York County police honor injured and fallen law enforcement at memorial service
No cops in York County died Wednesday. But on other days, police officers have not gone home after their shifts. They were killed on duty.
That's why hundreds of law enforcement officers, men and women, young and old, downy-cheeked rookies and tough old salts with gray hair or no hair at all, gathered Wednesday at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill. The event was York County's 23rd annual Police Honor and Memorial Service.
This time, it was not only to mark National Police Week.
This time, it was because one of their own died Jan. 17.
Nobody knows better than York County sheriff's Sgt. Buddy Brown and Sgt. Randy Clinton.
Detective Mike Doty of the York County Sheriff's Office died a day after he was shot by a domestic violence suspect, police said. Three other officers were wounded in the Jan. 16 incident, including Brown and Clinton.
Brown stood Wednesday, eschewing a cane he now uses, after the service. He refused to yield to the pain in his legs from being shot.
He stood because he must, for Mike Doty and the rest.
"I am proud to be a part of such a group of people," Brown said.
Brown, a deputy for 13 years, said it was "tough" to see Doty's picture flashed on the church screen as officers killed during the past century were shown.
But Brown said he wouldn't have missed the service. It reminded him that his physical therapy and rehabilitation is aimed at one thing: Putting that badge back on.
"I look forward to going back on duty to help people," Brown said.
The service was a somber affair. There were no jokes, none of the laughter that officers use to deal with the tremendous pressures of their jobs, and the pain and suffering they see from crime victims. The keynote speaker, DEA agent Jim Billings of Charlotte, had nothing light to say.
Billings spoke about how his brother, a Florida police officer in 2003, was gunned down on duty.
Billings told the family of Mike Doty, including Doty's twin brother, who is also a deputy, how proud he was of them.
"I know your pain," Billings said.
The Doty family made no speeches. They gave no interviews.
Their tears spoke for them.
First Baptist Church, along Dave Lyle Boulevard in Rock Hill, is near a stretch of road named Deputy James Brent McCants Boulevard. McCants, who also worked for the York County Sheriff's Office, was gunned down in 1992, about 150 yards away.
He was 23 years old.
McCants' mother, Myra, was at the memorial service. She cried. Then she hugged the Doty family.
"I told them I loved them and I always will," she said.
Yet Wednesday's event was about more than reliving awful days. The event gives officers and the families of those who died a chance to be among others who strap on the badge and gun every day, and who run toward the gunshots, instead of away.
That is who those who attended the service are. Not superheroes. Not movie cops. Men and women, husbands and wives, daughters and sons and parents. People who go to calls of mayhem and violence, danger and the unknown.
Their reason for doing so is simple, said York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson.
"They want to help people," Tolson said. "Some give their lives doing it. We honor them all."
Clinton, who is still in a wheelchair, sat at a table in the back, among other deputies. Clinton, a cop for three decades, was shot in January in the same incident in which Brown and York Police Department Sgt. Kyle Cummings were wounded, and in which Doty suffered fatal injuries.
Clinton, a K-9 handler, was honored earlier Wednesday by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police for finding a missing woman in late 2017.
When everyone in the church stood to hear the names of the deceased officers, Clinton stood, too, pushing himself out of the wheelchair.
When Mike Doty's picture flashed, Clinton somehow stood even taller.
Afterward, in the hallway of the church, Clinton vowed to come back to the force and the badge. He waved his hand at the officers leaving. He said he is proud be one of those who live, and those who die, wearing the badge.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald