers
May 16, 2014
Reporters who have covered the death of a police officer on duty come to realize very quickly that the loss affects the whole community.
I've covered three:
• An undercover state police officer was killed by big-time drug dealers who feared they were about to be apprehended. After the officer's death, they were taken into custody, and the last I knew, they were still in prison.
• A police officer was caught in the crossfire with two white supremacists who had just been released from prison and were holed up with weapons in an apartment building.
• The tragic death of Blaine County Undersheriff Pat Pyette, who was killed by a driver as he was directing traffic around the scene of an accident on U.S. Highway 2 between Chinook and Harlem on a rainy night. Pyette gave his life trying to make life easier for motorists.
Police officers represent the public. By accepting the police badge, they are asserting their belief in society and its ability to control itself. People relate to police officers like no other public servant. We get upset with the speeding tickets they give us, but realize that without them as the last-step backup, society is at a dead end.
The day of the standoff with the white racists, I remember seeing Elmira, New York, City Hall's front steps covered with hundreds of flowers. People wanted to do something, but there was little to do other than send flowers and offer prayers.
The day after Blaine County Undersheriff Pat Pyette's body was brought back by procession from Great Falls to Chinook, people who never knew Pyette stood on 1st Street in downtown Havre, their hands on their heart, their heads bowed in sorrow.
Last month, during the 1st Street standoff, Havre residents held their collective breath fearing that somehow, the disturbed individual would somehow injure one of our officers.
This all comes to mind because today is Peace Officers Memorial Day. President John Kennedy first declared May 16 to be the day to remember those who died in the line of duty. It has been observed every year since.
It is a day to recall officers who age their lives on duty.
This year, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox compiled a list of officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
Four, including Pyette, have been from the Hi-Line. Our area is more secure and safer today because of their actions.
The first officer killed in the line of duty from this part of the state was in 1904, Havre Police Officer Fred Stevens was gunned down on duty in May 25, 1904, in the wild and wooly streets of Havre's early days. The same suspect later shot and killed Sheriff Harry Harris of the St. Croix County, Wisconsin.
It's no exaggeration to say that Havre transformed itself from a lawless outpost on the Hi-Line plains to the idyllic community it is today because some many officers put their lives on the line to protect the vast majority of law-abiding residents who wanted to live in peace.
Since Stevens gave his life, Liberty County Undersheriff Otto S. Fossen died from gunfire in 1957. He was shot seven times by a hitchhiker he had picked up.
Two hundred volunteers searched the area before a Roundup man was apprehended.
On May 29, 2003, Blaine County Deputy Thomas Rutherford died from gunfire as he was trying to investigate a domestic dispute near Harlem.
Each of the four who have died while on duty in the Hi-Line have helped make this a better place.
Today, we all ought to stop for a moment and keep them in our thoughts and prayers. And keep in our thoughts and prayers the people left behind, the spouses, children and friends.
They, too, have made their sacrifices so that we are all safe.
We thank them.
(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 406-265-6795, ext. 17, or 406-390-0798.)