PORT CLINTON - In more than 30 years of police work, Ottawa County Sheriff Craig Emahiser has broken up bar fights, gone on drug raids, handled hostage situations, and investigated homicides.
But his scariest brush with death occurred before he began his career in law enforcement. As an Air Force military policeman in Libya in the late 1960s, Sheriff Emahiser found himself stopped at gunpoint during a military coup in the North African nation.
As he drove a Libyan guard and an interpreter from a U.S. air base to the capital of Tripoli, his sedan was stopped by a group of soldiers, who ordered the three men from the car.
“They put a gun to my neck,” the sheriff recalled. “They seized the interpreter and the guard, and told me to get in my car and drive back to the base. One of the soldiers walked up to the two guys and pulled out a gun. I heard him fire. I didn t look back to see if he shot them. I was scared ... I drove the seven miles back to the base in record time.”
The sheriff, who will retire at the end of the year after 12 years in office, said his experience in Libya taught him to peacefully resolve disputes, if possible.
That lesson was reinforced during his early years as a police officer in Genoa, where he worked in the 1970s.
“A lot of times, you d end up at a bar fight and you d be the only law enforcement officer in the place,” he said. “When you re the only cop in there ... you can do a lot of talking. I never approached my job as being heavy-handed, as We re going to come in and kick everyone s butt and take them all to jail. ”
Sheriff Emahiser moved on to the Clay Township police department, where he was chief from 1979 to 1993. He left the department after being elected sheriff in November, 1992.
In nearly three terms as the county s top law enforcement official, Sheriff Emahiser, 54, has overseen the department s growth from 39 employees to 64 staff members.
The sheriff said he has worked to improve communication and cooperation between his office, the county s police departments, and the Ohio Highway Patrol.
When he was chief in Clay Township, calls to the sheriff s office about cases affecting his department sometimes didn t get passed on, he said. The county s police agencies tended to work independently.
“Ultimately, what I tried to get done is to get the county to work as a team and that s what happened,” the sheriff said.
He cited the 1998 slayings of Donald and Diane Lacourse. The Port Clinton couple were beaten and stabbed to death during a robbery in their home Feb. 22, 1998. The sheriff sent four deputies and his chief deputy to assist the Port Clinton department, which had one detective.
“We came in and said, Here we are, chief. Here s our detectives. What do you need? ” he said. “It wasn t like we went in and said, We have more expertise, so we re taking over. ”
Anthony D. Moore was arrested two hours after the attack. He was convicted of aggravated murder and is serving a life sentence.
Thomas Blohm, then a Port Clinton police captain and now the city s police chief, said the sheriff was a huge help during the tornadoes that hit the city in November, 2002.
“The sheriff came up and sat with me during the storm, he gave me manpower,” the chief said. “Sometimes he had more deputies on the road in Port Clinton that I had.”
Lt. David Cope, commander of the Sandusky post of the Ohio Highway Patrol, recalled an accident in February, 2001, that injured Clay Township police officer William Schultz.
“Craig went to the hospital, and it wasn t even his own department,” Lieutenant Cope said.
The sheriff said he is ready for a change after more than 25 years as a department head. He has endorsed his chief deputy, Bob Bratton, who is the only declared candidate for sheriff, to succeed him.
“His picking it up and saying, Yeah, I ll run, just made it a whole lot easier,” he said.