Clarke County COPS

The TV show “COPS” became an irrefutable part of American history from the moment that the first bars of “Bad Boys” played back in 1988. The show pioneered “reality TV” by allowing video-journalists to ride along with police officers and record what COPS producer, Morgan Langley has characterized as, “Hours of boredom mingled in with minutes of terror.”

Sergeant Kenny Gall verifies mobile data terminal is operating properly before patrol - photo Edward Leonard

I met Clarke County Sheriff Department’s Sergeant Kenny Gall back in August of 2010 while I was doing a story on the acquisition of state-of-the-art in-car computers for the department’s patrol cars. Gall, one of Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper’s shift supervisors, and most trusted officers, exhibited a good deal of patience in explaining how the new computers not only would help deputies be more efficient and accurate while on patrol, but also provide an added measure of backup support when officers found themselves operating alone in isolated sections of Clarke County. As my conversation with Gall delved into the specifics of how the new radio system would impact the day-to-day routine of the county’s patrol officers, Gall either decided that he had had enough of my endless stream of questions or may have just sensed my genuine interest in what it takes to be a law enforcement officer in a rural county sandwiched between two active and affluent urban areas.

Regardless of his motivation, at the end of the interview Gall casually said, “You ought to consider doing a ride-along on a patrol one night. It might make an interesting story.”

“A ride-along?” I thought to myself. “I’ve seen hundreds of episodes of COPS. Who could be better qualified than me?”

After accepting the offer, little did I realize that COPS producer Morgan Langley’s words would carry special meaning for me before my ride-along night was over.

Gall and I scheduled to meet at the county courthouse complex on a recent Saturday afternoon around 3:00pm.

The sheriff’s department now occupies a newly renovated suite of offices on the ground floor in the old courthouse. The halls of the building are absent the normal weekday courtroom buzz and activity.   As Gall shows me around the facility, the only other person that we meet is another Clarke County deputy doing the mandatory paperwork that follows the end of every law enforcement shift.

Gall, in many ways, seems like a cop’s cop to me. At nearly six and a half feet tall and weighing in at over 300 pounds, most people would think twice before attempting to resist his instructions. But sheer size is only one tool in Gall’s arsenal of influence. In addition to his badge and service revolver, Gall’s most effective tool for doing his job is his personality. As I will observe throughout the night, every single person that Sergeant Gall will come in contact with, with one exception, seems to go away smiling; Even when the consequences of the meeting aren’t all together pleasing.

“It helps a lot to keep a sense of humor,” Gall tells me at some point during the twelve-hour patrol shift that we will spend together in his police cruiser. Throughout the afternoon and into the night I will observe time and time again how Gall uses his interpersonal skills, rather than force, to both protect and serve the citizens of Clarke County.

After Gall finishes giving me a quick tour of the new courthouse facility – the county now has three shiny new prisoner holding cells, a state-of-the-art evidence storeroom, and plenty of office space for deputies to work – Gall and I head to the Clarke County dispatch office on the second floor of the sheriff’s building next door.

“Well you guys, this may be the last time you see me depending what this reporter writes about me in his story.” Gall says to the three dispatchers as his way of introducing me.

The dispatchers laugh, but continue to keep one eye on the computer consoles they use to manage the county’s emergency services while also keeping their ears tuned to the radio traffic being broadcast in the background.

Galls humor breaks the ice about who the newcomer in their midst is and puts everyone at ease. Quickly, I’m accepted and the dispatchers brief Gall on several issues that he needs to respond to before the night is over: A professional house-sitter has called to report suspicious vehicle activity on the road where he is working; A family has found a stray beagle (in addition to other duties Gall is the county’s animal control officer as well); A complaint about an elderly woman who was rude toward a homeowner at a yard sale.

Gall and the dispatchers discuss the issues in a shorthand way that reflects their comfort and experience working together. After a few minutes Gall has all of the information that he needs. We return downstairs and climb into his police cruiser then head out onto the highway for the beginning of the twelve hour shift.

