Houston & Peach

Calling the honor ‘bittersweet,’ Peach County’s Terry Deese named Sheriff of the Year

Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese waits at the door for defendant Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. to arrive at the Peach County Courthouse courtroom in this Telegraph file photo.
Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese waits at the door for defendant Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. to arrive at the Peach County Courthouse courtroom in this Telegraph file photo. wmarshall@macon.com

Last year, Terry Deese faced the most challenging and heartbreaking 12 months of his nearly 35 years with the Peach County Sheriff’s Office.

On Thursday, Deese was named the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Sheriff of the Year for the way he handled those tragedies, including the loss of two of his deputies who were killed in the line of duty.

“It’s really bittersweet,” Deese said of receiving the distinction. “I’ve grown up in the sheriff’s office, so it’s really an honor for my fellow sheriffs to vote for me to receive that award.

“The reason for winning that award is still kind of rough.”

Deese, who has been the sheriff for nearly 12 years, started on patrol and worked in investigations, narcotics and basically everything but the jail. He served as chief deputy for about 19 years before being elected sheriff.

On Nov. 6, Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron were fatally wounded in an encounter with Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. outside his home. Elrod faces the death penalty if convicted of the resulting murder charges against him. His case has been set for trial on Feb. 12, 2018.

“Sheriff Deese was at the forefront of the tragic event, directing the men and women, relaying important information, giving a handshake and a hug there, dealing with media questions,” wrote Peach County prosecutor Cindy Adams in her nomination letter. “And through it all, he was delivering a sense of strength and calm to all those around him.

“Everyone focused on their jobs because their leader led.”

Peach County sheriff’s Maj. Kenny Cameron noted that tragedy could have “broken the department as well as the community” had it not been for Deese’s leadership.

Cameron also noted the sheriff’s handling of two officer-involved shootings, including one in which a Crawford County man was killed.

“We had a rough year, especially for our little community — very out of character being a small community where you know everybody,” Deese said. “So, it does get to be tough sometimes.”

Deese said that he had no option but to uphold his elected-responsibility as sheriff when tragedy struck.

“We have experienced outstanding support from all over the country, met some amazing people and been recognized many, many times, but I would trade it all for an opportunity to undo the tragedies of 2016,” Deese wrote in a Facebook post. “The young men and women working the streets in public safety everyday are the ones that should be recognized.”

A friend of law enforcement from Middle Georgia also picked up a sheriffs’ association award last week.

Lou Crouch, a retired Robins Air Force Base civilian worker, received the meritorious service award. Deese nominated Crouch for the honor.

Crouch has volunteered with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office to work on special details such as watching shopping areas during the holiday season and the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety taking agency photographs and maintaining the agency’s website, Deese said.

He also has set up several law enforcement scholarships over the years, including in honor of Sondron and Smallwood, Deese said.

“He’s just a super nice guy, and a big supporter of law enforcement,” Deese said. “He’s always gone above and beyond in his support of law enforcement.

“I’m just really glad to have him on our side.”

Becky Purser: 478-256-9559, @BecPurser