Studdard sworn in as supernumerary sheriff
by Chris Norwood
TALLADEGA COUNTY – A full house of law enforcement personnel and past and present public officials came out to the Talladega County Judicial Building Friday morning to pay tribute to Jerry Studdard, who retired last month after 34 years as Talladega County Sheriff, and to see him sworn in as supernumerary sheriff.

Although most of the speakers presented amusing stories from Studdard’s long career, all agreed that Studdard was a kind and compassionate man, who made no note of a person’s station in life or degree of financial success. Most speakers also said they had numerous stories they could not share publicly.

Senator and former Circuit Judge Jerry Fielding has administered all of Studdard’s oaths of office, with Friday’s being a record breaking 10th time. Fielding also presented a Senate resolution honoring Studdard’s achievements through the years, including expansion of the county jail, hiring more deputies and acquiring more vehicles for them to patrol the county’s roads. Studdard is the longest serving sheriff in Talladega County history and among the longest serving in state history. According to the resolution, he was also an accomplished rodeo cowboy in his youth. He also helped create the countywide drug and violent crime task force and the central dispatch system.

Rep. Steve Hurst said he first met Studdard when he (Hurst) was in third-grade, and called him “a friend for life.” A house resolution and a proclamation from the governor would be forthcoming, he added.

Hurst told a story about a man who called Studdard at home, at night, to tell him someone was peeping in his window. After telling the man to tap on the window and yell at the person looking in, the man called back a third time, saying nothing had worked. Studdard sarcastically told the man to shoot the peeper. To his horror, the man called back and said he had shot the person outside his window.

Studdard went to the man’s house and they eventually determined the man had shot his granddaughter’s cat. The girl came out crying, saying “you killed Midnight,” Hurst said.

Former District Attorney Robert Rumsey said he had been in office 11 months when Studdard was sworn in, and almost immediately the two men found themselves dealing with an outbreak of Klan violence. Studdard rounded up the troublemakers and went on to the next challenge.

Rumsey said Studdard was also an outstanding investigator who could get a confession from even the hardest criminals. As an example, Rumsey told the story of how Studdard had convinced notorious (and now executed) murderer Billy Wayne Waldrup to admit that he had committed a crime that another man had been arrested for in Mississippi.

Current DA Steve Giddens said Studdard had more influence on him than anyone in his life other than his father.

“He was here every day for most of my 14 years in office, and I’ve missed him when he’s not here.

Giddens told a story about going to a honky tonk in Pell City with Studdard and stepping out for a breath of fresh air. They saw a Pell City police car with its lights going, and a woman came out of the bar and asked what was going on. Giddens said he told the woman there had been a murder at another bar, and the police were pursuing a suspect in the woods. The woman went in, and Giddens said he told Studdard it “just seemed like a thing to do.” Word quickly spread, and soon there were numerous curious onlookers. When some approached them, Studdard identified himself as the Talladega County Sheriff and said he was there to help with the (non-existent) manhunt.

Studdard’s successor, Jimmy Kilgore, praised his boss as an excellent teacher who was very good about taking his employees to conferences around the region.

During one such trip, Studdard, Kilgore and Peggy Hall had driven to Louisville, Ky. for a conference, taking the scenic route. Hall was asleep in the backseat for most the trip, with the windows down.

When the arrived at the hotel, Hall went in to register, and the bellman came out to help with their bags. On learning that this was their first time at the hotel, the bellman noted that celebrities often stayed there, and that Michael Jordan had just checked out. At that point, Hall came out wearing large sunglasses, and Studdard asked the bellman if he had ever met Phyllis Diller.

Commission Chairman Kelvin Cunningham told a story about Studdard letting him take students to tour the jail, and meeting a former student currently housed there. “He asked me to help him get out, and I asked what he was in for. He just kept saying it was because he didn’t pay his tuition.”

When he asked Studdard what the man was talking about, the sheriff replied that he did not owe any tuition, he hadn’t paid his restitution.

Cunningham also noted that Studdard had hired the first minority deputies and investigators, and that the administration building at the jail was rightly named in his honor.

Commissioner Jimmy Roberson then told the story of how the same $100,000 had been used to buy four new cars on three or four different occasions without the money ever being taken out, and noting that “the statute of limitations is probably up on that.”

Roberson and Cunningham then presented Studdard with a new cowboy hat and a portrait that will hang in the judicial building and in the building that now bears Studdard’s name.

Talladega Mayor Larry Barton presented him with a plaque and proclamation, and Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson praised Studdard’s willingness to collaborate with other agencies in his jurisdiction, something unique to Talladega County.

Circuit Judge Julian King said Studdard had a unique way of putting things. After he was elected to his first term, but before he had been sworn in, King said the county was in rough economic shape, and the four judges and the DA were not getting paid what they were supposed to by the commission. They put their complaints in The Daily Home and confronted a certain former commissioner about the issue. Later, King said he overheard the former commissioner talking to Studdard, laughing and saying no one will remember the controversy in 60 days. “Those five will,” Studdard said, according to King. “That took the smile right off his face.”

Studdard’s step-son, Chad Woodruff, said Studdard had come into his life when he was 12 or 13, and things changed radically from only being interested in sports to having to be interested in getting cows off of Alabama 21.

Woodruff had been promised a four-wheeler by his mother when he was 12, but after an accident, she changed her mind and said no. Studdard gave him a surplus sheriff’s car instead. This made him a very popular host of sleepovers, he said.

When Woodruff went to work for the DA’s office in 2000, he said he already knew everyone because the judicial building had been his playground. Studdard took him everywhere, to the point that he had to ask The Daily Home not to publish pictures of the teenager at crime scenes.

Woodruff said he was even convinced of the innocence of a murder suspect who had explained a large bruise on his chest by saying it was from a pool fight. Studdard told him the suspect confessed and the bruise was actually a shotgun mark.

Woodruff also praised his step-father’s ability to keep his finger on the pulse of every community in the county. “He cared about people and his employees. He loved people, and didn’t care who you were.”

Studdard himself spoke last, and said simply, “Thank you all. I appreciate all of you. And if you’ve ever got a problem and can’t get any help, give me a call. I’ll see if I can help you.”

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© 2013