There will be one other Clarke County Sheriff’s deputy and two Berryville police officers on patrol tonight. Even though Clarke is one of the smallest counties in Virginia, its 178 square miles is a lot to cover for only two men. By necessity, the two deputies will spend the evening working independently. Although the two deputies and two town officers are theoretically only a radio call away in the event that one of them needs assistance, the practical reality is that Clarke’s winding back roads and isolated areas virtually guarantee that any needed emergency assistance will be many minutes away.

“Mutual aid between the Sheriff’s department, Virginia State Police, and the Berryville Police department is really important to all of us,” Gall says as we head south from Berryville on Route 340. Between where I sit in the passenger’s seat and Gall in the driver’s seat, there is a shotgun clamped to the dashboard and a mobile computer console that lets Gall monitor the location and call status of each Berryville, Clarke County Sheriff’s deputy, and Virginia State Police officer in the area. An assault rifle is in the trunk of the vehicle.

“Sheriff Roper has seen to it that this department is well outfitted,” Gall comments. “He has given us the tools that we need to get the job done.”

As if on queue, a Berryville police cruiser appears ahead of us with a car pulled over on the shoulder of Route 340 just south of town. Gall immediately turns on his blue emergency lights and pulls in behind the Berryville officer’s vehicle.

“We’ll just make a quick stop here to be sure that he doesn’t need any help,” Gall says.

We pull up just as the other officer finishes issuing a traffic citation and is turning to return to his car. Seeing Gall, the Berryville officer gives a quick “thumbs-up” and flashes one of many smiles that Gall will get throughout the evening.

With the traffic-stop safely completed we pull back onto US 340 and continue south. Although the assistance stop takes less than a minute and no words are exchanged, the smile on the face of the other officer makes it clear that it’s always nice to know that another officer has “got your back.”

As we head down Route 340 Gall decides that it might be wise to try and handle the lost beagle, along with a dog bite call, early in the shift. Since the two incidents are both in the Shenandoah Farms area of the county, Gall reasons that one trip will be able to handle both issues. Although no one is pressing charges over the dog bite call – it never becomes exactly clear why one neighbor’s normally passive dog decided to bite another neighbor out for a walk – as the county’s animal control officer (ACO) Gall still needs to document the bite and make sure that the animal has had its rabies shots (it has he later verifies). Gall also plans to pick up a stray beagle being held by a family living near the river, so that the dog can be transported to the Clarke County animal shelter.

Scene of a drunk driver arrest along Route 50 in Clarke County, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard

I quickly learn that a patrol officer’s schedule rarely goes as planned. Throughout the afternoon and into the evening Gall will make three attempts before finally making it to the home where the stray beagle is being kept.

As we turn east onto Route 50 Gall switches on the traffic radar device as he will routinely do throughout the shift. A small LCD screen gives Gall the ability to track traffic speeds of multiple vehicles positioned on both sides of Route 50 and either in front of or behind his patrol car. The radar device emits warble-like audible signal that increases in pitch with the measured speed of the vehicle being tracked.

As we head down Route 50 Gall’s radar immediately begins emitting a high-pitched warning signal and the device’s digital display reads 73 miles-per-hour. Gall spots a black vehicle speeding west.

“He’s going way to fast,” Gall remarks as he reaches to switch on the cruiser’s blue lights. He simultaneously stomps the car’s accelerator in order quickly reach the crossover lane and begin pursuit of the speeder.

Within seconds of spotting the speeding vehicle we are now accelerating in the opposite direction in the westbound lane. I feel my back being pressed into the seat as Gall’s speedometer indicator swings toward eighty miles per hour. As I experience the car’s acceleration a combination of adrenaline and surprise surges through my brain. Although we are now chasing a speeding vehicle in moderately heavy weekend traffic on Route 50, Gall’s professional confidence and driving skills seem to remove any fear of mortality that I have from suddenly being thrust into a car chase. There is never a moment during the patrol shift, including now, that Gall doesn’t appear fully engaged and in control of the circumstances around him.

As Gall’s patrol car gains on the speeding vehicle the driver immediately decelerates and pulls to the shoulder. Gall reports the traffic stop to the dispatch office back in Berryville before approaching the stopped vehicle. Almost immediately our location and the nature of the call appear on Gall’s in-car computer terminal. The other three police units on patrol in Clarke County – two in Berryville and a deputy on Route 7 – now also can see on their computer screens that Gall has stopped a late model black Kia near the intersection at Waterloo.

Next, Gall slides from behind the steering wheel after checking for traffic with his rearview mirror. As he approaches the stopped vehicle Gall presses his finger and thumb against the rear fender of the car. Gall later explains that his fingerprints could help link the vehicle to him in the event that something “bad” happens during the stop.

Despite the afternoon’s ninety degree temperatures Gall also wears a bullet-proof vest as further protection against bad events.

But this black Kia doesn’t hold anything other than a man, wife, and three kids on their way home to Winchester after a day-trip to the city. The man explains that his wife and kids really needed to find a bathroom.

“Soon!” the man repeats to Gall. He tells Gall that he knows that he shouldn’t have been speeding but the Sheetz just ahead is the first place that has been available for a stop in a long, long way.

Gall decides to let the driver off with a warning and no traffic citation.

“Here’s a case where a guy has his wife and three kids in the car. He has a perfect driving record and no points,” Gall says after the Kia’s driver pulls back unto Route 50 – presumably headed towards the nearby restroom stop.

“He knows that he was stopped for an illegal action and I’ve just given him a positive view about law enforcement,” Gall reasons. “A big part of being a police officer is having a little compassion. I believe that he was honest with me and that goes a long way.”

Traffic safety is an important part of any police officer’s duties and Gall’s shift is no exception. As part of his professional training Gall is able to visually spot speeders and estimate vehicle speeds without the aid of radar. He also has zero tolerance for drunk drivers whether he is on duty or off.

“A while back I was in my own vehicle just heading home from Costco. I was wearing shorts and my wife and dog were in the car,” Gall recounted. “All of sudden we see that there’s a car stopped in the middle of the road. As we get closer the car takes off but he’s all over road. I tell my wife “This guy’s drunk!”

Gall continued to follow the impaired driver and immediately pulled out his cellphone to contact the Frederick County Sheriff’s department. Frederick County deputies soon located Gall and the driver was arrested.

“The guy blew a .28 blood alcohol level” Gall said. “It really made me angry because family travels that road all of the time.”

However, I soon learn that not all traffic stops are quite as routine as with the family in the black Kia.

Later in the afternoon, as Gall and I are patrolling a rural area near Berryville, a shiny, late model Hummer waits ahead of us at the end of a driveway leading away from a poorly maintained house. As we pass, the vehicle seems to linger a little longer than necessary before turning out of the driveway behind us.

At the next bend in the road Gall decides to pull his police cruiser to the shoulder to wait for the Hummer.

“This isn’t really a Hummer kind of neighborhood,” Gall remarks as we pull back onto the road behind the vehicle as is passes. The large SUV’s tinted windows make it nearly impossible to tell anything about the driver or its occupants.

Gall follows the Hummer for several minutes before his patience is rewarded. As the driver turns right onto Route 340 Gall notices that one of the vehicle’s taillights is out.

“Bingo,” says Gall as he switches on the cruiser’s blue lights.

While a Department of Motor Vehicles check reveals that the Hummer’s female driver doesn’t have any warrants, she does have a valid concealed weapon permit.

Once again, Gall leaves a fingerprint on the left rear fender as he approaches the driver’s window. However, Gall’s quick visual assessment of the driver and vehicle reveal nothing suspicious and Gall allows the driver to be on her way after extracting a promise to get the taillight repaired in the coming week.

After safely completing the traffic stop Gall said that knowing that the driver potentially had a lethal weapon in the vehicle didn’t add any extra anxiety for him.

“The way I look at it is that this citizen has gone through the process to get gun instruction,” Gall said. “I take solace in the fact they’ve got a permit rather than just sticking the gun under the seat of the vehicle.”

Gall says that he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms even though it sometimes means more risk to him as a police officer.

“It’s nice to know that someone is carrying a weapon but it doesn’t always work that way,” Gall said.

Our next call, a follow up to a burglary near the Frederick County line, demonstrates that one can never be sure who may be carrying lethal force.

