District Attorney Will Ramsay added another person to his staff within the last month. Kenny Stillwagoner will bring his 28 years of experience as a public servant to his new job as investigator for the district attorney’s office.
Ramsay recruited Stillwagoner away from the Hunt County Child Protective Services department, where he served has served as a special investigator for the last 6 1/2 years. Stillwagoner will help the DA’s office prepare cases for prosecution, including locating witnesses for cases and seeing that subpoenas are served to witnesses and businesses representatives as needed. He will also sit alongside Ramsay in court, locating and securing items as needed.
“There’s a lot of paper work I’ll be prepping for Will. In court, if he needs something, I’ll find it or get it. He seems like a heck of a guy to work for — a real honest fellow,” said Stillwagoner.
The move will mean he can work in his hometown of Sulphur Springs instead of making the daily drive to Hunt County. It also affords him the opportunity to return to the type of law he’s most passionate about — criminal as opposed to civil.
"As cliché and hokey as it sounds, I have always wanted to be a cop — from when I was little playing with Hot Wheels. It’s just what I’ve always wanted to be,” said Stillwagoner, adding that while no one else in his family growing up was in law enforcement, both he and his older brother Lt. Rusty Stillwagoner, who heads the criminal investigations division at Sulphur Springs Police Department, have both had long careers in the profession.
He’s continued to work in some field of law enforcement for the last 28 years — in a variety of different capacities at a couple of different agencies which have allowed him to be involved in the legal process in both criminal and civil law in Hopkins and Hunt counties. During that time, with his years of service and continuing education and training, Stillwagoner has attained his master peace officer certification.
He has put in thousands of hours of law enforcement training, attending as many sessions as possible so he can remain current on new laws, trends and updates as they impact law enforcement.
“It’s an ever-changing, evolving profession — you have to keep up,” Stillwagoner said. “Laws change.”
He admits he’s been in a few dicey situations over the years as a police officer. He recalls one instance while working with SSPD in which he and another officer were fired at through a door while responding to a call an apartment on Helm Lane.
“We walked up to the apartment. A round hit the sidewalk and sprayed chips up at us,” he said.
He’s had his share of pursuits and scuffles with uncooperative people as well, and while on the SWAT team responded to barricade situations or hostage situations.
But, he said one of the worst fights he was involved in while on patrol involved a juvenile who had taken PCP, even though Stillwagoner outweighed the youth by at least 100 pounds. Due to the illicit substance, the teenager was very determined and strong and showed no signs of tiring after struggling for a while. Eventually, Stillwagoner got the juvenile penned between a toilet and the wall, a hold he remained in for a while because he couldn’t maneuver enough to hit his call button for help despite its close proximity. If he lost his hold, the fight would begin anew. He was afraid due to the way the situation was advancing, he’d have to take drastic action. He did manage to finally call for backup, however, and was very glad to see fellow GPD officers Rob Garner and Ken Terry arrive to back him up.
At one point, he even tossed his hat in the ring to run for sheriff of Hopkins County. But, he had to withdraw at the close of filing, just before his name was officially placed on the ballot after learning of a U.S. law which prevented him as an employee of an agency that receives federal funding (CPS) from running for office.
“Some stay in one place for 30 years. Some might think it’s crazy to move from one job to the other, but it’s keep my interest in it — the changes, the difference so it doesn’t become stale or stagnant,” Stillwagoner said. “I’d get the itch. I couldn’t stay at Greenville my entire career. If I had, this would have been my 28th year now, and I could draw retirement.”
He began his career in December of 1985 as a patrol officer for Greenville Police Department. Back then, there were no video cameras in cars, and officers didn’t carry Tasers and pepper spray. Police work was very hands-on.
“I’ve always loved police work, but our hands have become more tied through the years with more laws and more paper work. I feel sorry for the young guys on the street — society is so litigious. They have to watch everything so closely. There were no video cameras then. Now everybody has one on their phone,” he added.
While at GPD, he served on the SWAT team for 12 1/2 years, was a field training officer while in patrol division and was a special enforcement officer working high profile crimes. He also was a narcotics officer for three years and a canine handle for eight years, serving a lot of search warrants on houses, sometimes taking the dog to schools to do searches and work with students. He also served as a school resource officer, teaching law enforcement classes, and was involved in TAB’s Project SAVE for high school kids.
Stillwagoner also worked for 4 1/2 years at Sulphur Springs Police Department and was a reserve deputy for Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office for 2 1/2 years.
Six-and-a-half years ago, he was hired by CPS as a special investigator.
