Hanging up his shield: Clay deputy reflects on career

 Capt. Stanley Lee outside the Sheriff’s Department where he’ll work his last day Friday before retiring.
Staff Writer

Stanley Lee — Capt. Stanley Lee — tells a funny story.

He was working with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics one time and the group was “kicking in some doors” of suspected drug traffickers and users at locations in the western part of Clay County.

They pulled up to the front of a mobile home where a bunch of people were milling around out front. The officers, as they are trained to do, jumped from their vehicles and literally surrounded the group, rounding them into a circle.
They sorted out the suspects they wanted, handcuffed them and loaded them into patrol cars.

Then, they kicked in the door to the trailer and arrested more inside. That group had no idea anything had been going outside.

The story alone should say how much things have changed in law enforcement.

Lee, the chief of operations for the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, hangs up his shield Friday, ending a career that started part time as an auxiliary officer with the West Point Police Department in May 1991, continued as head of auxiliary deputies at the Sheriff’s Department starting in April 1992, and went full time as a deputy in 2008.

“I went through the law enforcement training academy at the age of 52,” he said proudly.

That came after Bryan Foods closed in 2007, pushing Lee into the career that always may have been his true love in the first place.

“I’ve always worked since a young age, painting houses, sacking groceries, mowing grass, pretty much for 50 years. I’m just sort of burned out,” the 63-year-old Lee said Tuesday, pondering why he decided now was the time. “You can stay too long.

“When I was young, I always wanted to serve people. Back then it was different, the police were respected and I loved to help people,” continued Lee, almost wistfully.

He’s as close to homegrown as can be, moving to Clay County from Oktibbeha County when he was 5. He turns 64 in August and calls himself fortunate to have both his parents still living. In fact, they live on the same tract of land, making it easy for him to spend time with and look after them.

Many things have changed since he first got into law enforcement.

Technology is an obvious one, from portable drug tests to radios that will talk across the state.

“If you made a DUI stop back then, you just used your judgement. You didn’t have portable breathalyzers. We had an old analog radio system, it was a big box in the trunk. If the weather was right, it could reach Parchman. If it wasn’t, you might not be able to talk across town,” Lee recalled.

He remembers when the Sheriff’s Department had 16 auxiliary deputies, all with cars. They spent the weekends answering calls at clubs in every corner of the county, often filled with “outsiders” from surrounding dry counties like Chickasaw, Monroe, and Webster.
“Some things change and some things stay the same. A lot of our problems today are still folks from other places,” he said.

“I can remember Highway 45 being shut down by the crowds blocking the road at The Oasis and being scared to death a truck was going to top that hill and wipe out a bunch of people,” he added, referring to the famed club located on West Point’s northern edge.

“I can remember going out and working on the details that helped clean up Cottrell Street.

“I can remember standing at the city water plant out on Eshman with an AR-15 at Y2K because we didn’t know what was going to happen when the year changed,” he continued, the moments flashing from one to another.

Techniques have changed more than the public often realizes. While it remains a major topic today, Clay County officers started their first training on mental health issues in 2000, learning the special circumstances sometimes involved with handling people with Alzheimers.

A new round of techniques and threats came after the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

“We worked on things we’d never thought about,” he said.

He thinks favoritism — taking some people home and jailing others — is “far less prevalent” today than it once was.

Using the arrest during the weekend of two recent high school graduates on minor drug charges, he thinks out loud that a few years ago they might have been cut some slack.

“That’s because you knew they would be in big trouble at home and that if they went to court, there’d be some consequences, community service work. You just aren’t sure that will happen today. And you can’t take the risks. I did my share of community service work back in the day,” he remembers, telling the story of being caught “slinging” slate shingles at an old city park that’s since been leveled.

“Life was simpler then.”

The thing he won’t miss? “The politics,” although he acknowledged it’s a part of law enforcement, like it or not, in any community and at every level.

He keeps coming back to the respect issue and how it is the biggest change in law enforcement.

“Yes,” he responds simply when asked if he is surprised every time a young man or woman walks in the door and wants to be a deputy.

“I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, that people just aren’t brought up that way anymore or what or if it’s all the drugs. I am sure it’s a lot of factors, but today it’s sometimes like having a target on your back,” he advised.

Social media and its “instant” news are part of the issue, especially since so much on social media is misleading, if not false. Instances of police misconduct often are blown out while the hundreds of thousands of “good” cases a day go unrecognized.

“Social media is a huge factor … in the respect, in everything we do. I told the story of the old drug raids. We can’t even set up a roadblock now without having to move every 10 minutes because of social media. People know about it before we are out of the car,” he described.

“There’s no such thing as even a routine traffic stop. There’s nothing routine about any of it … it can change in a thousand different ways,” he stated.

Early in the conversation, a visitor asks for special memories. He paused for a moment and shook his head.

His thoughts took him in a different direction. That’s probably not surprising for a veteran officer.

“The suicides, you can’t get them out of your heart, the shootings, the domestic calls, once you’ve seen them, they can’t go away. I guess it’s a mild kind of PTSD,” he surmised.

But he doesn’t dwell there long.

“I’m lucky to still have my health, to have good health,” he said, mentioning that he did recently start taking blood pressure medicine.

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunities I’ve had…the wonderful people I’ve met, worked with,” he said at one point. “There’ve been some great people over the years.”

In addition to taking care of his parents, he plans to spend more time hunting and may do more fishing than he has in recent years. Motorcycle road trips also are in his future.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Key West,” he said, suggesting a bike ride down the Florida coast might not be too far off.

“I love riding the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve been up that way several times,” he noted, referring to Virginia up into the Northeast.

He biked 4,200 miles across country with a friend once before and his eyes twinkle as he talks about those memories. A visitor suggests combining a bike trip to Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana to mix fishing and hunting with unmatched scenery.

The conversation circles him back to an earlier question. He starts for a moment and then stops.

“You know it’s really about helping someone who really needs help, offering a word of advice or encouragement if a person needs it, sharing a piece of scripture, giving someone $2 for a bite to eat, a ride to the store or a lift to get in out of the weather, taking someone to get a little gas or getting it for them…” he begins.

“The kid crying at a domestic call and helping them wipe away the tears, offering them a stuffed animal, to see that tear turn into a little smile.”

“You said you didn’t remember any good things. Heck, you remembered them all,” the visitor states.

“It’s the thank you a week later, maybe a year later, it touches your heart,” he finally finishes, nodding at the memories.