As we pull into the driveway of a well-kept, but isolated, home on Gun Barrel Road, we’re greeted by a married couple who appear to be in their mid-60’s. Even though this is only the second time that the couple has met Officer Gall – he did an initial investigation when the couple’s home was broken into earlier in the week – he is greeted, as always seems to be the case, with warm smiles and an offer to sit down for coffee and pie (which he graciously declines).

“I just wanted to stop by and see if everything is back to normal for you and to ask a couple of more questions about the robbery,” Gall says.

Earlier in the week, the woman who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in her purse, returned home alone and discovered that her house had been broken into. After calling Clarke County Central Dispatch, the elderly woman entered the house with her weapon in hand against the advice of the dispatcher to wait for police to arrive.

“When we got here she was waving the gun everywhere as she talked,” Gall laughed. “I had to ask her to lay the gun down so that we could all talk in safety.”

“I wasn’t about to sit out there in the car while someone was inside taking my possessions,” the woman said. “I bought the gun to get rid of groundhogs around here. I decided that if it will work on a groundhog it should work on a person too.”

Fortunately, the grandmotherly gunslinger didn’t have to exercise her marksmanship skills. But, according to Gall, it was a close call.

“The thief appears to have been caught in the act of the crime because things were left behind and drawer was dropped in the middle of a hallway,” Gall said. “It looks as if they went out of a back window as the homeowner came in the front door.”

Theft is a personal irritant for Gall and he grows visibly agitated as we discuss the break-in at the elderly couple’s home.

“It really bothers me when people are at work trying to make a living and other people come and steal their stuff,” Gall said. “A person can work years to afford nice things and some thief can come along and take it all in just a few minutes. Burglary is a nine-to-five crime because that’s when most decent people are at work.”

As the afternoon moves toward sunset, we still haven’t made much progress with several of the issues that Gall had hoped to handle during the shift. Gall makes a telephone call to the woman with the yard sale complaint. According to the woman, an elderly German lady had stopped to visit the woman’s yard sale along Route 7. When the two women weren’t able to agree on the price of the item, the elderly lady allegedly called the yard sale hostess a four-letter word before throwing the item that she had wanted to purchase into the ditch. The elderly woman then drove away.

Officers question a driver suspected of nearly running to other driver off of the road along route 50 - Photo Edward Leonard

Gall is empathetic but firm over the telephone. He says that because he didn’t witness the event his only option would be to take a report so that the complainant can pursue the matter in court if she would like. Gall tells her that not much is likely to come from the complaint, but he’s ready to help in any way that she would like.

The complainant decides that she would like to make a complaint, so Gall and I head to Berryville where dispatch has obtained a driver license photo of the elderly hoodlum who lives in Leesburg. A call to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s department reveals that the woman is well known for other similar acts of random rudeness.

The woman’s driver license photo shows a petite, frail face with a stylish silk scarf tossed around her neck. The woman in the photo has perhaps the slightest trace of what appears to be a mischievous grin.

“Oh yeah,” one of the dispatchers tells Gall when we arrive back in Berryville. “They know all about her in Loudoun County. Be careful if you have to put the cuffs on her, she looks like she could be dangerous.”

When we arrive at the scene of the yard sale rudeness offense, Gall locates the couple who own the property. It soon becomes clear that the woman making the complaint mostly just feels the need to tell her story to an authority figure. Little does she realize how lucky she is because Gall is the perfect person to listen.

Gall stands and listens for nearly ten minutes occasionally nodding his head but saying little.

“If a citizen has a problem it’s my job to hear what they have to say,” Gall tells me once when he’s back in the car. “I have to be honest with them about what I can do and what I can’t do but it is never a waste of my time to speak with someone.”

Earlier in the afternoon a dispatcher assigns a call to a Berryville police officer regarding “a cat in a bush that may be in distress.” The dispatcher says that the citizen reports that the cat is “meowing loudly.” Gall said that even though the possible kitty distress may turn out to be nothing more than a feline needing to be fed, the citizen’s concern still deserved consideration.

“Of course everything has to be prioritized but I’m going to do everything that I can to respond to a request like that as quickly as I can.”

Ultimately, the yard sale offense turns into the homeowner deciding to give the matter more thought before making a decision on whether or not to file a charge. The two property owners seem glad to have had the chance to vent their anger to an authority figure. Once again, Gall leaves behind two smiling citizens despite a situation that had plenty of chance to become a negative encounter.

