68 graduate from sheriff’s Citizens’ Academy


Lt. Jeff Clemons and Lt. Rex Sorrow pose for a photo at the graduation ceremony for the latest class from the Cullman County Sheriff's Office Citizens' Academy. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN – On Tuesday evening, the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) graduated 68 students from its second Citizens’ Academy of the year in a ceremony at Temple Baptist Church.  With numerous deputies and administrative staff present, along with County Commissioner Garry Marchman, Sheriff Matt Gentry welcomed guest speaker Jay E. Town, who serves as the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama.

The sheriff began by applauding his staff and the commissioner, then said, “I think about the vision that we had for the Citizens’ Academy, and what we could accomplish with it.  Day one I told you the office of sheriff doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to the deputies in here; it belongs to all of us.  And that’s what the office of sheriff is about: it’s about our community.  It’s about how strong that we can become, as a community, to be successful.”

He commended his deputies: “I hope and pray that you learned a little bit about the deputies.  I guarantee you, the men and women at the sheriff’s office will do anything in the world for you, even if they seem tough and gruff.  I promise you, when you need help, you can’t beat them to the call.  You can’t beat them to the call, and it’s because they believe in their community and they believe in each other.  And that’s really what it’s about today. It’s about taking care of each other and supporting each other.”

Town told the graduates that they are now “ambassadors for law enforcement,” and delivered an address on the current state of the federal justice system, and how that system will help local law enforcement agencies be more effective.

“These (deputies), they have a real job; it’s a dangerous job, it’s an important job.  It doesn’t just come with a diploma and a little bit of training.  There’s a huge responsibility, and really a huge burden that these men, the sheriff’s men, all the PDs here in this county, that your District Attorney Wilson Blayock and all the law enforcement in the northern district and indeed the country, bear.

“It’s a huge weight,” Town continued, “and if you look at the past several years, I think the weight has been greater.  It’s been borne in significant ways that, maybe, we didn’t anticipate when we got into law enforcement, wouldn’t have occurred to us, in so many ways.

“Members of the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office and so many others have faced a pretty negative perception, a pretty negative time these last several years, and, to the extent, gentlemen, sheriff, that your men and your women have felt unwanted by the federal government, to the extent that they have felt unwelcome, and to the extent that somehow your reputations have been tarnished–let me just say that, to the extent that I can help it, those days are over.”

Town commended the graduates on their demonstration of support for law enforcement, shown in their participation in the academy.  He went on to talk about U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions’ support for law enforcement, saying that the federal government has begun again to respect the high standards to which law enforcement officers are held, and echoing the AG’s recent words to law enforcement, “We have your back, and you have our thanks.”

Town talked about the differences between local and federal authorities in the area of sentencing convicted criminals, and how federal courts can make sentences stick while local authorities are routinely hindered by sentences that can be arbitrarily reduced.  By means of a new program, local law enforcement now has a streamlined means of referring certain dangerous or repeat offenders to federal prosecutors for longer sentences that will actually result in long prison stays.

“This is our home,” said Town.  “People ask me why I want this job: ‘Why would you want that job and the scrutiny that goes along with it?’  Why would your sheriff want to run for office every four years, and face the political scrutiny and the money that it takes, and the effort that goes into it?  Because this is our home, and if we’re not going to lead, who’s going to?  And if they’re better than us, then, hey, bring them.  Send them on; we could use their help.  But otherwise, that’s why we want this job.  That’s what our legacy is at the end of the day.”

Town concluded by encouraging the graduates to continue to speak well of law enforcement based on what they learned, saying that every good statement chips away at the negative narrative of the last several years and makes life a little better for all law enforcement officers.

Citizens’ Academy graduates:

Melinda Bright, Tyler Bright, Kenny Brown, Terri Brown, Woodrow Brown, Kenny Bryant, Nancy Bryant, Rachel Bryant, Max Buettner,  Jr., Norman Bush, Robert Carpenter, Tina Chapman, Michael Chesley, Sharron Chesley, Kathryn Earley, Virginia Edwards, James E. Glasscock, Jr., Michael Glover, James Grace, Michael Gurley, Amanda Hampton, Donnie Handley, Vicky Harp, Dustin Hastings, David Hayward, Constance Hope Hill, Nicole Ruth Hollingsworth, Luke Holmes, Natalia Hudson, Jennifer Jackson, Christina James, David James, Doug Jones, Roger Dale Jones, Samuel Knight, Heather H. Land, Rodney Land, Paul M. Maner, William Mann, Kristy McKerley, Bruce McLaughlin, Judy McLaughlin, Teresa Parson, Daniel E. Payne, Amy Persall, Wesley Phillips, Breana Posey, Donald Wayne Reese, Lisa Reese, Oscar Santiago, Jacqueline B. Schendel, Nancy D. Scott, Jesselyn Carranda Shewbart, Barry Kell Slatton, Barbara Sobko, Edward Sobko, Juanita Stephens, Barbara A. Sudduth, Richard Thomas, Lavell Thrasher, Louis Tremblay, LarryTucker, Robert R. Turner, Monica Taylor Wesson, Josh Wiggins, Charles Rick Williams, Cynthia S. Yarbrough, George Yarbrough

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