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No more campaigns or catching criminals

Graves (click for larger version)
March 25, 2014 | 02:17 PM
ELKHORN — Sheriff David Graves has a gift of gab. He is in his element campaigning at the Walworth County Dairy Breakfast or when he is negotiating during a high-pressure hostage situation.

“I can’t think of a person who was more well-liked by the public than Dave Graves,” Judge Phillip Koss said. “I would tease him. He was raising money and I would say, ‘Dave, you don’t need to worry, there is nobody who could ever beat you.’”

Koss, the former district attorney, has known Graves since Graves was a sheriff’s deputy.

“He knows everybody, and he likes people,” Koss said. “He really has a gift of identifying with people and at any level making them feel comfortable.”

Throughout the years, Graves has been a regular at many public events, like the dairy breakfast. In 1990, he launched the county’s SWAT team. During his tenure as SWAT team member, Graves talked 15 people who had barricaded themselves in a building into surrendering peacefully.

On March 14, Graves announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election in November. His term will end in January.

“I’m sad to see him go,” Koss said. “He has done a great job, and every time he moved up, he did a better job. I think a lot of him.”

County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said she believes Graves is “a very good sheriff.” She said his department and the county board have always enjoyed a good working relationship, which is not always the case in county government.

“Even though he is an elected official and can run his own show except for his budget, he has always been sensitive to the county board,” Russell said. “I think the most effective relationship we had was not building an extension to the jail, but instead finding an alternative to incarceration. He helped us understand that whole process a lot better.”

To conserve jail space, the county has implemented an electronic monitoring program.

“Since assuming the role of district attorney I have come to have an even greater respect for Sheriff Graves and his work on behalf of Walworth County,” District Attorney Daniel Necci said. “I congratulate him on a distinguished career in law enforcement and a well-deserved retirement. I will certainly miss working with him to keep the people of Walworth County safe.”

State Rep. Tyler August released a statement shortly after Graves announced his retirement.

“For the past 14 years Sheriff Graves has done an excellent job as Walworth County Sheriff,” August said in a statement. “Having served in law enforcement for over 42 years, Sheriff Graves’ commitment to public safety was second to none. I have enjoyed working with him on law enforcement issues and am proud to call him my friend. He will truly be missed by the residents of our county.”

After Graves announced his retirement, he agreed to an interview with the Regional News. Graves shared stories about the beginnings of his career and some of the hardest situations he has faced as the sheriff.

Graves said he could tell war stories for hours. Like the time he made sure a Ku Klux Klan rally didn’t erupt into violence.

The trick, he said, was to barricade the Klan on one side, protestors on the other and place the media in the middle. The media, he said, loved it.

In 2002, an elderly woman, Hedwig “Heddie” Braun was kidnapped and held for ransom by a desperate man. Braun was held in a cold, dark trailer.

Graves said he called in the FBI and the Wisconsin Department Division of Criminal Investigation to help find Braun.

That case, which made national news, was a big challenge for Graves. In the end the woman was rescued and the kidnapper remains in prison.

The beginnings

When Graves graduated from high school, he was considering two career paths. One in radio or television and the other in law enforcement.

He referred to his father as a ‘rough rider,’ a part-time sheriff’s deputy who could be called in during emergency situations.

His brother, a two-tour veteran of the Vietnam War, was a sheriff’s deputy. His brother was killed four weeks after returning home in an off-duty car crash. After his brother’s death, Graves gravitated to law enforcement.

At that time, Graves was working in a service shop where he worked on the squad cars for the Whitewater Police Department. Whenever Chief Don Simon or Lt. Bruce Lyon stopped in, Graves would ask them about working for the department.

He was eventually hired on in a role similar to a community service officer. He worked dispatch and accompanied meter maids as they collected coins.

At the time the Whitewater Police Department had a high turnover, and one summer day — after six officers left the department — Graves was given a badge, a gun and a promotion to patrolman. He was 20. He had to be issued the firearm because he was too young to buy one.

Graves started as a patrol officer in August and entered the police academy in October.

He left the department in 1976 to join the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department because it was a better paying job and it allowed him to patrol a larger area. He spent 12 years on road patrol before being promoted to sergeant and then to lieutenant.

As lieutenant, Graves oversaw the jail. At the time, his immediate supervisor was overseeing a jail expansion effort, and Graves supervised the daily operations.

He would travel through the jail’s three locations. Yes, there were three locations during the expansion. One location was in Elkhorn’s downtown, another in an area called the trailers (there were eight trailers and it looked like a loading dock) and a third Huber facility, which was located near what is now the courthouse.

His promotion to undersheriff came as something of a surprise. The day of his promotion, he said, he was busy in his office. He was told Sheriff Dean McKenzie wanted to see him.

McKenzie offered him the position as undersheriff. McKenzie asked Graves if he would be willing to be sheriff and if he would run for the position when McKenzie eventually retired. McKenzie also asked Graves if he wanted to talk over the decision with his wife. There was no need, Graves said because the couple had already talked about it.

Graves promoted the first woman in the department to the rank of sergeant. Capt. Dana Nigbor is still with the department. Graves has been sheriff for 14 years.

During his entire time as sheriff, he has had Kurt Picknell as his undersheriff. He has endorsed Picknell for his job.

No one is safe from drunken drivers

In 2007, Graves was the victim of a drunken driver.

The crash occurred during a snow storm, and Graves, his wife, Connie, his daughter, Shannon and his niece, Sarah Johnson were driving to Whitewater.

Earlier that night Graves’ mother called him to see if he was OK. Call it a mother’s intuition, but Graves’ mom had a bad feeling.

Graves assured his mother he knew how to drive in the snow.

While driving home, he suddenly saw an oncoming car was in his lane.

“I tried to go to the right on theshoulder, and she mirrored my headlights,” Graves said.

It was a low-speed crash, but it was enough to deploy the airbags and spin the vehicle. Connie was temporarily knocked out by the airbag, and the kids in the back seat were screaming.

After the crash, Connie and the kids went to the nearest home, and Graves checked on the other driver.

It was obvious the other driver hadbeen drinking, he said. He called dispatch and went into law enforcement mode.

He grabbed a flashlight from the trunk of his car and started directing traffic. At midnight, he called his mother to tell her about the accident and tell her that he was OK.

Her gut feeling was right, and she told him that she never stopped worrying about him.

The crash changed Graves’ perspective on drunken driving laws. He wonders how a bartender doesn’t notice that a patron is at 0.25, which is more than three times the legal limit. Graves said he brought his concern to the Tavern League.

“The law is the law and the person doing the serving should notice when someone is at a 0.25... The server should do something and call a cab,” Graves said.

In his career, his department has been involved in a number of officer-involved shootings.

He said those cases are never easy.

“You just hope that they never happen again,” Graves said.

He said he supports state legislation that would have an outside agency review any officer-involved shootings. In all but one case, he has had an outside agency review officer-involved shootings.

The Badger State Sheriff Association, a group Graves has been president of, also supports the legislation, Graves said.


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