For the third time, once again, Gall and I begin make our way toward the stray beagle of Shenandoah Farms.

Gall says that local police and sheriff departments across the country are increasingly taking on the role of animal control and Clarke is no exception.

“I volunteered for the ACO duty,” Gall said. “As a sergeant, if the sheriff needs it done, then I’m going to make sure that it gets done. Animal control is a growing trend for sheriff departments and it includes animal cruelty. The animal control officer actually has more authority to deal with problems in some ways. Animals have rights, too and there needs to be someone to enforce those rights. If you’re kicking your dog and I see it, you’re going to jail.”

But, with less than a mile before we reach the home where the beagle is located Gall receives a call of a suspected drunk driver being tailed on Route 50 by citizens in two separate cars. The suspected driver is reported to be at a convenience store about five miles from our current position.

“I’m en route,” Gall replies through the radio.

The sun is just setting and traffic is fairly light as the squad car screams westbound onto Route 50. Gall keeps the vehicle’s siren silent so that he doesn’t tip off the driver of a late-model green Expedition that we are closing in on the store.

We pull into the store’s gravel parking lot just as a twenty-something male walks out of the store with a sandwich and a soda. Sensing that there may be more to Gall’s presence than a routine visit to the store, the young man nonchalantly turns toward his car but not before the two citizens who reported the dangerous driving both point the man out to Gall.

Gall immediately heads the man off before he can get behind the wheel. This will be the one citizen encounter of the evening that doesn’t end in a smile for Gall.

Gall, who towers over the young man, immediately smells alcohol and requests that the man perform several field sobriety tests including a blood alcohol breath analysis. The driver fails the breath analysis with a blood alcohol level of .207.

The legal driving limit for blood alcohol is .08.

Although the driver appears to speak very little English, he protests his arrest and asks to be let go. When it becomes clear that Gall plans to arrest and handcuff him, the man’s protests turn into tears. By now the other Clarke County deputy on duty this evening has arrived. After taking some additional information from the drunk driver, Gall places the man in handcuffs before putting him into the other deputy’s vehicle for transport to the Winchester detention center.

Afterwards, Gall learns that one of the witnesses who contacted police after nearly being sideswiped by the drunk driver actually has a video camera mounted in his vehicle for circumstances just like what occurred earlier on Route 50.

“I commute every day from Winchester and this kind of thing happens all of the time,” the man says. “I wanted to make sure that I had a way to record the things that I was seeing on the road.”

Both drivers agree to testify as witnesses, if needed, and fill out handwritten accounts of the drunk-driving incident. The driver with the video camera is more than happy to provide Gall with a copy of the video file for use in court.

“I appreciate what you did tonight,” Gall tells the two citizens who (once again) smile from Gall’s praise.

“You stopped a drunk driver in a 7,000 pound vehicle. This is a big deal!”

The entire incident, from the radio dispatcher’s alert until the time that the driver’s vehicle is loaded onto the back of a Tripps Automotive tow truck, takes less than an hour.

The drunk-driver’s tin foil wrapped sub-sandwich, still lying on the front seat of the impounded Ford Expedition, is still warm.

“I guess that his sandwich is going to be cold by the time he finally gets to it,” the tow truck driver remarks to Gall as he maneuvers the vehicle onto the truck’s transport bed. In the rear seat of the Expedition are two empty child seats.

“This was a perfect example of community involvement,” Gall remarks as the vehicle is about to be taken away. “Citizens with cell phones catch more people than police do. This drunk-driver said that he was headed all the way to Winchester. Who knows? Maybe we saved someone’s life tonight.”

After clearing the scene of the drunk driver arrest we turn the car back towards our original destination and finally make it to the home where the stray beagle is sequestered by a middle-aged couple concerned about the dog’s safety. As we pull into the home’s driveway I can already here the beagle’s mournful howl from somewhere behind the house.

The husband meets us at the door but his wife can be seen standing behind him nearby in the hallway.

