By Vanesa Brashier, email@example.com
Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Whitten is being remembered for his kindness and heroism, a day after he died unexpectedly from a heart attack while undergoing physical therapy related to a gunshot wound that left him paralyzed.
Hundreds of peace officers and citizens turned out on Tuesday as Whitten’s body was returned home to Cleveland to await his funeral on Saturday. A four-man motorcycle escort from Houston Police Department flanked the hearse while others helped clear US 59 of all northbound traffic from Houston to Cleveland. Dozens of police cruisers, representing law enforcement agencies from all across the Houston area, stretched more than a mile behind the hearse.
It was a lot of fanfare for a humble man, who never sought the spotlight and was happy simply living out his lifelong dream of being a peace officer.
In a September 2019 interview with Bluebonnet News, Whitten talked about getting licensed as a peace officer at the age of 47, following another successful career and owning his own business.
“I enjoyed working in the community, trying to get rid of the bad guys so it would be a safer place for everyone else to live. I really enjoyed my job. I don’t know how to say this, but I ate, drank and breathed law enforcement,” he said.
Whitten encountered one of the so-called “bad guys” on May 29, 2019. He was shot once in the neck by a murder suspect who was fleeing the scene of B Dependable Plumbing in Cleveland where he fatally shot one person and critically injured two others, one of whom later passed.
On the fateful morning of the shooting, Whitten was on his way to law enforcement classes. He recalled passing the plumbing business and seeing a group of people standing outside. He said the situation “didn’t look right,” but he kept on driving. A minute later, a call came over the police radio frequencies that three people had been shot.
Instead of continuing on his way, Whitten’s heroism and commitment as a peace officer made him turn the vehicle around and pursue the murder suspect. A few minutes later, after pulling the vehicle over in Tarkington, Whitten was shot in the neck by the murder suspect. He was paralyzed instantly.
Despite his life-changing injuries, Whitten was never bitter.
“I did what I had to do, and got shot, but it’s like I told my wife, I would do it all over again,” he said in that 2019 interview.
Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader said Whitten exemplified the best kind of peace officer. He loved all animals and people, and was known for carrying food for cats, pets and people in his patrol vehicle. If he saw someone in need, he stopped to help.
“In the Beatitudes in the Bible, it says, ‘Blessed are the peacekeepers for they will be called the sons of God.’ Richard Whitten was definitely one of those,” Rader said. “He was one of the kindest and most loving deputies I’ve ever known. He was a good Christian man.”
Rader offered his thanks to the law enforcement agencies who participated in the procession to honor Whitten.
“The list of agencies is so long. I could never thank them all but I want to thank Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and the Houston Police Department for their support. We also had constables, sheriff’s deputies and municipal police officers with us. We were not alone,” Rader said. “Law enforcement is a big family and we support each other.”
Whitten’s body will be accompanied by sheriff’s deputies around the clock at Neal Funeral Home in Cleveland until his funeral on Saturday. Rader said other law enforcement agencies from Hardin, San Jacinto County, Polk, Montgomery, Chambers and Jefferson County have offered to send some of their staff to Liberty County through Saturday to make up any shortfall.
Visitation for Whitten will be held on Friday, Feb. 7, from 5 to 9 p.m., at Neal Funeral Home, 200 S. Washington Ave., Cleveland. His funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, at The Sanctuary, 100 E. Hanson St., Cleveland. Interment will follow at noon at Cleveland Memorial Cemetery, located at FM 787 at Peach Ave., across from Cleveland Police Department.
To send flowers or condolences to Whitten’s wife of 26 years, Kami, and the Whitten family, go online to www.nealfh.com.
To see the procession from Tuesday, go online to https://www.facebook.com/bluebonnetnews/videos/172038557553462/
A one-mile run with peace officers has been organized for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Liberty City Park. Anyone who wants to show support for Whitten is invited to participate or watch. The local run is being coordinated to take place at the same time as a Running for Heroes run in Florida. The Florida run also is in honor of Whitten.