W.Va. trooper hangs up his badge after 2 decades

March 29, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - It is one of the moments in Deke Walker's West Virginia State Police career that sticks out in his memory.

The then-24-year-old trooper had been with the state police two years when he was told in 1979 that he was being sent to the old West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, W.Va., because of a riot.

When inmates broke out of the prison, an off-duty trooper who was outside the facility was shot to death and dragged out of his car, Walker said.


Walker was among a group of troopers sent into the prison to restore order.

"I had the midnight shift. It was pretty strange," Walker said.

Walker and another trooper were assigned to a key location in the prison where two hallways intersected, and a stairway led down to another level, Walker said.

The two troopers were to stay on the lookout for anyone who might come through the area, such as an inmate.

"The whole night, no one came through. That (duty) was rather unpleasant," said Walker, who responded to two other riots at the prison.

After a 26-year career that involved investigating some of the Eastern Panhandle's most talked-about criminal cases, and even challenging the department where he worked, Walker has decided to retire.

Last Friday was Walker's last day with the state police and today he starts a new job as an investigator with Farmers and Mechanics Mutual Insurance Co. on Edwin Miller Boulevard.

For years, Walker has been a familiar face in local state police detachments.

He has managed or helped manage various parts of the local state police barracks, was often the point-person in dealing with local media in recent years and was involved in a variety of other efforts over the years, including managing a patrol for Interstate 81 in Berkeley County.

"I've always had a lot of respect for him," said Gary Griffith, director of criminal investigations for the West Virginia Department of Tax and Revenue. Griffith, a former Berkeley County resident who worked for the state police in Martinsburg from 1976 to 1993, said Walker was always energetic and interested in working with his colleagues on police business.

Griffith, who eventually became deputy state police superintendent, described Walker as "honest as the day is long."

Walker was born in Keyser, W.Va., in 1955 and grew up in the community of Piedmont, W.Va., about four miles west of Keyser.

Walker said he did not see the state police much in Piedmont.

"It was like at the dead end of Route 46," Walker said.

But when Walker did see the state police, he was impressed by them.

Those memories stuck with him, and he applied to the state police academy when he graduated from high school.

Although Walker was turned down twice by the state police, he later was hired after being encouraged to apply again.

Walker entered state police training in 1978 and his first trooper job was in Martinsburg, where he worked for 16 years. He worked his way up through the ranks, becoming a corporal, sergeant, assistant detachment commander and commander of the Berkeley Springs, W.Va., detachment.

Walker was promoted to first sergeant in February 2002, meaning he oversaw state police operations in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Looking back over Walker's career takes in some of the most talked-about crimes in the Eastern Panhandle.

The 48-year-old was among a group of police who caught the Franklin brothers, two men who caused panic across the Eastern Panhandle following a string of crimes that began 25 years ago.

Among the crimes were stealing guns and money and shooting a man. Charles and Warren Franklin could live off the land and when they were found, they were living in a deep-woods hideout in southern Berkeley County, which was rigged with propane and car batteries for energy.

Walker remembers the Franklin brothers vowing that they would not be captured alive. Had the circumstances been any different when the police caught them, the ending could have been much more exciting, Walker said.

"We caught them sleeping and they were very, very surprised," Walker said, adding that the men were subdued.

Walker remembers participating in the hunt for Randy McBee, a Morgan County man charged in an 11-day crime spree in the Berkeley Springs area in 1993 and more recently, working on the case involving Trooper Bobby Elswick, who was shot in the head after responding to a domestic call near Hedgesville, W.Va., on Oct. 10, 2002.

Walker said he was at a midget league football game when he was notified about the shooting of Elswick. Walker went home, changed clothes and headed to the scene.

"That was one of those situations when you think about your own mortality," Walker said.

When a colleague is injured in a serious incident such as that, emotions sometimes can make the situation more difficult, Walker said.

That night, it was Walker's job to keep everyone focused.

After Elswick was shot, "things really looked bad" and Walker remembers state police officials discussing how to handle a possible funeral for Elswick.

Elswick ended up surviving the shooting and continues to recover.

Walker once challenged his own department when he was involved in a discrimination suit against a top agency official. In 1990, Walker, the NAACP and six other black troopers filed suit against Jack Buckalew, former head of the state police, claiming blacks were discriminated against in seeking jobs and promotions within the state police.

Walker said the plaintiffs in the case ended up taking a small cash settlement.

In his new job with Farmers and Mechanics Mutual Insurance Co., Walker said he expects to investigate cases like insurance fraud for the company.

"I like the idea of it. I'm looking forward to it," he said.

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