“The legislature came up with special investigators. They decided to hire police officers or ex-officers,” Stillwagoner explained of special investigators.
He said the CPS job was considerably different from any other position he’d held thus far, as it dealt with another side of the law — civil rather than criminal cases.
“The civil side was hard for me as we go in and just make sure the child is safe in the home or safe with a family member, or foster care as a last resort. It was a different aspect for me,” Stillwagoner explained.
He was accustomed to approaching cases from a different standpoint. In criminal cases, officers interview suspects, witnesses and in some cases victims, process scenes and act as liaisons with professionals who conduct specialized interviews, all for criminal prosecution. Special investigators with CPS interview alleged perpetrators, parents and family members but not the children. They approach locations for assessment for child safety. He said it was a very different thought process for CPS cases as opposed to criminal cases.
Investigators also go out to location for CPS without a radio or weapon, some in very uncertain conditions. As a police officer, he was accustomed to having a radio for immediate communication and other officers readily available when going to an unknown entity's home, along with several weapons as precautions should a situation arise. He said he knew that even as a CPS investigator, if he phoned for help, officers would be dispatched to his location. But, it’s just not the same as already having backup from other officers or access to them at the click of a button. Also, officers’ calls are logged, so if an officer doesn’t report in for a while, dispatchers contact them to be sure all is OK.
Stillwagoner said being a cop is just something you are. Once you become a law enforcement officer, you just think that way. It becomes part of you.
“I miss it. If you are police for any length of time, it’s what you are. You are a police officer from then on. At CPS, I was starting to get a little fidgety. I wanted to get back to law enforcement,” Stillwagoner said.
He especially missed the camaraderie among the “brotherhood,” that network of men and women in blue who serve and put their lives on the line daily for the protection of citizens and each other.
“That’s the biggest thing — the brotherhood among officers. No matter how long you’re gone, when you return or meet up with them, it’s like you never left. It’s been several years since I was a cop. Since I’ve been here, it’s like I never left. I know that if I go out on something in Sulphur Springs with officers, I know I can trust they have my back and won’t leave me hanging,” Stillwagoner said.
When he learned about the opening for a DA investigator for the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s office, Stillwagoner said he really had to weigh the options. The position is one that had not been funded in the DA’s budget of late, but is paid out of seized/forfeited funds. After interviewing and being offered the position, Stillwagoner decided to make the move.
“This came along and it couldn’t have been a better time. I was surprised when I got it,” Stillwagoner said, noting there were several other qualified candidates as well.
“My plan is to stay here as long as they’ll have me. It was a little bit scary knowing I won’t have a job if the funding is not approved. I took a leap of faith,” Stillwagoner said. “I think it’s going to be a good fit. I have a diverse background, having served in a lot of different aspects of law enforcement and CPS — where it was whole different ball game. I’m glad to be back.
“I’ve lived in Sulphur Springs most of my life. We moved here in 1972 when I was a child. The only time I’ve lived outside was when my family moved to Louisiana. That lasted six months in Minden and we moved back. My kids were raised here, graduated high school here. We never considered moving. This is my community, my home. I like the fact I’ll be able to help make this community a better place. It’s nice to be back,” Stillwagoner said.
One of his first orders as DA’s investigator was to dispose of guns, which for some unknown reason had ended up at the DA’s office, including a box with handguns and some long arms. So far, he’s loving his new job.
When not at his full time job in law enforcement, Stillwagoner works at his other job — small construction projects.
“I’ve been doing construction for years. I build stuff on my off time. I build and construct, run electrical through houses or build shelves. I’ve been doing carpentry for 18 years. I tried it fulltime for a short time. It’s different when you do it parttime for extra money and when you rely on it for a living. It’s stressful and not fun to rely on it for a living. Since I worked at Greenville PD, I’ve done it on the side .”
Stillwagoner’s other accomplishments include being married to wife Rhonda, who has been employed with Medicine Chest for 20 years, raising two children, son Josh who is now 30, and daughter Candace, who is married and gave Kenny and Rhonda their first grandchild.
“It’s awesome,” Stillwagoner said. “There’s nothing like a grandbaby. I’d always hear people talk about them, and now I have one. I love my kids, but man, I love my grandbaby, Gavyn,” Stillwagoner said.
He spends as much time with them as possible. And, his idea of vacation is camping with his wife — in a camper with boating equipment. And while neither of his children chose to go into law enforcement, the family tradition started with Kenny and Rusty Stillwagoner continues with Rusty’s two sons, who both have opted to try careers in law enforcment — one even works at GPD.
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