It was just over 100 years ago—Sunday May 4th, 1919-when Lafayette County, Missouri Sheriff Joseph Caldwell Talbott, Deputy John McDonald, and Deputy Constable James Stapleton were shot and killed while transporting three auto theft suspects to jail.

Because the office of sheriff was left vacant, a special election was quickly scheduled to fill the position. Sheriff Talbott’s wife, Minnie Mae Talbott (pictured above), tossed her hat in the ring, which was unheard of at the time for a women to even remotely think she could win an election. But Minnie Mae was determined.

Twenty-five days after the three lawmen were gunned down in the line of duty, on May 29th, 1919, Minnie Mae Talbott won the office once held by her husband (by over 700 votes) and was officially sworn into office on June 8th 1919.

Minnie Mae Talbott was the first woman elected to the office of Sheriff in the United States. Just as remarkable, she was elected to office by an all-male electorate.  After all, women would not gain the right to vote until August 1920.

Sheriff Talbott and her five children resided in the jail complex where she often took it upon herself to prepare meals for the prisoners housed there. She did what she could, running the jail on a budget of a mere $80 mer month.

Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbott earned a groundbreaking spot in the history books. She served as Lafayette County, Missouri’s 16th sheriff, an office she held for only two years. She decided not to run in the next election due to her declining health. Therefore, she moved to Colorado, hoping the change would aid in her battle against consumption. She remarried there and and remained in Colorado until her death in 1962.

Joseph L. Forsha was elected and succeeded Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbot as the county’s 17th sheriff.

Female Sheriff in Charge of the Last Public Hanging in the United States

On August 14, 1936, just before 5:30 a.m., Rainey Bethea was led to the gallows in Owensboro, Kentucky. He’d been convicted of robbing, raping and murdering 70-year old Lischia Edwards.

News of Bethea’s public hanging, the last in the U.S., reached from coast to cost. The news was especially hot because the sheriff in the area, the official charged with carrying out the execution, was a woman—Sheriff Florence Shoemaker Thompson.

Sheriff Florence Thompson, a mother of four, was appointed to her position when her husband, Joseph Everett Thompson, the current sheriff, died of pneumonia. The local judge needed to move quickly to appoint a new sheriff to succeed Everett Thompson and his wife Florence was the logical choice for the job. This was so due to a practice at the time called “widow’s succession,” where a politician who died in office was succeeded in office by his widow.

Not one who favored wearing a uniform, Sheriff Florence Thompson often wore dresses while at work. To make her position noted, though, she pinned the sheriff’s star to her dress for all to see.

On the day of Bethea’s hanging, a mere four months after Thompson took office, a crowd of 20,000 people gathered to see the county’s female sheriff pull the lever to send the condemned man to his death. But she did not, opting to hand over the job to a former police officer who showed up in an extremely intoxicated state and practically botched the execution.

Journalists went nuts, ridiculing the sheriff for not having the guts to carry out the execution. One newspaper even falsely reported that the sheriff had fainted at the time the of the execution (yes, fake news existed in those days as well).

Thompson was re-elected in November of 1936 when she received 9,811 votes. The two who ran against her split a mere 3 votes between them. Obviously Sheriff Thompson was a popular woman. She served until 1938 when she decided to leave office. However, she was immediately appointed as a deputy by her successor.


Rainey Bethea’s last meal consisted of fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream. He elected to wear a new pair of socks at this execution, but no shoes.

Courtroom security

 

The responsibility of protecting county courtrooms, judges, jury members, court employees, witnesses, and all citizens who attend court hearings and trials, falls on the shoulders of the county sheriff. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting jail inmates to and from their court appearances, and for guarding the prisoners while they’re inside the courthouse.

US Marshals have the responsibility of providing security and prisoner transport for federal courts.

Sheriffs deputies employed as court security officers undergo special training related to working in a court environment. However, depending on an individual sheriff’s policy, court security officers may, or may not, be certified police officers.

