By Jesse Wood
In his 27 years with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Al Reed has worked – or as he joked, “survived” – underneath three different sheriffs – Red Lyons, Mark Shook and currently Len Hagaman.
That’s quite the feat considering the different personalities and inherent politics involved with the sheriff’s position – just see what’s happened in Ashe County during the past two months.
On March 1, Reed is retiring.
This past Tuesday, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners agreed to declare Reed’s issued service sidearm, a Remington 870 shotgun, and his badge as surplus in order to give the county property to Reed. This is a customary token of appreciation shown to retiring officers.
“I’ve had that shotgun for 23 years. It’s special,” Reed said. “Plus, I can hunt with it.”
Reed has 37 years of law enforcement service under his belt – plus nearly 20 years as a volunteer fire fighter with Beaver Dam Fire Department. The 10 years before he came to Watauga County were served out-of-state. When he arrived to Watauga County, he started out at the “bottom” as an undercover narcotics officer in the early ‘90s before hitting the road, first as sergeant, then lieutenant and his current rank, captain.
“The best job I had was lieutenant on the road,” Reed said. “You got to go to everything good. The paperwork you did was worth something; it wasn’t minor stuff and you had some control over what was going on in the department – I don’t want to say as far as hiring or firing – but you had your hand in a lot of stuff, and in a sense that was it: first hand experience in a lot of stuff that was going on.”
Quite a bit has changed in the three decades or so since he arrived in Watauga. He noted the population has grown considerably with the county population doubling and the student population tripling.
The calls weren’t nearly as high in volume and the roads certainly weren’t as officially named as they are today.
“You might get a call and there was something, a horse or a cow, in the roadway, and the directions would be turn left at this road. Go past Joe’s barn and turn right at the oak tree,” Reed joked.
“I used to drive Outbacks on the roads, and [some stretches] you’d never see a house for 5 or 10 miles. On some of the roads, ‘You can’t get there from here’ really did exist. You’d have to cross nine creeks on a state maintained road to get to the end of the county, which was Sampson Road at the time,” Reed said. “There was a lot of stuff that way. Guardrails. There were no guardrails and we hardly had accidents. Now, we have guardrails and have accidents all over the place.”
The attitudes of the “bad guys” and the drugs – much from out of town – are big changes, too. He estimated about 90 percent of the crimes in Watauga County are related to drugs in some form or another. “Either because they are screwed up and stoned or they are stealing money to get screwed up or stoned or it’s a drug deal gone bad,” Reed said. “Most of the serious crimes are because of that.”
He was shot at several times during his time on the force and was around to “drag out” Deputy Wes Hawkins to safety when Hawkins was shot after responding to a trailer park in Boone. And he was on the force, too, when Deputy William Mast was shot and killed in 2012.
Although he’s retiring, Reed said he won’t miss his colleagues on the force. That’s because he’s not going anywhere, and as he said, “Cops are your true friends. Whether or not you work with them, they’ll come visit you anyway and I’m going to go and visit.”
He plans to stay active in law enforcement circles. In fact, Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said Reed will remain on reserve status.
“And true to his nature, he’s offered to help in a pinch,” Hagaman said.
Hagaman called Reed a “great officer and supervisor.” Hagaman said that Reed’s retirement is “leaving a large void of experience” but noted that Reed has and is offering mentorship to the less experienced deputies.
“He’s willing to get his hands dirty on any type of call or situation from narcotics to patrol, to labs, to interviews, to staying until the job was finished, to great intra- and extra- assistance with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners,” Hagaman said, when asked for a good word about Reed.
“He’s always stepped up to the plate when needed, as when he ‘volunteered’ to head up the Detention Center operations. This is a very complex operation and one that can easily expose the County to great liability. It’s always a challenge [to] ensure that those under our care are treated with respect while affording safety to the dedicated officers who are charged with that care.”
Plus, Hagaman said Reed was a “real hoot – funny and quick-witted.”
“We all wish him a great, rewarding, and well deserved retirement,” Hagaman said.