By Jason A. Smith
Dwaine Mitchell said the inspiration for a career in law enforcement came when he was a teenager, watching a crime unfold.
"I saw this guy hitting a lady in her car, in a parking lot," said Mitchell, 56, of Hampton. "Her head was just snapping left and right. I went over to the car -- I'm only 13 -- and he had some choice words for me. I thought then, 'I can do something about that. I can make a difference.'"
Now, after three decades in law enforcement, Mitchell has stopped being a cop. He retired from the Henry County Police Department this month.
He grew up in northwest Atlanta, and graduated from Harper High School in 1972. From there, he went to the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served from 1973 to 1975. Mitchell said he did not immediately jump from the military to being an officer.
"I worked as a warehouse manager on Fulton Industrial Boulevard, but I knew I was going to ultimately wind up in law enforcement," he said. In 1980, he joined the Atlanta Police Department, and was soon thrust into the infamous Atlanta Child Murders case, which resulted in Atlanta native, Wayne Williams, being convicted of several of the murders.
"My role was to sit on a bridge, and just listen for a body to fall," said Mitchell. "We had no weapons. All we had was a radio. I played some decoy roles where I actually went through shopping malls, trying to get picked up by whoever, to see if [a killer] would approach."
After working as a patrolman on the streets of Atlanta, Mitchell was assigned to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he spent his last 11 years with the Atlanta Police Department.
"One of my roles was to go out and escort disabled aircraft back to the gate," he said. "So I had to be familiar with the jargon of air-traffic controllers."
Mitchell left the Atlanta police force in 2003. He then worked at the Clayton County Jail until 2005, when he became a patrol officer in Henry County. The reason he went to Henry, according to Mitchell, is he "felt like a carpenter without his tools" working at the jail.
"You don't have a weapon ..., and you're pretty much locked in there with those guys when the doors close," he said. "So, that's why I decided, 'No, this is not for me.' I needed to get back out in the field."
However, for Mitchell, working in then semi-rural Henry County presented challenges he did not face in Atlanta.
"When I came here ..., for the first six months, I was lost," he said. "I would go from chasing bad guys, to [chasing] cows, sometimes. I'm like, 'I don't do cows. What are we supposed to do?' I had about 15 Texas Longhorns on Highway 20 one night, and they weighed about 2,000 pounds each. I bumped the siren, and they looked at me like, 'Yeah, right.'"
Still, Mitchell has enjoyed working with the Henry department, calling it a "family-oriented" department.
"You can actually walk up and shake the chief's hand, or speak to the major in the hallway," he said. "... Atlanta was so big that you might not see somebody [in your department] for five or six years."
Those who have worked with Mitchell said he has been an asset to Henry's police force.
"If the younger officers, and even some of the older officers, can watch his example, they'll go far," said Lt. Mark Amerman, who oversees Henry's Special Operations Division. "They're going to make it to retirement, like Officer Mitchell did, without anything [negative] in their record.
"Of course, he's brought all the experience of where he came from," Amerman said. "He's going to be sorely missed, because he did have all that knowledge." Mitchell, he added, will be remembered by his peers for his "professionalism," and for treating people fairly.
Mitchell is "a great guy," who will "go to bat" for others, said Officer Roikendo Exum. He worked with Mitchell at the Clayton County Jail, and is now a Henry County police officer.
"He actually convinced me to start here," said Exum. "I can't say enough wonderful things about him."
Mitchell received his private investigator's license last month, and plans to work with a friend in the investigative field. He said he is proud of what he accomplished during his law-enforcement career.
"When you look at my career and everything I've done, there's not a whole lot left to be done," he said.
Mitchell has been married to his wife, Patricia, for 22 years. The couple has two children, 20-year-old, De-juana, and 19-year-old, Dwaine, Jr.