“Are you sure that she’ll be OK like this?” the wife can be heard asking her husband in a low voice. “Yes, the dog will be fine,” her husband answers patiently as he comes onto the porch and leads Gall to a garage behind the house. In a few moments, Gall appears with a female beagle that appears to have recently been nursing pups.

The dog is emaciated and has clearly been on her own for some length of time.

Gall thanks the homeowner and puts the dog in the backseat of the patrol car. As Gall backs the car away the man watches us leave from the driveway while his wife’s silhouette can be seen observing from the porch’s screen door.

Clarke County Sheriff''s Department Sergeant Kenny Gall fills out paperwork before checking a stray beagle into the Clarke County Animal Shelter - Photo Edward Leonard

Within a few minutes, we’re at the Clarke County Animal Shelter where Gall places the beagle in a holding pen along with a dish of food and water. As we enter the dog kennel Gall turns on a light. The kennel erupts in canine howls and barks.

My guess is that the stray dog hasn’t had regular meals in a couple of weeks so a few nights in the Animal Shelter, despite the noise, will probably feel like a stay at the Holiday Inn.

Next we respond to a 9-1-1 hang-up at a residence on the mountain. A couple and their teenage daughter are involved in a domestic dispute. When Gall arrives the family is clearly in distress with angry scowls being traded like lightning bolts between the three.

Gall spends over an hour talking to the family, first as a group and then individually. Due to the fact that a minor is involved, I remain in the car but I can see much of what takes place from the vehicle. Even though I cannot hear what is being said, I can tell from the family’s body language that Gall’s counseling is having a positive effect.

After Gall talks to the 15-year-old for several minutes on the porch I notice them begin to shake hands. But to the teenager’s surprise, and mine, Gall pumps the handshake as if he were trying to raise water from an old-fashioned well. The exaggerated handshake has the desired effect on the teen who quickly breaks out in a grin. A few minutes later as Gall prepares to leave, the mother and father shake Gall’s hand as well – albeit in a more subdued manner than earlier with the teenager.

Gall has done it again.

The family now seems to be in better emotional place, at least for the night, as Gall climbs back into the cruiser and we head south along River Road once again towards Route 50.

“I see this type of domestic situation a lot these days,” Gall says. “The father is in construction and he’s not working much due the bad economy. The daughter is going through typical teen stress. Neither one of them thinks that the other understands what each one is going through.”

Gall, who also has a teen-aged child at home, says that he just tries to help each side understand the bigger picture.

“I told Dad look – she’s getting good grades in school and she’s not into drugs or alcohol. All things considered you’ve got a pretty good kid here. Then I told the daughter, your Dad’s under a lot of pressure because of trying to find work in a crummy economy. I asked them both to take a little time out to try and get to know where the other is coming from. I said that if you both take a walk together down that driveway of yours by the time you get back to the house you’ll both be crying and hugging each other,” Gall says as the cruiser’s lights swing out across the Shenandoah River as we navigate the winding road.

I glance at my watch. It’s 11:29 pm and we’re back on Route 50 heading toward Winchester.

By now I’ve gotten pretty used to Gall’s easy-going style and our conversation has drifted unto family, life, and general small talk topics. I’m also getting pretty tired after nine hours straight in the car with no time for dinner or a break.

What happens next is the crowning event of the evening and highlights a trained law enforcement professional’s ability to react to the unexpected compared to the reaction time a regular citizen.

Beginning to feel pretty comfortable with the rhythms of the patrol – the ever present background chatter from police radio, the radar unit flashing speed readings, constantly changing traffic patterns –  I feel my mental guard drop ever so slightly.

Based on what happens next, Officer Gall’s guard clearly has not dropped.

As I begin to make a comment to Gall my eyes fix on the red LED readout on the dash-mounted radar unit.

The number on the unit reads “96.”

“Wow, it looks like there’s two of them,” Gall comments.

My mind begins to sense that something is beginning to happen very quickly but, because I can’t see any cars in front of us, I can’t quite figure out where the speeding vehicles are located. In a split second it dawns on me that Gall has his vision trained in the cruiser’s rearview mirror.

As I start to put things together – two vehicles are simultaneously hurtling towards us from behind at close to one hundred miles per hour – Gall makes a split-second decision to cut the car’s steering hard to the right sending the patrol car into a sideways skid that blocks both lanes of Route 50.

