Opinion: A Grim Reminder that Police Officers Don't Have Superpowers 

click to enlarge Virginia State Police officers and others pay their respects at a remembrance for Chad Dermyer last week.

Ash Daniel

Virginia State Police officers and others pay their respects at a remembrance for Chad Dermyer last week.

As a kid I was taught that police officers were the good guys. A simple-enough message, right? It’s those officers who find and arrest the bad guys, the criminals, the evil ones who are hurting the innocent. The lesson was clear and I teach it to my own children. That lesson apparently was lost on James Brown III from Aurora, Illinois.

Brown led a life of crime. According to his family he was enamored of the thug lifestyle and hated police officers with every fiber of his being. Brown was not just an actor in minor offenses, although he had more than his fair share of simple driving busts. No, Brown was a violent criminal without any shred of remorse. His rap sheet ran two full pages and was chock full of crimes like felony possession of a weapon, domestic battery, intimidation, aggravated battery of an unborn child, multiple drug charges, aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, resisting a corrections officer, failure to obey police, aggravated battery with a firearm, intent to kill and murder. Brown told his relatives that he was never going back to prison.

With that mindset, he had two choices he could make to ensure that he would remain a free man in the outside world. Option one was to find a legitimate job and live as a responsible member of society. No more stealing or beating pregnant women and unborn babies. Nope, he’d straighten up and fly right having learned his lessons. Option two was to continue to wallow in the criminal muck he always swam in but with the understanding that he’d never allow himself to be taken alive and incarcerated for the crimes he’d surely commit again.

Brown chose the second option.

Chad Dermyer grew up in Jackson, Michigan, and devoted his life to serving others. He was a decorated Marine who became a cop in his hometown before he came East and joined the Newport News Police Department. Eventually he joined the Virginia State Police. No one ever doubted that he was on the side of good. He was married and the father of two small children, a daughter and a son. Last Thursday morning he got up, dressed and left his Gloucester home for the last time. That was the day that this 30-something-year-old man originally from a small town in the Midwest would meet another 30-something-year-old man originally from a small town in the Midwest.

Trooper Dermyer and his unit were engaged in a training exercise at the Greyhound bus terminal in Richmond that day. Brown was at the bus terminal traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Chicago when he came in contact with Dermyer. We still don’t know why these two came to meet. Had the trooper begun to investigate Brown for some reason? Was Dermyer suspicious of the ex-con? Had Brown simply decided it was the time to go out in his blaze of misplaced glory? We do know that Brown pulled out a .40 caliber handgun and fired seven shots, striking Dermyer in the chest and robbing him of the chance to return to his family. State troopers returned fire, helping Brown to fulfill his promise of never going back to jail.

Years ago, I worked for a brief time as a police officer in my native Philadelphia. I remember being sworn in. I quickly learned that my uniform included only blue pants and a blue shirt. No red cape was issued. And that badge I was so proud to pin to my chest came with no superpowers.

I was single when I was a cop. I can’t even imagine doing the job and having a family. Every officer I ever worked with who had a family talked about making sure that they had kissed their spouses and kids on the way out the door. Nobody liked to talk about it, but everyone knew that returning to their family at the end of a tour of duty was never a given.

I’ve been to countless funerals for police officers killed in the line of duty over the years. They are traditionally known as inspector’s funerals and they are always the same. Police cars with lights flashing. Law enforcement officers standing ramrod straight at attention. An honor guard escorting the fallen hero. Family members who are not just sad but confused. After all, the person they loved was one of the good guys and this isn’t supposed to happen to the good guys.

Every police funeral ends with a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.” Mournful notes that strike to your very core. That’s when tall, strong, powerful cops break down in tears and cry rivers because each of them knows next time it could just as easily be them. And sadly, they all know that there will be a next time. S

Jeff Katz is the host of the afternoon show on Newsradio 1140 WRVA, which can be heard weekdays from 3-6 and on the Jeff Katz 24/7 channel on iHeartRadio. You can follow him on Twitter at jeffkatzshow and at Facebook.com/radiokatz, and reach him by email at jeff@wrva.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.



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