‘The sheriff shall keep and preserve the peace within his county…’

'The sheriff shall keep and preserve the peace within his county…'
It took a couple of months for Deputy Jerami West of the Clay County Sheriff's Department to finally convince me to spend a day riding with him on patrol.

I always had a good excuse. Others things to do, stuff like that.

But finally, I had a Saturday with nothing scheduled. And the next thing I knew, I was sitting in the front passenger seat of Jerami's patrol car.

It was interesting, at first. I asked him about all the different things inside his car, without touching anything (didn't want to set off the siren, for example) although I have to admit it would have been fun to start messing with all the buttons and knobs.

Tedious work

But then, I have to admit, things started to get rather mundane. Television shows like COPS make it appear that law officers are constantly moving from one highly exciting case to the other.

That was hardly the case Saturday morning. One of the many jobs of the sheriff's department is to serve writs, warrants and other processes ordered by courts and magistrates.

In others words: serve papers.

I started keeping count. Between 8 a.m. and noon, we visited 10 different residences. Jerami was successful in serving papers to only two people.

The rest were either not home, or demonstrated just how quick footed they were.

On more than one occasion, we saw the person who needed to be served out working in his yard.

Problem is, these people saw us before Jerami could get out his car. They would dash inside their houses, lock doors, and ignore knocks on the door or the ringing of a doorbell.

Jerami glanced through the front window of one of the homes where he hoped to serve an adult his or her papers.

There was no answer to his repeated knocks, despite the fact that the television was on. Sitting on the floor in front of the TV was a 2-year-old, dining on a freshly poured bowl of Cheerios and milk.

The morning wasn't a complete sleeper. We chased a speeder on Cherry Street; who eventually pulled into a gas station. It was clear he was from out of town, and maybe didn't see the speed limit signs. He let the driver off with a warning.

We also took a young woman into custody who was wanted in Union County for writing bad checks, and dropped her off at the county jail.

Jerami's wife, Liv, who works as a dispatcher for the Vermillion Police Department, had cooked us lunch. We went to the West home, and I played with the couple's two young children, Signe and Caden, and wondered if things would pick up the remainder of the day.

A familiar face

Jerami is a familiar face in Clay County. He began his law enforcement career in 1998 when he became a corrections officer with the Clay County Jail.�In 2000, he was promoted to deputy sheriff and was promoted to sergeant in 2003. He became chief deputy in 2005.�

Jerami is a firearms instructor, a field training officer, and an advanced accident investigator. While serving in the United States Navy, he earned an associates degree in business administration.

Fully equipped�

The personnel of the Clay County Sheriff's Department, like members of most law enforcement agencies, drive full sized sedans. Locally, Sheriff Andy Howe and all of his deputies patrol in Crown Victories.

They need big cars for a good reason. Their interiors are crammed full up front with all sorts of stuff. Sometimes it seems the drivers barely have room to get behind the wheel.

There are controls for a spotlight, the two-way radio, a panel of switches that controls the lights and sirens, and there's even a laptop computer mounted between the driver's and passenger's seats.

Shortly after 1 p.m., we left the West home, and resumed the day's patrol. We drove to Clay County Park, saw a couple people who weren't up to any mischief, and started to head north.

Just when I thought it was going to be a really long day, the dispatcher radioed that a Signal 1, which is an injury accident, had occurred about halfway between Meckling and Wakonda.

Adrenalin rush

Jerami confirmed the approximate location of the accident, flipped on his lights and sirens, and stomped on the accelerator.

I watched the car's speedometer quickly climb to 120 miles hour; I was glad I had my seat belt on, and was in a car that had a roll cage being driven by someone who was trained to drive like this.

We were the first to arrive on the scene. The car, thankfully, really wasn't damaged. It had simply been driven off the edge of the road, and gotten stuck in a steep ditch.

A slim man sitting in the car's driver's seat, however, complained of rib and back pain when Jerami opened the rear door of the car to lean in and talk with him.

The Viborg ambulance arrived, and EMTs poured out of the vehicle and began talking with the driver.

