County cops honor fallen guardians at annual Law Enforcement Memorial
A crowd of more than 200 people made up of St. Croix County law enforcement officers, their family, friends and fellow community members gathered at the New Richmond High School auditorium on Thursday, May 14, to honor officers who have died in the line of duty.
This year’s solemn ceremony began with the posting of the colors by the St. Croix County Law Enforcement Color Guard and the singing of the national anthem by the New Richmond High School Chamber Madrigal Ensemble.
After opening remarks from St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts about “holding the thin blue line” and an opening prayer led by St. Croix County Sheriff’s Chaplain Stephanie Anthony, a keynote address was delivered by Washburn County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mike Richter.
Richter spoke of multiple area law enforcement officers he personally knew before they had died in the line of duty.
“I’m honored to be a part of this presentation and memorial for all of our brothers and sisters who have gone too soon,” Richter said. “Throughout history there have always been those who have served as soldier, knight, warrior or guardian — those individuals who place the needs of the community before themselves. These roles are currently filled by deputy sheriffs, police officers, marshals, wardens, dispatchers, corrections officers, federal and state agents, and numerous other titles. No matter what title they hold, they’re serving as guardians in our communities.”
Richter spoke about how he was impacted upon hearing word of the death of Eau Claire Police officer Robert Bolton in October 1982, when Richter was completing his police science education in that town. Bolton, who was 28 at the time, was fatally wounded while protecting women and children at a domestic abuse shelter.
“At the time, I had no personal connection with Robert Bolton, however, being a cop in training and living in Eau Claire, somehow there was an indescribable dark, sad feeling inside me that I’d never felt before. Even though I wasn’t a full-fledged cop yet, this was the first feeling of a brother going down for the cause.”
Richter also told stories of other area officers who died in the line of duty, including Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Severson who died in April 2014 as a result of injuries sustained in an April 1991 shoot-out with a suspect near Webster. Burnett County Sheriff’s Deputy Allen Albee was killed at the scene that day.
Before concluding his speech, Richter made one request of the audience members.
“Prior to the next law enforcement death, go out into your community, approach a police officer, deputy sheriff or trooper, like the bumper sticker says, thank a cop,” Richter said.
After Richter’s speech, ceremonial wreaths were placed on stage by officers from Roberts Police Department, Woodville Police Department and the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office. Then, officers from different departments in the county took turns reading the names of law enforcement officers who had died in the line of duty in 2014. For nearly 20 minutes, the audience sat in silence while names were read and a screen showed a photo of each officer. New Richmond Police Chief Mark Samelstad read the names of the three St. Croix County officers who had died in the line of duty through the years. Harold O. Harris of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office died June 18, 1904; Clarence Erickson of the Hudson Police Department died June 14, 1953; and Lee Murphy of the St. Croix County Highway Patrol died June 22, 1955.
The entire crowd then stood and officers held a salute while Matt Mealy played Taps.
Detective Craig Yehlik of the New Richmond Police Department recited the Law Enforcement Memorial Prayer and St. Croix County Sheriff’s Deputy Curtis Johnson recited the Correctional Officer Prayer, before the NRHS Chamber Madrigal Ensemble sang “America the Beautiful.”
During his closing remarks, Shilts urged officers in the audience to performing their important jobs at a high level.
“Stay strong and hold that line, that thin blue line, the line between good and evil,” Shilts said.