To my shock and terror I now can finally see the two speeding vehicles – they’re both headed directly for my side of the car with the only protection between me and the speeding cars being a few thin sheets of car door metal.

But, after the less than five seconds that the whole incident takes to play out, both vehicles are safely stopped in the roadway and Gall is already out of the vehicle commanding both drivers to pull to the shoulder of the road.

As he re-enters the car and maneuvers off of the road so that traffic can continue, Gall notices the look of shock that my face must still carry.

“Sorry, but that was the only way I could be sure neither driver would try and slip by,” Gall says reassuringly.

“No problem,” I reply.

Gall soon has both drivers out of their vehicles. Remarkably, the two drivers deny racing or traveling together. Apparently, when the second driver saw the first driver pass by at a high rate of speed he simply made a spontaneous, and costly, decision to fall in behind at the same speed. While the first driver, who speaks only Spanish, calmly accepts the wreckless driving citation that Gall issues, the second driver is less cooperative.

“This is going to ruin my life! This is going to ruin my life!” the 30-something repeats over and over to Gall. Gall will later tell me that because the man has a commercial driver’s license there is high likelihood that the wreckless driving charge will end his ability to earn a living by operating a motor vehicle. But as the young speeder continues to plead and protest the ticket, Gall offers him a simple, but convincing, gesture.

Gall lays the unsigned citation on the hood of the police cruiser then reaches to the back of his holster belt and produces a pair of chrome handcuffs. Without breaking eye contact with the speeder Gall tosses the handcuffs onto the hood of the car next to the unsigned ticket.

“These are your two choices,” Gall says in a stern but non-threatening manner.

The move does the trick. The man picks up Gall’s pen and signs his name on the bottom of the citation. He immediately seems to relax and accept the responsibility for his driving error.

As I have now come to expect, both speeders shake Gall’s hand before leaving.

And of course, both have smiles on their faces.


  1. Bravo to Mr Leonard for writing such a great article and, more importantly, to Sgt Gall for his dedication and skill in wise and humane application of the law, a tradition in the Clarke County Sheriff’s Department that goes back well over a century to when my great-grandfather, WW Smallwood, and my grandfather, WW “Cap” Smallwood, Jr. were respectively, Sheriff. Albeit a much simpler time, Cap very rarely carried a gun when on duty out in the county, successfully relying, as does Sgt Gall, on personal skills and his own understanding of humanity to relate to and fairly deal with whoever he encountered.

    Again, congratulations to both Edward Leonard and Kenny Gall. Keep up the good work.

    PW Rocap

  2. Thanks! This was good to know. We support them.

  3. That was a GREAT article!!! Had me on the edge of my seat! Very well written! Hats off to the local law enforcement officers.

  4. Sage of the Mountain says:

    Thanks Ed and Sgt Gall for a great article. In this day and time we can all use an artilce that lets us take a glance at our local police force in a positive light. I am certain a great deal of credit goes also to Sheriff Tony’s dedication to the dept as well.

  5. Nice insights into the daily lives of those who serve and protect but…is blocking both lanes of a major highway late at night with two oncoming vehicles speeding at 90+ the brightest thing to do? Not to mention the innocent bystander sitting helpless in the car.

    I understand the desire to nab both speeders, but this still feels like the type of move seen on TV.

    I can’t thank local law enforcement enough for what they do, but I don’t want to read about it the next day when moves like this backfire.

    • What cha gonna do when they come for you? says:

      Two things. First, Sgt. Gall is supposed to enforce the laws of Virginia and he did exactly that. Second, Mr. Leonard went on the ride along of his own volition knowing that it might get ugly at any moment. Good for him that he could remain the reporter in the situation.

      I’m glad that Sgt. Gall got these two sleezeballs stopped before they could wipe out another family like last month in Winchester.

  6. bad dog/owner says:

    Sgt Gall is an outstanding Officer. There was on going animal control issue (6 dogs) in my neighborhood that started 5 yrs before I moved here it was going into its 8th year.
    In one day Sgt Gall ended it all, spoke to the owner and apparently he got the hint or was that the

    Names mean nothing to Sgt Gall the law is the law and he will uphold them.

