It was a snowy evening in Castleton, when the buzz on the scanner informed police-chief Bruce Sherwin to be on the lookout for a slow-moving vehicle on the highway. “I thought I had my drunk for the night,” he told a Castleton State College news-gathering class on May 2, noting that the car was moving on Route 4 with all airbags deployed.
After several attempts to get the driver to pull over, the police needed a roadblock to stop the car.
As dust from the airbags cleared, his jaw dropped when an 11-year-old girl emerged from the driver’s seat.
“She got in a fight with her parents so she stole their car,” Sherwin said, adding that she had driven from Chester to Castleton on her way to aunt and uncle’s in Fair Haven.
Sherwin visited Professor David Blow’s class to speak about the relationship between the police and the media. He told stories and answered questions, but during one story laughter in the room completely died.
The chief told how as a “young and cocky” officer working for Rutland City Police he once thought he was facing death. He described arresting an intoxicated man walking in Rutland and not using handcuffs to bring him to the station. Sherwin was taken by surprise as the man lunged at him and grabbed for his gun.
“I thought for some brief moment it was going to be the end of my career – and maybe my life,” he said, adding that the man wasn’t as drunk and was much stronger than he thought.
Sherwin said he hated to admit it, but at that moment he started screaming for help and a dispatcher came to his aid.
“It taught me a valuable lesson on how to handle people. It was a very scary moment for me,” the 55-year-old veteran officer said.
Regarding media relations, Sherwin acknowledged a time as a young officer in Rutland when he really didn’t like the press. He said the police department was in turmoil amid embezzlement allegations against its leadership. He said Rutland Herald reporters were relentless in their pursuit of the story, and it left a sour taste in his mouth.
The day State Police came to investigate the allegations “sucked” bad enough without having the press hound officers for weeks on end – including with calls to his unlisted number at home.
He said reporters and police need to develop a mutual understanding of honesty and respect and he said he hasn’t had an issue with reporters in years.
The more the reporter gets to know him and develop that trust, the more information he is willing to give out – including off the record stuff.
But he issued a warning: If he tells a reporter something off the record and sees it in print attributed to him – the relationship is over.
“It’ll be the last time I talk to them,” he said.
Sherwin also talked about how police use the press at times, to help solve cases through press releases and sketches.
The 30-year veteran officer from Pittsford also talked about Castleton and how the town is pretty sleepy with few major problems. When they do arise, like the sexual assault allegation at Castleton State College, he said he is quick to work with officers from other departments – including State Police from the barracks just a few miles down the road.
The students asked several questions of Sherwin, but it was his response to funniest police moment that seemed to be the biggest hit. The students’ mouths dropped when he talked of the daring 11-year-old girl who drove at least 40 miles in her parents’ car – not even stopping when she smashed into something and deployed the airbags.
“It was a brand new car too,” he said, adding that he didn’t charge her, mostly because he felt his parents had been through enough.
That experience taught him a valuable lesson, he told students.