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Fallen law-enforcement officers honored by comrades

Photo by Jason A. Smith
Law-enforcement personnel in Henry County gathered Friday, to remember their co-workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Photo by Jason A. Smith Law-enforcement personnel in Henry County gathered Friday, to remember their co-workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

More than 100 police officers and deputies from Henry County saluted in silence Friday morning, as the Henry County Police Department hosted a law-enforcement memorial service to pay tribute to those who had lost their lives in the line of duty.

The solemn, respectful observance was part of National Police Week, and representatives from the police department, the Henry County Sheriff's Office, as well as members of the state legislature, gathered to show their respect and gratitude.

An American Flag was lowered to half-staff, in memory of Henry Police Officer Chuck Haist, Police Sgt. Jimmy Gilbert, Henry Sheriff's Deputy Marvin Scarlett and Police Officer Jimmy Carter.

"These brave men will always evoke the true meaning of courage, honor and integrity," said Henry Police Interim Chief Keith Nichols.

Haist died in a collision in February of 2005, and Gilbert in May of 2005. Scarlett lost his life in a crash in a patrol car in May of 2007. Henry Police began honoring fallen officers and deputies after Gilbert's death, according to Nichols. He said the annual event takes on a deeper meaning this year with the death of Carter, who died in an accident on his way to work last month.

Carter's death, said Nichols, is a reminder that one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty every 53 hours in this country. "We are still grieving over this tragic event, and are devastated," he said.

"Naturally, it's fresh on our minds, but every year when [the memorial service] rolls around, we think of Chuck Haist and Sgt. Jimmy Gilbert," he continued. "We think about them every day, but it just brings it to the forefront of how important it is to keep their memory alive, because of what they mean to us. Every time we lose an officer, a part of our department goes with that officer, and it's tough to rebound from these losses. We know we have to, and we do, but you don't ever recover."

Officer Haist's cousin, Brandy Mapp, said she appreciates the desire of the law-enforcement community in Henry, to pay tribute to him. "It's nice that he's still remembered and honored," she said. "You never get over it. Day-to-day life gets easier, but the loss never goes away. You have all these people supporting you, and it makes it easier."

Henry Sheriff Keith McBrayer, during his remarks at the service, emphasized a need for law-enforcement agencies to ensure that their personnel receive the best training possible, in order to minimize the risk to their lives. McBrayer cited the death of a deputy in a neighboring jurisdiction as evidence of the law-enforcement community being "a huge family." Rockdale County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Mahaffey was fatally shot while on duty May 8, and was laid to rest Wednesday.

Police and deputies from numerous agencies, the sheriff added, came to Mahaffey's funeral to honor him.

"We come together in times of trouble," McBrayer said. "We always have, and I think we always will, come together when an officer's in trouble or an officer loses his life. That is very good, and we know we will do that. But, what I want to say to you today is, let's come together before those times of trouble. Know your fellow officer. Know his family. Know the things that he faces. Help him in the good times, so that when there's bad times, you'll know how to help that officer and take care of him."

Henry Commission Chairman, Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis described law enforcement as a "thankless," yet honorable profession, and a "calling of God."

"Long hours, low pay and holidays spent away from family usually come along as part of your job description," said Mathis. "But it's also a profession in which you and your family know each and every day, that it may require the ultimate sacrifice -- the laying down of your life as you seek to help or protect others. But nonetheless, you are compelled to pursue this profession."

State Sen. John Douglas (R-District 17) presented a proclamation to Officer Carter's family, on behalf of the State Senate and the State House of Representatives. Carter, said Douglas, was "one of the best."

The senator commended local law-enforcement officers for their efforts in helping to keep the residents of Henry County safe. "You all are the worker bees," said Douglas. "When the danger bell rings, while all of us are running away, you run to the danger bell. You run to the danger to see what's going on, to separate us from chaos."

State Rep. Steve Davis (R-District 109) applauded those in the law-enforcement community, and said their sacrifices "do not go unnoticed."

"The true representatives are all of you," he said, "in your day-to-day meetings with the public, and how you deal with them, and the opportunity you have to reach out to them and show them what this county, and ... this state are about."