    I’m glad that Sgt Gall is taking on animal control he listens and gets the job done. THANK YOU!!

  7. William Stewart says:

    Yes, I agree. This is a somewhat of a decent article. Did I say Somewhat? Yes, I did. Oh the story is good, the events are actual, Sargent Gall is certainly a valued Officer of Clarke County for sure. Dealing with the John Q. Public on a daily basis; he and all his comrades each and every day. My hat is off to all of them. And yes Sargent Gall is an exceptional Officer as is all those who serve under him. My complaint is not with the Officer but with the reporter. Must the reporter reveal everything about the crusier, everything about the Officer? This reporter was invited, yes invited….. to go on a Ride-a-long. And then he in turn divulges in a NEWSPAPER no less, everything he saw, heard said or Officer Gall did… These men need our support.. Fine way to give support! By printing highly sensitive information that could jeopardise a man’s or woman’s life! I have thought about this article ever since I saw it. Hath thou NO scruples, ED? Makes a person wonder why the Sheriff didn’t see the article BEFORE it was published so that it could be edited and reviewed????? I understand Freedom of the Press, but isn’t this carrying things alittle far? My brother is a Sheriff’s Deputy in another county, and I can tell you they never ask newspaper men to accompany them on no ride-a-long… for just this reason! These Officer’s protect and guard us (you too, Ed) against who knows what… If I was that officer, that’d be the LAST ride-along you had with me! I wouldn’t care WHAT Tony Roper thought or how many votes he won or lost! To finalize: I have met Sargeant Gall, he is a fine young man and one of Clarke County finest! The Sheriff’s Department is privileged to even have him!

    • Good Lord, what was so highly sensitive? Sgt. Gall isn’t a CIA operative, he’s a local cop for Pete’s sake!

      Besides, this isn’t a newspaper, it’s a website.

      • That’s my question too….what did he reveal that was soooooo bad and sensitive? And what did he reveal that half of newspapers aren’t willingly given by law enforcement when writing a story when they weren’t present?

        I commend Mr. Leonard for writing a thorough story and not leaving things out…that happens too much and it’s nice to get a full account and it sounds like Sgt Gall is a great asset to the community.

    • Mr. Stewart, while you certainly are entitled to your opinion, I am entitled to say taht your opinion carries WAY more negativity than was warranted. Ed did not reveal anything identifiable about any of the individuals profiled; he wasn’t privvy to hearing the conversations in that house; his photos of the two traffic stops don’t identify either the driver or the license plates. (My only gripe is that the word is “reckless” and not “wreckless,” but that’s a minor thing.) You have grossly overreacted, imho…

      But…RW…whether in print or digital format…it is a place to report and read local news. The same standards apply regardless of format.

    • Sage of the Mountain says:

      Wow! Mr Stewart-Mr Stewart. Where have you been? There was nothing in the article about the police vehicle that most of us are not already aware. If there are some of us who do not know about the tools that are used by the police depts then maybe it is a good thing to know about them. Maybe it will keep us from pushing the limit knowing what is available to PD. Keep up the good work Ed and dont let the negatives keep you from doing a good job.

    • Mr. Stewart….TV3 did a ride-a-long with Winchester Police Dept about a year ago, so it’s not as if Clarke County did some odd ball thing in allowing this to happen. No doubt the point behind the ride-a-long and story was to be an informative one and it was, in the opinion of most who commented here. You are certainly entitled to you opinion but I think you are making a mountain out of a mole hill…I see nothing highly sensative at all. I think the ride-a-long and article were a great idea and it’s nice to see “a day in the life of a deputy.” I know it makes me appreciate them more.

  8. Mary T. Morris says:

    To me this article shows how lucky we are in our local law enforcement, both town and county. They do a whole lot with a little; when was the last time any of us felt unsafe in our county. Thank you to our folks who protect us (and those of the fire dept./rescue squad), and Ed for a great article. My grandchildren (ages 8 & 7) all read it and were really impressed with what they read. For that lesson alone the article was worth it.

  9. We can see that Clarke County is in very good hands. Thank you for this very informative and insightful article.