Family, friends, first responders and law enforcement personnel from all across the United States gathered Saturday to say goodbye to Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Whitten who died Feb. 3 from complications of a line-of-duty gunshot wound he suffered in May 2019. He was 52.
A sea of police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances filled the parking lot and side streets around The Sanctuary in Cleveland where Whitten’s service was held. An estimated crowd of 1,000 people, including law enforcement personnel from as far as New York, came to pay their respects to the Liberty County sheriff’s deputy who had been shot and paralyzed while attempting to apprehend a double-murder suspect last May. Nine months after the shooting, on Feb. 3, 2020, Whitten died of an apparent heart attack while undergoing physical therapy.
Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader said in his remarks that Whitten’s death was senseless.
“He was getting stronger. He was working to get back what he had lost. He thought he was going to be back at work one day, and I believed him,” Rader said. “I think God saw all his hard work and decided He needed someone like that up there, so he called on Richard. We are sad to lose him, but we are glad he is not in pain.”
Whitten entered a law enforcement career at the age of 47 following a successful career as a self-employed businessman. Becoming a peace officer was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and Whitten relished the opportunity. Soon he distinguished himself among his peers and was regarded as a kind and gentlemanly deputy. His kindness extended to animals and people alike, and he was known for carrying pet and animal food in the back of his patrol car that he had purchased at his own expense.
Many abandoned animals he encountered became pets for Whitten and his wife, Kami, including a chicken he helped save from a busy intersection in Humble.
Rader said Whitten possessed extraordinary heroism and a real desire to preserve, protect and defend, the latter of which are parts of the oath he took after graduating from the Lone Star College police academy.
“Deputy Whitten, like all first responders, faced danger every day. Every traffic stop, every disturbance call, every theft, robbery or burglary, every suspicious person or vehicle, every mental patient call he went on. Any one of those could have ended in a bad way, but he worked hard every day to keep others safe,” Rader said.
Whitten’s brothers and sisters in blue at the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office packed one side of the sanctuary. Rader asked them to stand and turn toward Whitten’s widow.
“Each of you are Deputy Richard Whitten’s extended family. Many days you spent more time with him than he spent with Kami. You laughed with him, you cried with him,” Rader said. “I challenge you to focus on the good things because that is what he would want. If Kami makes a need known to us, we need to do our best to meet that need. She is our family and we must be there for her.”
The sheriff then asked the other law enforcement personnel at the funeral to stand.
“You, too, are family and we thank you for what you have done to honor our deputy. We didn’t ask for your support but you willingly gave it,” he said. “We thank you.”
Given the growing lack of respect being shown to law enforcement officers and the enormous dangers they face every day, Rader said he often wonders what compels a person to choose that career.
“I think, ‘Haven’t they read the news? Don’t they realize there are people that hate us, that want to kill us?’ I believe Deputy Whitten answered those questions. He did it because he knew that people depend on us and we can make a difference like he did,” the sheriff said. “I believe that without their dedication there would be total chaos in the world.”
Rader also announced that Whitten was selected as Officer of the Year by The 100 Club-Houston, which provides support to the dependents of law enforcement personnel injured or killed in the line of duty. Rader said that Whitten was notified of the honor on the Monday he died.
Rader challenged everyone to remember Whitten for how he lived, not how he died.
“The National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., has an inscription that reads, ‘It was not how these officers died that made them heroes; it was how they lived.’ Deputy Whitten knew the life of a hero. He is a hero,” the sheriff said.
U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (Texas’ 36th Congressional District), who visited Whitten during his recovery, was a guest speaker at the funeral. He shared a speech he had written and read before the U.S. House of Representatives to honor Whitten.
“In July 2019, Deputy Whitten, his wife, Kami, and I had a lengthy conversation about his passion for law enforcement as well as his recovery process. He personally told me that he would do it all over again to protect his community. He served with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office for four years and will be greatly missed,” Babin said. “Deputy Whitten selflessly paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the safety and well-being of the citizens of Liberty County.”
Following the funeral service, Whitten’s flag-draped casket was transported to Cleveland Memorial Cemetery for a graveside service that included a 21-gun salute, the playing of Taps on a bugle and the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. Along the way to the cemetery, his hearse was saluted and honored by dozens of people who stood along Houston Street as the mile-long procession of vehicles made its way through Cleveland.
As I read this I swallowed back tears knowing that this could happen to any one of my officer friends and family. I didn’t know Officer Whitten yet I respect him as well as all of the other officers who put their lives on the line every day for all of us. Rest in peace Officer Whitten. I will continue to pray for your family in blue and in blood.