Liberty County law enforcement officers and the widow of a fallen sheriff’s deputy gathered on Wednesday, June 16, outside the Jack Hartel Building in Liberty to pay respects to Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Whitten at an End of Watch Ride organized by the national organization, Beyond the Call.
Sixteen months ago, on Feb. 3, 2020, Whitten succumbed to injuries he suffered in a line-of-duty shooting with a murder suspect on May 29, 2019. Whitten was paralyzed from a single gunshot wound to his neck and died while undergoing rehab.
His widow, Kami, said those two days are particularly hard when they come around every year.
“It’s plays back in your head all the time,” she said.
Whitten was off-duty the day he was shot while trying to apprehend a murder suspect who fatally shot two people and left one for dead at the B Dependable Plumbing shop on SH 321 in Cleveland. In a September 2019 interview with Bluebonnet News, Whitten said he was on his way to training when he noticed something “didn’t seem right” at the business, but he kept on driving. A minute later, the fateful call for help came over police radio frequencies about the shooting suspect fleeing from authorities.
Whitten spotted the fleeing suspect’s vehicle and turned around to follow him. The vehicles came to stop at the Big Thicket Veterinary Clinic in Tarkington where the suspect began firing at Whitten and another officer. When he was struck by the gunman’s bullet, Whitten was instantly paralyzed.
He was making remarkable progress in physical therapy when he unexpectedly died from a heart attack.
According to Beyond the Blue, Whitten was one of 339 peace officers who were killed or died as the result of a line-of-duty injury during 2020. As if the risks of the job aren’t enough, many peace officers in today’s political climate have to deal with an anti-police sentiment that has resulted in them being ambushed and murdered.
For Jakrut “J.C.” Shah with Beyond the Blue, the spikes in officer deaths is alarming.
“You look at all these men and women. They didn’t join law enforcement to become a Bill Gates,” he said.
In speaking to those gathered for Wednesday’s solemn ceremony, Shah asked them to remember not only the hero who died but the “hero’s heroes” – the loved ones left behind.
“For this hero’s hero, the clock stopped on the day she received the notification. The world stops for the rest of their lives. Everything changes,” he said.
The past 16 months have been particularly painful for Whitten’s widow. Her younger brother was murdered in April 2021.
After presenting St. Michael coins to all law enforcement officers, the motorcyclists set off for their next stop as they make their way to all 194 law enforcement departments across the country that lost an officer in 2020. As they travel, they are accompanied by an RV that is wrapped with the images of those lost in 2020. By next year, the images will be replaced by those killed in 2021. As of today, 170 peace officers have been killed in 2021, Shah said.