Three longtime Walker County Sheriff’s Office employees retire

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 1/13/18

Members of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office said goodbye to three longtime employees on Friday.

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Three longtime Walker County Sheriff’s Office employees retire

Posted

Members of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office said goodbye to three longtime employees on Friday.

Carol Herron, Tim Thomas and Trent McCluskey have a combined 79 years experience in local law enforcement.

Herron joined the department in 1986 after graduating from a data processing course at Bevill State Community College. Her first role was entering arrest records into the sheriff’s office’s first computer.

More than 30 years later, the transition to digital continues.

“Two years ago, we started scanning all of our paperwork in the jail. It took 11 months to scan paperwork going back to when the jail opened in 1998. I think we filled up 200 or 300 boxes of papers,” said Herron, who is retiring as the jail’s chief clerk.

In Herron’s early years at the sheriff’s office, inmate records were kept on index cards. Now each inmate has his or her own folder in the computer system.

Although being in charge of billing, payroll and commissary transactions may not sound like an exciting day at the office, there is never a dull moment at the Walker County Jail.

Herron said the jail staff works diligently to stay one step ahead of inmates who spend their days devising ways to get contraband into the facility.

For example, family members can no longer drop off T-shirts, underwear and socks for inmates because some people were sewing drugs into the items and resealing the packaging.

“They (inmates) will even hide stuff in my plants. You have to keep an eye on them all of the time,” Herron said.

Herron, whose last day of work is Tuesday, said the decision to retire was not easy.

“It has been a really interesting job, and I hate to leave, but it’s time,” she said.

Tim Thomas joined the sheriff’s department as a reserve deputy in 1993.

At the time, he was enrolled in the criminal justice program at Wallace State Community College and considering a career at the federal level.

However, he found a home at the sheriff’s department through an internship.

“I was actually an electrician while I was doing that. This was just a blast. I was in my mid 20s, and it was something unique. I enjoyed it,” Thomas said.

After completing the law enforcement academy in 1995, Thomas was a patrol deputy for several years before making the switch to investigations in 2001.

Since 2010, he has dedicated the bulk of his time to using computer and mobile forensics to solve cybercrimes.

The technological tools at his disposal are so advanced that several years ago Thomas was able to pinpoint the location of a murder suspect on his off day from a hunting club in Fayette County. The suspect was arrested within 200 yards of where Thomas had tracked his latest cell phone activity.

In September, Thomas’s work was instrumental in the arrest of a Jasper man who raped a 5-year-old girl and posted the video online. The man was also charged with the production, possession and dissemination of child pornography.

“That was probably my most rewarding case. I got the call on that on a Sunday afternoon at around 2 p.m., and we had him in custody, a confession and evidence seized by 7 p.m. We got the child out of that situation, and she’s doing great now,” Thomas said.

In the last decade, Thomas has seen crimes against children become more frequent and more violent and affect the youngest of victims. One recent investigation involved a 1-year-old child.

Thomas retired from the sheriff’s office after being named the new executive director of Walker County E-911 in November. He started in the role on Tuesday.

Although Thomas is looking forward to getting to know a new set of co-workers, he said he will also miss the camaraderie among the ones he left behind at the sheriff’s department.

“I’ve worked with some of these folks for 20-plus years. They’re family,” Thomas said.

McCluskey has been the administrator of the Walker County Jail since 1999, one year after the current facility opened.

He began working in the old jail in 1995 following an 18-month recovery from injuries he sustained when a federal inmate stabbed him and threw him from the second tier of the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility.

After enduring seven operations, McCluskey’s career could have ended when he was in his early 30s.

“It took a while to find a doctor who would sign off to allow me to continue in this work. I salute the former sheriff, John Mark Tirey, for helping me not be forced into disability. I had given so much even in a brief period of time, and I knew there was more to do,” McCluskey said.

McCluskey describes being responsible for the welfare of individuals whose freedom has been taken away as a sacred trust.

A basic respect for human life has guided McCluskey as he has worked with Sheriff Jim Underwood in recent years to improve conditions at the jail.

Incidents such as the escape of 12 inmates in July also weigh heavily on him because protecting the public is as much a part of the job as maintaining the legally required level of care for inmates.

Like Thomas, McCluskey said sheriff’s department employees have become his second family as they worked to make Walker County safer.

His plans for retirement are still taking shape.

“I’ll find my next niche, and it will be maybe less intense but just as valuable as this one,” McCluskey said.