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October 23, 2014

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Bluffton Police honor two officers who died in the line of duty in 1927 and 1929

Service of remembrance on May 16

Bluffton police never forget their own.

Two Bluffton police officers, who died in the late 1920s, were recognized in a special service of remembrance held by the police department part of of a National Police Week.

Rick Skilliter, police chief, presided over the service, which followed the Monday evening council meeting.

Honored were Officer Owen Grandstaff and Officer Frank Herrmann.

On March 26, 1927, Grandstaff arrested a suspect for writing a bad check and was in the process of walking him to the Bluffton jail when the suspect escaped custody.

Grandstaff chased the suspect on foot but collapsed from an apparent heart attach during the pursuit. He died within minutes of collapsing.

On Sept. 3, 1929, Herrmann was on foot patrol. He observed a speeding motorist. He attempted to stop the vehicle by displaying his firearm. The driver did not see the the officer's badge and mistook the situation for a car theft.

The car ran Herrmann over, causing multiple trauma. Herrmann died two days later from the injuries.

Skilliter's remarks

The following remarks were read by Chief Skilliter at the service, which was attended by several relatives of the two officers.

We gather tonight to formally recognize two men who served this community over 85 years ago. Our two colleagues walked many of the same streets we patrol today and did their very best to protect the community from lawlessness.

I will be speaking more about the specific details surrounding each of the officers in a few moments.

On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 53 hours. Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Physical assaultive behavior against law enforcement officers average over 53,000 incidents annually, with almost 16,000 injuries occurring annually.

The devastation and human toll the loss or serious injury of an officer takes on an agency can been daunting. Immediate families and loved ones, and colleagues of fallen officers, are forever impacted.

Many times agency and community culture are affected for years following an incident. Our belief system is rocked when someone is harmed in our community. That system is often shattered when the person killed is one tasked with protecting all citizens from harm.

As time goes by, many people learn to adjust to the loss and move on to a new normal for them. However, for the family who loses a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, or a close friend, pieces of the pain will remain forever.

Through the course of the village celebrating the 150th anniversary of Bluffton's existence, I came across a reprint of an article that appeared in The Bluffton News.

The article's author, the late Rolland Stratton, spoke of two police officers who died while serving the Village of Bluffton. Though I had been on police department for over 20 years, this was news to me. So I began to research to see what I could find.

With the help of the staff at the Bluffton News and the Bluffton Public Library, I was able to piece together names and dates related to the two incidents. So I doubled up on some allergy medicine and ventured into the depths of the records maintained by the village dating back to the time frame in question.

After a few sneezing episodes and several scratchy eye strains from all of the dust, I found some very limited information from the village records. As it turns out, our library and The Bluffton News kept better records than the village - who knew?

When Bluffton was incorporated in 1861 a town Marshall was appointed. We have records from day one indicating who served as town Marshall and subsequently Chief of Police from then to now. The Marshall was able to appoint deputy Marshalls, who were also called "Night Police."

From what I've been able to find, the night police were tasked with checking doors, keeping fire watch, and controlling mayhem during the night hours.

Both of the officers we memorialize tonight served as Marshall during their time in Bluffton. However, at the time of their deaths, both men were considered "Night Police."

The story byline in the March 31, 1927, Bluffton News reads "Officer Dies In Pursuing Youth." Owen O Grandstaff, age 69, was filling in as temporary night police on the night in question. Officer Grandstaff had previously served as Marshall from 1922-1923, and despite his advanced age, he stepped in to help out when Officer Frank Herrmann took ill in December.

On Saturday, March 26, 1927, at 10:00 p.m., Officer Grandstaff was walking a young Donald Tate of Columbus Grove to the city jail. Officer Grandstaff had arrested Tate on suspicion of passing a worthless $5.00 check to the local restaurant.

The spry young Tate decided to run from Officer Grandstaff, who gave foot chase. While running on Elm Street Officer Grandstaff suddenly pitched forward face down in the street. A doctor was summoned, but Officer Grandstaff died from an apparent heart attack brought on by the physical exertion.

Officer Grandstaff was a widower and lived with a step-daughter at the time of his death.

As fate would have it, Officer Frank Herrmann returned to work following the tragic death of Officer Grandstaff.

The September 13, 1929, Bluffton News byline reads "Injuries Fatal to Nighwatch." On September 3, 1929, at 5:00 a.m., a car driven by 16 year old Howard Pfund was returning from Labor Day weekend and driving his car on Main Street in downtown Bluffton.

By Pfund's admission, he was traveling about 35 mph in the 25 mph speed zone. Officer Frank Hermman, 68 years old, was on foot patrol in the business district and observed the speeding motorist.

Officer Herrmann stepped into the roadway and drew his service revolver to affect a traffic stop. The young Pfund initially mistook the actions Officer Herrmann as an attempted hold up. An instant later, Pfund saw the badge on Officer Herrmann's chest and attempted to swerve to miss the officer.

Unfortunately, his speed and slow reaction time contributed to Officer Herrmann being run over by the automobile. Officer Herrmann was taken to Bluffton Hospital with multiple traumas, and died two days later from his injuries.

Officer Frank Herrmann was survived by his wife, Harriet, two sons Jerome and Sylvan, and one daughter, Pauline Stein.

Both Officer Grandstaff and Officer Herrmann's names have been submitted to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund for formal, permanent recognition on the Fallen Officer's Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

I have copies of the submittal packet in the back of the room in case anyone is interested in reading more about the details of the incident.

As Council President Gallant read in the proclamation signed by Mayor Fulcomer, the week in which May15 falls is designated National Police Memorial Week. Each year members of our police department join other members of the law enforcement community to pay respect to our fallen comrades.

Now, we at the Bluffton Police Department, pay special local tribute to Officer Owen Grandstaff and Officer Frank Herrmann for their ultimate sacrifice in protecting and serving our community.

In order to ensure that the memory of these officers and their sacrifice outlives my tenure as police chief and the tenure of every currently serving police officer, we will place two permanent plaques on the lobby walls of the police department. Those plaques display a replica of the badge worn by the officers at the time of their service and ultimate sacrifice and have a brief narrative of their story surrounding the line of duty death.

I will now read the engraving on the plaques...

In closing, I'd like to thank the descendants of Officer Grandstaff and Officer Herrmann for traveling to be with us tonight. Please know that even though it's been 85 years since the tragedies that betook your loved one from your families, their memories and service to this community meant and do mean something to the officers and the citizens of Bluffton.

At the conclusion of this ceremony, those family members and guests are invited to share in light refreshments and social time. The police floor, directly below us, is open if anyone would like a tour of the modern police facilities we are so fortunate to be afforded. We also have a police cruiser parked outside with a display of some of the equipment we now carry on a daily basis.

As a small token of our appreciation for your traveling here tonight and to remind you that your family will forever be a part of the Bluffton police community, please help yourself to a coffee mug on the back table. The coffee mug contains a Law Enforcement Memorial Pin and American Flag, and a police patch that is worn on our uniforms.
Thank you, and God Bless.

I'd like to ask everyone to please rise for the playing of Taps in honor of Officer Owen Grandstaff and Officer Frank Herrmann.

Thank you, again please enjoy social time and a tour of our facilities if you'd like.