It was an unusual place for a friendship to start, but it’s an unusual friendship to start with.
More than a dozen years ago, the newspaper went into Muscogee County Superior Court asking for records related to the shooting death of Kenneth Walker by a Muscogee County Sheriff’s deputy.
It was tense. The newspaper wanted the records, the sheriff’s office, in my opinion, was being less than forthcoming.
After it was over, one of the deputies, Randy Robertson, and I exchanged words in the hallway of the Government Center basement. It got heated, to the point I thought he was about to throw a punch. I wasn’t backing down, but if he ever hit me, he would have crushed me.
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Cooler heads prevailed. I remember one of the deputies saying something like, “It’s not worth losing your job for hitting a reporter.”
Since that moment, Randy and I have become friends — really good friends. A lot of folks don’t understand our friendship. Some of his friends and law enforcement colleagues don’t get it and never will. Same with the folks in my circle.
I have been reflecting on that friendship lately because Maj. Robertson will be retiring from the Sheriff’s Office at the end of the month. He’s spent more than 30 years going from jailer to a member of the command staff. He’s going to work for National Security Associates developing and implementing advance law enforcement training and public safety education programs.
On the surface, our friendship should not work. He’s a cop to the core. And he is a advocate for law enforcement in his leadership roles with the Fraternal Order of Police.
I am a reporter, always looking for information. We both get sucked into what he calls “that vortex that only media and law enforcement get sucked into.”
“There are 200,000 people in this community who expect me to do my job according to my mission statement and there are 200,000 people in this community who expect you to do your job according to your mission statement,” he said. “And those mission statements are not the same.”
Investigations take time. Reporters don’t want to hear that, and it sets up a natural rub. I have covered a federal gender discrimination case brought by female deputies in which Robertson was a witness. We put our friendship on the shelf, and I did my job and he did his.
There are several reasons we are able to do that. One, we have a mutual professional and personal respect. Two, we don’t let any ill feelings we have fester. He will say what he is thinking, and I will say what I am thinking. We often agree to disagree. And those conversations can be uncomfortable for those sitting around us at the time.
“There’s another thing,” he said over coffee Monday.
There is very little middle ground when it comes to Randy. People like him or they don’t. And the feeling is intense on both sides.
“I tell everyone that 50 percent of the people at my funeral will be there to say goodbye and 50 percent will be there to make sure I am gone — and I have no problem with that,” he said.
I can relate to that on many levels.
“Many of the people who have a major problem with me and many of those who have a major problem with you really haven’t taken the time to get to know who we are,” Randy said. “They just know what we are.”
I don’t disagree with that.
But I think there is another thing that has fueled our friendship. Randy, 53, came into my world about the time my younger brother, Chip, died of a heart attack. They would be the same age, and, like Randy, Chip had a law enforcement background. They were a lot alike. Chip was always brutally honest with me. Randy is the same way.
When this unexpected hole opened in my world, Randy helped to fill it in a meaningful way. That’s a solid foundation on which you build a friendship, even one that does not make a lot of sense on the surface and is laced with potential conflicts.
A lot of people don’t understand it. But it works.
Contact Chuck Williams, senior reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org.