The sergeant in the above photograph (you can tell he’s a sergeant by the three stripes on his sleeve and collar insignia) is in charge of all courtroom security operations. In addition to supervising the deputies working in the various courtrooms, he’s responsible for delivering each prisoner to the correct courtroom on time.

Closed circuit cameras in each courtroom and other strategic locations, project real-time images to the security office. Judges also have panic buttons beneath their benches. A press of the button sends an emergency signal to the security office, and to police dispatchers and the nearby sheriffs office.

Deputies gather chains in preparation of transporting prisoners back to jail.

Court security officers must learn to use various screening devices, such as hand-held metal detecting wands and x-ray equipment.

Monitors for x-ray equipment.

 

Officer stationed at x-ray machine and walk-through metal detector.

 

Typical courtroom

 

Jury box

 

Prisoner holding cell in court basement near the security office. Prisoners are brought to the courthouse where they’ll wait in these cells until their case is called. When their trial is complete prisoners return to the holding cells until deputies transport them back to jail.

*Remember, individual agency policies, rules, and procedures may vary.

Deputy Sheriffs

 

Most of us had our first real look at a sheriff’s office back in 1960 when Andy Taylor and his fearless deputy, Barney Fife, patrolled the roads in and around Mayberry, N.C.

Television took us inside the Mayberry jail, the courthouse, and it even allowed us to ride in the county patrol car. And for many people, Andy Taylor’s Sheriff’s Office was the standard. The things Andy did, well, that’s what a sheriff was supposed to do—fight crime, run the jail, provide security for the court, and serve the people of the community.

So let’s take a look at a real-life, modern day sheriff and his office to see how things differ from the fictional Mayberry department. First, like Andy, a sheriff is only one person, which means they’ll need help to fulfill their duties. So deputies are appointed, not hired, to help with the workload. For example, the Clark County, Ohio sheriff’s office is comprised of the Sheriff (Gene Kelly – pictured above), one Chief Deputy, one Major, four Lieutenants, seventeen Sergeants, one-hundred-nine Deputies and thirty four civilian support staff.

When we see a sheriff’s car rolling along the highways and streets, most people assume the driver is a cop just like any other cop—an officer who wears a gun and answers calls doled out by a 911 dispatcher. Well, that’s partly true. They do answer calls. BUT, a deputy’s job is much more than just arresting people and putting them in jail.

Sure, we know that sheriff’s are in charge of the county jails. And we’re well aware that they serve civil process, such as jury summons, lien notices, foreclosures, and evictions. We also know that a sheriff assigns deputies to protect the courts, judges, and to supervise prisoners. But did you know that the duties of sheriffs and deputies may also include…

Deputies patrol car

In the above photo, Sheriff Kelly is presiding over a sheriff’s sale. A sheriff’s sale is basically an auction to dispose of/liquidate property in which a mortgage owner has defaulted.

Operating mobile crime labs and investigative services.

Investigation of major crime scenes.

Community services, such as safety programs for citizens with special needs. One such program includes the ability to locate missing and/or lost persons through the use of tracking devices.

A person with special needs wears a wrist band with a built-in transmitter. Deputies equipped with specially designed receivers and antennas can then quickly track the person and return them to safety.

Housing prisoners from other jurisdictions whose facilities are overcrowded.

And, some locales may not have jail facilities at all and must rely on nearby sheriff’s offices for the safekeeping of their prisoners until trial.

Not all deputy sheriffs are police officers. Some are certified to work in the jail. Some are court security officers, and others have the sole duty of serving civil process.

Some deputies still unlock car doors for the unfortunate people who somehow manage to lock the keys inside their vehicles.

 

Deputies often organize and supervise search and rescue teams.

 

Some deputy sheriffs are cross-trained to work a variety of jobs within the department, such as patrol, jail, inmate transport, court security, etc.

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