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Retired cop looks back

August 20, 2012
By JO ANN BOBBY-GILBERT - Staff Writer (jgilbert@mojonews.com) , Morning Journal News

EAST LIVERPOOL - When he walked out the door of the city police department Saturday afternoon, it was the last time for Captain Norm "Nemo" Curtis, ending a career that has spanned nearly 40 years.

Curtis smiled as he pointed out that, when he joined the force on July 23, 1974, his current chief, John Lane, was turning 4 years old that day.

Lane is actually the sixth chief under which Curtis served as a police officer, having been sworn in when Amerigo Radeschi was chief.

Article Photos

Morning Journal/Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert
On his last day at East Liverpool Police Department, Captain Norm Curtis posed next to the department’s sign, designed by his daughter, Dawn Marie.

"He resigned about two weeks later and Kenny Mooney took over," Curtis recalled, saying that he then served under chiefs Milt Fowler, Charles Coen and his long-time friend Mike McVay, who had joined the police force six months after Curtis.

Curtis didn't start out as a police officer, having first been a General Motors mechanic after graduating high school, but "it was something I always wanted to do."

He completed police training at Jefferson Technical College and then the city's Civil Service test for a patrolman's position, but hit a slight snag in getting hired.

As Curtis recollected, local resident Jackie Long scored higher on the test than he, but "they were absolutely not going to hire a woman at that time, so they waited her out until she got pregnant."

Curtis was then appointed by then-Service-Safety Director Bob Curran.

Ironically, Long's baby, Shawn, eventually became a city police officer and Curtis laughed, "I taught him everything I know." Long is still a patrolman with the department.

His career hit a few other snags along the way, having spanned the political administrations of several mayors, starting with Norm Bucher and including John Payne, Jim Scafide, Bill Devon a former colleague on the police department Dolores Satow and current Mayor Jim Swoger.

As with most city departments, political upheaval occurred from time to time.

"I was fired back in 1981. Everybody in the department was fired over contract negotiations. They ended up re-hiring everybody," he said, noting that was under John Payne.

Also in 1981, just 11 days after the birth of his daughter, Curtis was named in a $3 million lawsuit along with other officers, accused of police brutality.

"Of course, we won, but it went to trial," he said.

Like most long-time officers, Curtis has one case that sticks in his mind above all others - the murder of a mother and her children when he was "relatively a rookie."

Curtis said he will never forget the gruesome bludgeoning death of Deborah Davis Taylor in her home, along with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in June 1979. Her 1-year-old infant was left alive in a bassinet in a scene described by one news reporter as "a carnival of gore."

"I was a midnight (shift) guy, and I was witness to (suspect Robert Wooten's) questioning," Curtis said, shaking his head as he remembered Taylor's brother-in-law calmly eating a cheeseburger and drinking a Coke "talking about killing those kids."

Wooten was eventually convicted of their murders by Judge Warren Bettis, who told him, "You are the most despicable man I have ever met in my life," with Wooten responding, "You ain't so hot yourself."

Curtis said, "You see a lot of people at their best (as a police officer) but mostly you see them at their worst and think, 'How can people be so dumb?'"

Only once in his lengthy career did Curtis seriously think about leaving ELPD after taking a trip to Los Angeles.

"I thought that would be neat and visited the L.A. Police Academy but never made the move," he said.

In 1995, he was promoted to his current captain's post and is retiring from the day turn shift.

Throughout his long and colorful police career, Curtis has had good backup not only among the other officers but at home, with his wife Ruth behind him all the way.

He admitted, "I'm one of the very few police officers anywhere who didn't get a divorce," agreeing it takes a special kind of woman to be a police officer's wife.

"Chances are, you're going to have to work every holiday, every shift, and when you go to Walmart, everyone wants to tell you their life's story when you're a police officer," Curtis said.

One time, he said, Ruth told a man who had questioned her husband's job, "You don't have to go to work carrying a gun, do you?"

Actually, Curtis said, "I pulled my gun a lot but fortunately never had to shoot anybody."

He was razzed somewhat on his last day about also never getting the chance to use his Taser, part of the new-fangled technology now available to officers.

In 38 years, much has changed in the way the police department operates, Curtis conceded.

"I started out with a Royal typewriter and an ink pen," he laughed, pointing out that banks of computers in the squad room and now even in their cruisers as some of the new technology now at his disposal.

"We're more informed of what's going on. We can track (suspects) better, can run (their identifications) in the cars and know about them before we even encounter them now," he pointed out, adding that it also serves as an officer's backup in a society that is "litigation-happy."

"Technology proves police officers are as good as they are. Most of the time, technology proves you're right (in the action taken)," Curtis said.

It is a technological aspect of his job Curtis counts among his greatest accomplishments as a police officer, having been instrumental in getting the current county 911 system up and running.

After being on the 911 committee for about 10 years with no success, Curtis said he and McVay met with former county Commissioner Gary Williams and explained how the county could afford the system.

"We knew we needed it. (Williams) ran with it and that's why we have it now. It's one of the best things I had something to do with," Curtis said, adding his greatest hope is that there will someday be a centralized 911 dispatching agency in the county.

Curtis said he is 63 years old and "this is a young man's job," admitting with a smile, "When you're 63 years old, the thought of chasing an 18-year-old down the road just doesn't get it."

Asked if the death of his close friend and colleague Chief McVay last fall figured into his decision, Curtis thought briefly and said, "I guess it did. Even though John (Lane) is doing a wonderful job, me, Mike and (former Patrolman Virgil Williams, now also deceased) were always a team."

With health issues surfacing, he said it is time to retire, and said while he has been off in recent weeks, has kept so busy "I don't know how I ever came to work."

Primarily, Curtis said he will miss "being in the know," admitting, "I am basically very, very nosy. I just like being in the know."

On his last day Saturday, Curtis was on the street as usual and took part in a felony arrest for receiving stolen property.

Undaunted, he shook hands and exchanged a hug with the dispatcher and two fresh-faced rookies on duty, turned and went out the door, never looking back.

 
 

 

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