Then the Wakonda ambulance and its personnel rolled on to the scene, to lend their assistance.

The car's driver was strapped to a board, with his neck secured, and carried to the Wakonda ambulance. EMTs began treating him.

A third ambulance arrived, from Vermillion, to transport him to the Vermillion hospital.

The Vermillion ambulance quickly left with the man. Jerami examined the car, and waited for a tow truck to arrive to move it. In the meantime, he talked with personnel from Viborg and Wakonda.

"The main reason I was talking with ambulance people is you just listen to the questions that they ambulance people ask, and basically I was trying to find out his name, his date of birth, and things like that so I knew who I was dealing with," Jerami said.

Jerami shifted his car into drive, and soon we were headed on our way back to Vermillion, this time at a much more reasonable pace.

"The next thing you know, everybody was asking, ?Do you suppose he had been drinking?' That's a good question."

We were headed back to the Public Safety Center in Vermillion, the building connected to the Clay County Courthouse that serves as home to the offices of the city police department, the sheriff's department, and the county jail.

Jerami needed to pick up a tube so a sample of the driver's blood could be collected and tested to see if he was indeed intoxicated at the time of the accident.

"Right now we're kind of in a race to get the blood," he said. "We want to get the blood as close to accident time as we can so it's an accurate level.

"If it has peaked, the test will show levels lower than the time of the accident," he added. "If it hasn't peaked, the level will climb higher than at the time when the accident occurred. We want to be as fair as we possibly can."

More excitement ahead

I thought we had finally experienced our thrilling moment of the day.

I was wrong. We hadn't hit Vermillion's city limits yet when the dispatcher radioed that the hospital had called an air ambulance to transport the driver to a larger hospital.

Now we were in a race with a helicopter.

Jerami pulled his patrol car into the parking lot of the public safety building. And suddenly the day seemed to spiral out of control.

Before he exited the car, the dispatcher called again. There was an unattended death in a home in Vermillion, and Jerami needed to quickly get there to investigate.

First, we went to the hospital with the tube. There was a flurry of activity in the emergency room. Jerami quickly filled out some paperwork, and made sure that a blood sample would be drawn soon and refrigerated, so he could pick it up later.

Then we raced to the home where the death occurred. I stayed in the car while Jerami first dealt with distraught relatives, and then went inside, waiting for a mortician to come and pick up the body.

"When there is an unattended death that is not attended by a hospital or a physician," Sheriff Andy Howe said, "then the sheriff and the coroner have joint custody of the body by statute."

The purpose of that, he said, is to insure there is an investigation of the death.

As I sat in the car, I thought about all of the things that had happened just that afternoon.

Jerami accurately described his work when he returned to his car.

"It's about 75 percent boredom, and 25 percent where you're just running constantly," he said. "When I say boredom, I don't mean that we don't have enough to do; it's more like routine stuff."

Diverse work

Members of the local sheriff's department play a unique role in the county's law enforcement.

"A lot of people assume we're the county police," Andy said. "That we just write tickets and do traffic."

Those items are quite a ways down on the list.

"The first thing we do, as far as priorities, is respond to calls for assistance," he said. "But we'll do reports on vandalism or burglary or driving complaints. And respond to any accidents."

The county jail and its inmates are the sheriff's department's responsibility. On top of the patrol duties, and the serving of papers, they must transport ill inmates to doctors for medical care, and also take them to the courthouse when their trial date arrives.

"We'll serve civil papers, we'll work to collect judgements and we'll serve our warrants. Sometimes that means spending a lot of time in the office tracking down fugitives. Meanwhile, we're hitting the streets, trying to be visible to protect people's property."

Andy's description of the duties faced by members of his department closely resembled what Jerami told me during our ride.

"They always call this job 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror," Andy said. "You just never know. The phone could ring just one time, and our whole day could change."

He remembers a few years back when his office was experiencing "a nothing day" until they got one of those calls. The bank in Wakonda had just been robbed.

"You never know when things are going to happen to change the course of your day or week."

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