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There’s humor too, but retired officer ‘Blackie’ tells of real-life drama when wearing the badge

Richard “Blackie” Blackwelder retired in 2008 as chief deputy of Yellow Medicine County. He has now written a book of stories about life as a law enforcement officer. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

GRANITE FALLS — Take one cop with a penchant for playing pranks, plunk him down in a rural county for 34 years, and what do you get?

Stories that will not only make you laugh out loud, but also open your eyes to the real-life drama of what it’s like to be a law officer: Everything from watching life fade from the eyes of the accident victim asking him to tell her husband she loves him, to counting the bullets in a Smith & Wesson, double-action revolver the crazed man has just squarely placed between his eyes.

It’s all told in the self-published “Behind the Thin Blue Line,’’ (Xlibris, 122 pages) a collection of 82 stories as experienced and told by Richard Blackwelder, known everywhere by his nickname “Blackie.” He retired Feb. 29, 2008, as a chief deputy with the Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office, right where his career had started on March 1, 1974.

The sheriff gave him a plat book, keys to the squad, and these instructions when he sent him off on his first night of patrolling: “Don’t get lost and don’t pull anybody over.’’

He drove into a thick fog, got lost, and was eventually turned around and sent back to his starting point by a police officer in Wood Lake.

“That’s how I started out,’’ said Blackwelder, laughing.

He considered himself lucky to be getting paid for doing what he always wanted to do.

Today he also likes to credit luck with keeping him alive through it all.

That included the time that a man he had just helped placed the muzzle of a Smith & Wesson revolver right between his eyes.

They were on the porch of a remote farm place. Blackwelder had no support. He grabbed the revolver’s cylinder with one hand knowing the trigger couldn’t be pulled as long as he held it and punched the man with his other hand, eventually overpowering and cuffing him.

“Luck,’’ he said. “I was lucky to know what to do, not because I was smart,’’ said Blackwelder.

After the incident, he never left home for work without telling his wife, Linda: “I love you.”

He survived plenty of other scary moments with knife- and gun-wielding bad guys. One time he nearly died of asphyxiation while rescuing people from a grocery store. A refrigeration system’s compressor had exploded and Freon poured on him.

Yet his closest encounter with death followed a day at the office. Before it was demolished, the old Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office was so badly infested by mold that Blackwelder went home and literally stopped breathing. His wife and sons revived him and got him to the hospital in the nick of time.

He outsmarted plenty of crooks, and has plenty of stories to tell about it. One trio decided to rob someone they knew but only realized they should conceal their identities just before reaching the victim’s home. They used their underwear to cover their faces. They tied up the man and with deception in mind, said they were headed to Canby as they left, knowing the man would free himself and call for help.

They took the back roads to return home to Marshall, got lost, and ended up in Canby. The chase was on, eventually leading to a lake in South Dakota where they fled on foot. Multiple officers aided by a helicopter searched through much of the night, all without success.

Blackwelder sent everyone else home, and with another officer waited. Sure enough, the trio eventually stood up to leave their hiding places and took a trip to jail instead.

Blackwelder risked his life to rescue stranded motorists in blizzards; once, he carried an unconscious drunk from his vehicle as it teetered on the edge of a bridge.

 Another time he saved the life of a baby. He arrived to find the parents crying and a first responder shaking his head, saying they were too late. Blackwelder saw that the parents had chilled their fevered infant in icy water, and realized he was suffering from hypothermia. He resumed CPR while warming him.

The case that still haunts him also involved a baby. Despite endless hours devoted to solving it, he has yet to learn who placed a baby in a dumpster in Canby one cold night. An autopsy revealed that the baby had been born alive, and was either intentionally suffocated or had frozen to death in its shoebox coffin.

The story of the unsolved homicide is not told in this book, but could be someday. Blackwelder said he has many stories yet to tell.

His first book offers lots of humor thanks to the stories he reveals about the pranks he played through the year.

Yet there is also a very clear and serious theme through all of his stories. Above all else, Blackwelder prided himself on being a good cop. He loved to pull pranks on his fellow officers to relieve stress, but made honesty and respect for others his trademark.

“I just like to help people. That was my main thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t dare hurt anybody. I wanted to help you even if you were the bad guy. I think I got respect from some of the people I arrested because I treated them nicely.’’

“Behind the Thin Blue Line’’ can be ordered online from Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Xlibris, or by calling the author at 507-223-7760.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335