Clay Co. sheriff stays strong over traumatic weeks

Child killer pleads, deputies shot, other violence over past 6 weeks

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - The first thing that greets visitors to the Clay County Sheriff's Office is a photo of Detective David White, the first Clay County deputy killed in action in more than 100 years. In May, that photo will be added to the department's Wall of Honor upstairs.

His death one month ago this week devastated the entire force, but they have stayed strong.

"I am so proud of the work everyone has done to band together and carry on and take care of the family," Sheriff Rick Beseler said. "The families of both Matt Hanlin and David White are forefront in our minds right now."

Hanlin was also shot during a Feb. 16 raid on a meth lab in Middleburg.

"I haven't broken yet," Beseler said of his own emotions. "You have to be strong. There has to be that feeling from your staff that they can look to for direction and we're making sure our ship is staying on course. We still have 200,000 people we have to care for out there in the community. We're doing it with dwindling resources."

Beyond the shooting of the deputies, recent high-profile crimes and events have taxed the department. Just two weeks before the shootings, Jarred Harrell's sentencing in the murder of 7-year-old Somer Thompson caused the deputies and the community to relive the horrors of October 2009. In the past five days, there was a murder-suicide that also involved the shooting of a family friend and a deputy shot and killed a woman who refused commands to put down a gun.

The Sheriff's Office has about 550 full-time employees and 400 reservists and volunteers. Because of budget cuts, Clay County deputies haven't seen a pay raise in years.

"These men and women don't do it for the money. They do it because it's a ministry to them -- it's a calling -- and that's the only way you can really do this job and do it well," Beseler said.

Beseler said his staff feels like a big family, and when something happens, they all step in to help.

Right now, they're helping the White and Hanlin families financially through a biweekly payroll deduction program.

"They're willing to step up and share part of their salary with families who are hurting," Beseler said. "That's a testament to the type of men and women we have in this agency here, and it really makes me proud to be a sheriff of a county like that."

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