I hope you all have had a happy and safe holiday season and are excited about getting 2021 underway.
Last week your police department held a small informal ceremony. We had plenty of reason for a large grandiose ceremony, but we needed to follow COVID-19 restrictions. So, a few officers and a handful of proud family members gathered on a cold afternoon out on the front steps of our police department.
Why the ceremony? It’s not often that law enforcement publicly acknowledges the selfless and brave work that is so common in our profession. The purpose of this ceremony was to awarded Sgt. Jamie Hyatt and Sgt. Zack Stiles each with the Law Enforcement Life-Saving Award.
As I prepared for the ceremony, I began thinking about law enforcement morale in 2020. Morale is low among many departments and individual officers. We have a shortage of people interested in serving their communities in this noble capacity.
To make matters worse, experienced officers are leaving the job in record numbers. Officers are tough, everybody knows that, but the ones who stay during these hard times ... these are the toughest of the tough. Nearly all first responders could make more money in the private sector. If they don’t do it for a big paycheck, why do they stay? Honor? Duty? Perhaps. I believe it is much more than that. I think the answer is simple. They care. Who do they care about? They care about you and your family. They care about our community and our safety.
We pride ourselves in being a police department for all people. When 911 rings, we don’t ask for the color of your skin or if you are rich or poor, we just go. Whether you want to defend us or defund us, we care about you the same.
This brings me to our subject at hand. About one year ago, SPD received a call for help from a citizen. The caller had been talking to a man who was going through some hard times.
The man told the caller that he had taken a possible lethal dose of medication and planned to die. The caller knew that SPD would help, so she called and asked our officers to check his welfare. Brand new SPD sergeants Jamie Hyatt and Zack Stiles answered the call.
After some ineffective conversation with this man through his front window, Stiles and Hyatt moved away from that window and begin to formulate a plan to get this man some help.
Suddenly, there a loud noise and the window where they were just standing shattered. It was so loud that they both believed the noise was a gunshot. We know now it wasn’t a gunshot, it was a 5-inch mechanical broadhead arrow shot from inside the house. The arrow struck Sgt. Stiles’ patrol car and ricocheted 75 feet away.
The courageous officers immediately took a position of concealment from the windows of the house. They radioed in the situation to get help on the way. Deputies responded immediately and began evacuating the man’s neighbors from their homes.
After a brief standoff, the man exited the front door of his home and began walking toward officers. He had something in his hand and wrapped around his neck. After the man got out into his front yard, the officers were able to tell that the man had a plastic-coated metal cable wrapped around his neck. The cable was a bicycle lock made to tighten around objects.
Suddenly, the man cinched the cable as tight as he could around his neck. This immediately began cutting off the blood flow to his brain. As the man started to turn blue, Hyatt and Stiles began frantically trying to use cutting instruments to cut the cable, but it was too tight and was too close to his neck for the tools to be effective. The man had already lost consciousness by this point.
This is a great example of our officers being able to de-escalate during a rapidly evolving situation. They transitioned from conflict mode into a caretaker role instantly. This man had just made an attempt on our officers’ lives, and now they were doing everything they could to save his life out in his front yard. Our officers cared about this man and they wanted him to live. The team of first responders were finally able to get the wire from around his neck. Harris EMS workers immediately began working to save the man, who eventually regained consciousness. We are grateful for our other public safety partners.
We are so thankful this situation was resolved safely. The Sylva PD values all life. These two young and brave police sergeants did their job well that day. As the chief of police, it was my absolute honor to award both of these fine officers with the Law Enforcement Life-Saving Award. So, if you see Sgt. Stiles or Sgt. Hyatt be sure and tell them how proud we are of them.
Sylva, you have strong and brave officers serving within your police department. We thank you for your support and your trust.
Until next time, please look out for each other, slow down on our streets and please watch for people in our crosswalks.
Hatton is chief of the Sylva Police Department.