BY MELANIE BUCK –
Law enforcement officers within the 18th West Judicial District were honored at the Lea Memorial Dinner held on Tuesday, October 4, at the Ouachita Center in Mena. Through the generous financial support of more than 50 local businesses and individuals, law enforcement officers from Polk and Montgomery Counties were served dinner and honored as a token of appreciation for their unwavering dedication in serving their communities. Represented at the dinner were officers from State Police, U.S. Forestry, Arkansas Game and Fish, City of Mena, Polk County Sheriff’s Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Grannis Police Department, and the 18th West Judicial Drug Task Force.
More than 200 were in attendance for the dinner that was held in honor of the memory of Polk County Deputy Sheriff Bill Lea, who was killed in the line of duty on April 29, 1976. “As Prosecuting Attorney, I have had the distinct privilege of interacting daily with local police officers and sheriff’s deputies. As an inside source, I can report to the public that I am very proud of the job that our officers do. With the negative attitude toward law enforcement in some regions of our country, this memorial dinner gives the citizens of our counties an opportunity to show local law enforcement that we respect and honor their service. The 40th anniversary of Bill Lea’s death marked a logical time to honor the service of past and present law enforcement officers. This memorial is a reminder that we need effective law enforcement to keep our communities safe,” 18th West Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner said.
The ceremony opened with a few words from Riner before bringing Mena Police Chief Brandon Martin, Polk County Interim Sheriff Jack Peebles, Grannis Chief of Police Michael Salinas, and Montgomery County Sheriff David White to the stage.
Following words of thankfulness and encouragement from each of the law enforcement leaders, former Polk County Sheriff Al Hadaway spoke. Hadaway served when Bill Lea lost his life. He talked about what happened that fateful day when Lea paid the ultimate price for doing his job. Hadaway and Lea were serving divorce papers that day. Hadaway said, “we stepped up on the porch of the mobile home, Bill knocked on the door and James’ wife came to the door. James reached around her and shot Bill one time and turned the gun on me. I overpowered him, handcuffed him, called for assistance, and found that Bill had been fatally wounded.” It is a scene that is played out all too often for law enforcement. “We as a community need to recognize that the officers, first responders, servants of the community, stand between us and the dangerous individuals that care nothing about the rest of us,” said Hadaway.
After Hadaway spoke, Bernie Mosely, a K9 instructor at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden, spoke. Mosely has worked in law enforcement since 1997. Mosely enjoys coaching fellow officers through tough times and reminds them that the vast majority of citizens love and respect law enforcement.
Riner thanked the many businesses and individuals who supported the dinner. “Businesses are the backbone of our community. When businesses support the police in their fight against crime, the results are a good business environment, more prosperous communities, and a firm tax base.” He also honored Bill Lea by saying, “Tonight, we want to remember that Bill Lea was a real person with a family and a legacy. The criminal act that took Bill’s life reminds us of something we must never forget – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness comes at a price. To Bill Lea’s family, I say ‘thank you.’”
Riner concluded his speech by reminding everyone of the selfless service of those behind the badge, “We should remember that law enforcement done right is not a job, but rather a calling to ministry. A minister never clocks out. He tirelessly watches over his flock. Ideally, a minister cares for those he serves more than he cares for himself. If you are a law enforcement officer, this is what you are called to do. To you, I say, ‘thank you.’”