Deputy Danny Williams retires five decades after beginning law enforcement career
BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Long after Iredell County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Danny Williams took off his uniform for the final time, he will remember the high-speed chases, the close calls, the tragic loss of a co-worker and the time he lit up his future boss with a stun gun.
And he will never forget the chance meeting he had with a man who tried to kill him years earlier.
When Williams officially signed off at the end of his last shift in January, more than 50 years after pinning his badge on for the first time, he left with the knowledge that he had dedicated a large portion of his life to helping others.
Williams began his career with the Statesville Police Department in 1973 and retired from the Troutman Police Department in 1998. After working in the private sector for 18 years, he was hired by Sheriff Darren Campbell in 2016. Since then, while working at the front desk, Williams has been the first deputy many people encounter when they call or visit the Sheriff’s Office seeking help.
He has seriously considered retirement several times in the past couple of years, but Williams has always kicked the decision down the road. This time he’s ready.
“The desire to serve will always be there,” he said. “What scares me is three years from now will I want to come back? I’ll be 73.”
Williams will certainly be missed by his co-workers and the community he serves.
“First and foremost, he has been a great friend. When I started in law enforcement, he was someone to give me and other new officers great advice,” Sheriff Campbell said. “He has done a great job at the Sheriff’s Office for the last several years.
“He is one in a million, a true ‘officer’s officer,’ and he has always held himself to the highest standard and set the bar high for new law enforcement officers coming into the profession.”
‘You’re the protector’
After graduating from South Iredell High School in 1971, Williams earned an associate degree in criminal justice from Central Piedmont Community College in May of 1973. At that time, the military conflict in Vietnam was raging and young men like Williams were being drafted and sent overseas to fight.
“Mom and dad were having a fit,” Williams said. “They were sure my number was going to be drawn.”
Williams lucked out. He missed the draft by two numbers.
Williams’ parents had hoped he would continue his education and perhaps pursue a career as a pharmacist, but Williams was inspired by the stories of his uncle, Bill Crider, who worked as chief of police in Mt. Holly. Like his uncle, he felt called to help people and make a difference.
“You’re that one person that stands between someone who has been wronged and the offender,” he said. “You’re the protector.”
On November 12, 1973, Williams was hired by Statesville Police Chief James Myers. As a 20-year-old rookie, Williams weighed 145 pounds. His annual salary was $10,000 – “and I thought that was A-okay,” he said.
Williams remembers being so nervous during his first traffic stop that he couldn’t read the driver’s name on the vehicle registration and license because his hands were shaking so hard. His field training officer, Ken Shawver, reassured the young officer and then pushed him to develop the skills and confidence that patrol officers need to be successful.
“If you don’t know how to swim, they throw you in the middle of the lake,” Williams said. “He threw me in the middle of the situation.”
As he gained experience, Williams received training to be a crime scene photographer. While working and raising his family, he also earned his bachelor’s degree at Pfeiffer University and his advanced law enforcement certification.
Throughout his career, made it his goal to be the first officer on the scene whenever someone called 911 on his side of town. He vividly remembers being the first officer on the scene of a vicious stabbing.
In 1976, Williams was the first officer to respond to a call that a man was shooting at vehicles off Third Street Extension. He talked with a neighbor, who confirmed the report, and then approached the suspect’s house.
“That’s when the guy comes out of the back door with a shotgun and fires at me,” Williams said.
He crawled to the rear of his patrol vehicle, which was hit by buckshot, and radioed for backup. Eventually, the shooter surrendered and was taken to a psychiatric facility, Williams said.
There were also lighter moments, like the night Williams was on foot patrol in Statesville and heard a rookie frantically call out that he had found a body discarded in a trash bin. When Williams arrived on the scene, the young officer had his weapon trained on a mannequin from Plyler’s Men’s Clothing.
“He didn’t live it down,” Williams said, laughing at the memory.
In 1985, Williams took a position at the Troutman Police Department. Wayne Mills was the chief, and Johnny Sutphin and Willians were the TPD’s only full-time officers. They were also sworn sheriff’s deputies, which gave them authority to work outside of the town limits.
Williams enjoyed the night shift and continued working in the community and getting to know town residents. He kept an eye on the troublemakers and quickly learned the individuals who didn’t mind fighting the police.
“I’ve been thrown across rooms. I’ve been beaten,” he said matter of factly. “I’ve been threatened.”
On one occasion Williams, along with a young deputy “who didn’t mind getting in the middle of things” and another deputy were trying to break up a fight involving four men in the Talley Street area when the situation quickly deteriorated.
“We were wrestling. Everybody’s got a hold of somebody,” Williams recalled.
In an effort to end the fight, he decided to deploy his stun gun. Unfortunately, the recipient of the electric jolt was the young deputy — current Sheriff Darren Campbell.
Often, Williams’ reputation preceded him when he responded to a call for help. He remembers arriving at a home where a man was threatening his family with a steak knife. After Williams moved the family members out of harm’s way, the man advanced on the officer. Williams warned the man he would have to shoot him if he did not stop and drop the knife.
That’s when the knife-wielding man’s mother spoke up. “That’s Danny Williams,” she said. “If he tells you he’s going to shoot you, he’s going to shoot you.”
The man dropped the knife.
Another day, while he was off duty and unarmed, Williams was pumping gas in his truck in Troutman when he heard a man’s voice call out “Mr. Williams?”
He immediately recognized the voice as the man who had fired the shotgun at him in Statesville. Williams was caught off guard and admits he was a little rattled by the unexpected encounter.
“The man had already shot at me once,” he explained.
That’s when the other man stuck out his hand and said, “I want to apologize for what I did.”
After they shook hands, the man who had taken a shot at Williams just smiled, turned around and walked away. “It was like he had to do it,” Williams said.
Two weeks later, Williams saw the man’s obituary in the newspaper.
The saddest and most difficult day of Williams’ career was December 2, 1990, when TPD Officer William John Pettit Sr. was killed in a vehicle crash around 3:20 a.m. on Highway 21 while responding to a call to assist Mooresville police pursuit on Interstate 77. Pettit was 29.
“That was tragic,” Williams said. “It was tough.”
‘It’s my job’
After retiring from the TPD in 1998, Williams transitioned to civilian life. In 2016, he was making a good salary as an assistant store manager for Lowe’s when the urge to return to law enforcement grew stronger. “I was missing something in my life,” he said.
He inquired at the Sheriff’s Office about helping out as a reserve officer and after passing the fitness and firearms tests, he was back in uniform, working alongside a deputy one night a week. A month later, a full-time position came open and Williams was soon back on the job.
During the final chapter of his career, Williams is often the person who answers the phone at the Sheriff’s Office when someone calls who needs help. Sometimes the caller wants to know how to deal with a neighbor’s cat who has been scratching their vehicle or someone who is trespassing on their property. Other times it’s a mom who suspects her child has been sexually abused or an elderly resident who is the victim of a telephone or email scam.
While it’s not as exciting as staring down the business end of a shotgun, the work is still rewarding to Williams, who still takes great satisfaction in helping folks get through a tough time.
One recent afternoon, while heading home from work in his patrol car, Williams was sitting in traffic on Shelton Avenue when a vehicle ran a red light in front of him. Although technically off duty, Williams couldn’t just ignore what he had seen. So he activated his lights and siren and pulled over the vehicle. (For the record, the driver got a warning.)
Williams’ grown daughters, Ashley and Victoria, were not thrilled to learn that he had been involved in a pursuit.
“Dad, you’re 70 years old!” Ashley, who works at the Statesville Police Department, chided him.
“It’s my job,” Williams replied.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the January edition of “IFN Monthly.”