Archangels: Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2020

On Monday, members of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office stood face-to-face with evil after an armed and dangerous assailant fled from a traffic stop in the City of DeLand – reminding us, once again, of the extreme threats faced by law enforcement officers every day.

A stark reminder indeed – and all thoughts and prayers are with the deputies involved as we reflect on the sacrifice of the courageous men and women who ‘serve and protect.’  

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.  This national day of remembrance pays tribute to law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Law enforcement nationwide is well-worthy of our admiration and unending respect as they go in harm’s way to protect your family and mine.

Last year, 146 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States.

So far, 72 have paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2020.

To all those serving or who have served – thank you for holding the line.

We stand alone, together.

Daytona Beach Police Department

Officer Kevin John Fischer, September 4, 1998

Officer Gregory J. Sorenson, July 26, 1982

Deputy Sheriff Frank Dean Genovese, June 3, 1982

Officer Sam Etheredge, Jr., December 25, 1980

Detective Harry F. Raines, January 13, 1945

Officer Willie R. Denson, April 30, 1937

Officer Lawrence B. Hall, August 28, 1932

Officer Benny P. Stricklin, January 23, 1931

Officer Lewis Tanner, October 26, 1930

 

DeLand Police Department

Sergeant George Tinsley, May 7, 1979

Patrolman Elmer L. Michael, February 17, 1942

 

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

Sergeant Frank “Frankie” Celico, September 9, 2011

Deputy Sheriff Charles T. “Chuck” Sease, July 5, 2003

Deputy Sheriff George W. “Son” Durrance, August 25, 1927

Sheriff Perry Hall, August 21, 1927

 

Florida Dept. of Corrections

Officer Donna Fitzgerald, June 25, 2008

 

Florida Highway Patrol

Trooper Darryl Louis Haywood, Sr., October 2, 2004

Trooper Edwin J. Gasque, October 26, 1961

 

New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Officer Roy Lundell Nelson, Jr., August 13, 2005

K9 Caeser, August 13, 2005

 

Ormond Beach Police Department

Officer Robert Francis “Bob” Grim, Sr., November 13, 2004

 

Ponce Inlet Police Department

Officer Timothy Thomas Pollard, September 22, 1987

 

Volusia County Beach Patrol

Captain John Irwin “Jay” McDonough, II, February 16, 2011

 

Volusia County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Sheriff Frank Scofield, June 2, 2019

K9 Forest, November 22, 2016

Deputy Sheriff Stephen Saboda, November 6, 1982

Donald Shackleford, 1979

Alva Hayman, 1974

Frank Smith, 1927

Chief Deputy Sheriff William Park Edwards, November 5, 1907

Deputy Sheriff Charles Mortimer Kurtz, September 3, 1907

Deputy Sheriff William Kurtz Kremer, December 10, 1898

Sheriff Jefferson Davis Kurtz, April 25, 1895

 

_______________________________

 

Archangels

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

Today marks National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2020.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.” 

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I have always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

In early 1986, I was a young officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

Bob 1
Bob Nicol, Jr.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “Midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

A quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, stolen vehicle trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, and bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that’s how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.)

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “f—g new guy,” sitting by himself at the end of the desk.

He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’, I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him on how to survive the physical and political hazards of small-town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canadaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was extremely impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the most fierce fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket, Full House or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, quite stylish in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies – and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pro’s and con’s, and late one shift Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our nightlife.

Probably for the best.

It wasn’t long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and very well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really need help.

At approximately 4:00am on Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still inside the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and escaped custody – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken, and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, ages 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us shining and resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join in remembrance of our fallen comrades on days such as this to honor their service, sacrifice and friendship.

The name of Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. is inscribed on memorial panel 35-E: 8 at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

robert_nicol_rubbing

“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!”

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob – and his great devotion and sacrifice –  along with all the men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Archangels: Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2020

  1. A sad but memorable testitment. A tribute to a friend. Today, we remember our brothers and sisters lost and honor their commitments to serve. Thank you for your memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lord, that gave me serious goose bumps. I’m so sorry – there’s so many tragedies with our police, it’s such a shame. I’m a NYC girl & about 50% of my HS class became NYPD-I don’t have to tell you that our class reunions shrink every 10 years . . . or 9/11 saw many losses – Fire Dept too – I also had many NYPD in my family & neighborhood – I was brought up to respect the police & I still do. I raised my kids that way, but unfortunately, many don’t today – I believe that is a big part of the problem all of the PDs face – people need to have R E S P E C T ! RIP to your friend and all the men/women in blue who are out there protecting and serving for us! My BFF from HS retired 6 years ago & SHE is afraid to go out on the streets! How sad is that (she still lives in the City) – she was always a tough chick. Thank you for your service!

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  3. I had read your tribute to Deputy Nicol I think for the first time three years ago. It was a very detailed story about something that happened a long time ago. It was well written, I stopped and paused, said a quick prayer, and planned on running into you at some point to reflect. I read it again a year later, and today. I live in New Smyrna Beach. A few times a year I drive through the Cocoa Beach area. Every time I pass Nicol Park I Drive through and pause and say a prayer at the very least. Last year I stopped and “ policed “ the grounds ( policing back in my Boy Scout days was making the grounds were spotless of trash) I passed by last week and it seems they are replacing some of the amenities. I don’t think I can post some pics I took of the park, and memorial on this site but will send by email. Mark, you show us all the respect in the world when you write on the important things we should be aware of… today, I write to you in honor of your friend… and will send a couple of respectful pictures of the park.

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