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Wood County law enforcement feels pain of Charleston’s loss

Routine calls can become life-threatening

A sign on an exit door at the Wood County Sheriff’s Department reminds deputies of the goal that “everyone goes home” from their shift, Sheriff Steve Stephens said. (Photo Provided)

PARKERSBURG — As Wood County deputy sheriffs head to their cruisers for patrols, they exit through a door bearing the message “Everyone goes home.”

“We always hope and pray that everybody goes home at the end of their shift, and unfortunately in this job, that’s not always the case,” Sheriff Steve Stephens said.

That message was driven home very close to home with the shooting Tuesday of 28-year-old Charleston Police Officer Cassie Johnson. Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt announced Wednesday that Johnson is not expected to survive her injuries.

“Unbelievable sadness is what goes through your mind, especially a young person like that, who had her whole life in front of her,” Vienna Police Chief Mike Pifer said. “She gave the ultimate sacrifice for her fellow man.”

According to the Associated Press, Johnson was responding to a parking complaint Tuesday when she was shot by a suspect identified as Joshua M. Phillips, 38. Phillips was also shot and apprehended a short distance away.

Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin said he’s spoken with Hunt and other law enforcement officials in Kanawha County since the shooting.

“Especially as a chief, there’s some level of responsibility, of guilt that that chief’s going through down there,” he said.

Because the incident happened in West Virginia’s capital city, it has “reverberated throughout the state,” Martin said.

“We’re the line between good and evil, and it’s just a stark reminder of … what could happen,” he said.

Williamstown Police Chief Shawn Graham said it only takes one individual who is mentally ill, abusing drugs or just evil to turn a routine call into a potential tragedy.

“It’s one call away; it’s one traffic stop away,” he said. “You don’t know when that incident could happen.”

That’s something Graham and other local law enforcement leaders regularly emphasize to their officers.

“It’s hard to be on guard like that all the time. It wears on you. It’s very difficult,” Pifer said. “Friends and family members wonder why you are the way that you are — that’s why.”

Despite that emphasis and training, Martin said, the unthinkable can happen.

“It’s very difficult to predict or prevent something like this,” he said.

Wood County Sheriff’s Lt. J.W. Allen was injured in October after reportedly being assaulted when he responded to a report of individuals walking along a road in Walker and yelling at cars. One of the suspects was fatally shot during the confrontation. The incident remains under investigation by the West Virginia State Police.

“Those are just terrible enough,” Stephens said.

These are dangerous times for law enforcement, Pifer said, noting incidents in which police officers have been ambushed by assailants. Vienna recently purchased cruisers that include proximity scanners that roll up the windows and lock the doors if they detect someone close to the vehicle.

“It’s always been possible, but now it’s something that’s actually been addressed by a police cruiser manufacturer,” he said.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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