Prohibition-era deaths of Bellingham cop, Whatcom County deputy uncovered

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 28, 2014 

It turns out that a Bellingham police officer has died in the line of duty, after all.

It also turns out that Deputy Matt Herzog's death during a high-speed chase in 2001 was not the first time a Whatcom County Sheriff's officer died while enforcing the law.

Recent research has uncovered two incidents from the Prohibition years - one in 1921, the other in 1929 - in which local law officers died on the job.

On July 28, 1921, Deputy James Chatfield, 44, was shot while trying to intercept what he thought were smugglers near the border in woods east of Blaine. He died that evening in a Bellingham hospital.

"Sadly, Deputy Chatfield's line-of-duty death escaped the institutional memory of the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office," said Sheriff Bill Elfo, who plans to speak at a ceremony May 6 in Spokane honoring Chatfield and other officers who died while on duty.

The Spokane ceremony also will honor Bellingham Patrolman Otto Brown, who suffered serious injuries when the police motorcycle he was riding was struck by a taxi the evening of March 5, 1929. Brown recovered somewhat and returned to work, but died 10 months later from medical complications arising from the crash.

"Historically, those types of deaths aren't documented or recognized as well as they are currently," said Bellingham Police Chief Clifford Cook.

Brown also will be honored at a ceremony May 2 at the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial in Olympia.

DEPUTY JAMES CHATFIELD

Early this year, Daryl McClary of Seattle was doing genealogical research for a relative when he came across newspaper stories about Chatfield's death. The stories intrigued McClary, a retired federal drug agent who contributes articles to HistoryLink.org, an online site for Washington history.

"I was curious and started looking into it," he said.

McClary learned that on a weekday afternoon, Chatfield and fellow Deputy Holman Drain were driving on H Street Road when they saw three men, one with a large knapsack, by a Model T Ford.

That area was full of logging trails used by bootleggers and drug smugglers, so the deputies, who were dressed in plain clothes, stopped to investigate, with guns drawn. A short distance into the woods they came across Alfred "Red" Anderson, 22.

According to McClary's research, Chatfield, without identifying himself, ordered Anderson to raise his hands, and fired two warning shots with his police revolver.

Anderson, a veteran of World War I who later said he feared that Chatfield and Drain were drug smugglers, responded by firing his own revolver, striking Chatfield in the abdomen.

After an exchange of gunfire, Drain flashed his badge and told Anderson that he had shot a deputy. Anderson immediately surrendered and helped carry the wounded Chatfield to the patrol car so he could be taken to medical help.

Anderson and a friend, Frank Tool Jr., the son of a Customs inspector in Blaine, told officers that they had planned to camp in the woods. When officers searched Anderson's pack, they found camping gear, but no contraband.

County Prosecutor Loomis Baldrey charged Anderson with first-degree murder, but the trial was delayed several months while the state Supreme Court ruled that Baldrey had muddled his original charging document and needed to file an improved version.

Anderson's trial began in May 1922, but on the morning of the fourth day the judge declared a mistrial because a juror had chatted, but not discussed the case, with a probation officer in the courthouse. Jurors had been instructed not to speak to members of the public.

After the mistrial, all of the jurors, 10 men and two women, signed a statement saying they would not have convicted Anderson, who claimed self-defense. Baldrey chose not to retry the case.

Chatfield was buried in Anacortes, where his wife was interred. He was survived by three children and two stepchildren.

Two of Chatfield's great-grandsons, James and Brian Feyler of Beaverton, Ore., plan to attend the ceremony in Spokane. James Feyler, an electronics designer, said he grew up knowing about his great-grandfather's untimely death, but didn't realize that law enforcement memorials honor officers who died in the line of duty in the distant past.

"It was quite a surprise," he said. "It's quite an honor."

PATROLMAN OTTO BROWN

Last fall, a Bellingham police officer came across an old photograph of Otto Brown that had been put in storage with other photos taken down during a renovation. Writing on the back of the photo said Brown had been killed while on the job, and gave a date in 1929.

Newspaper accounts say that on the weekday evening of March 5, 1929, Patrolman Brown, riding a police motorcycle with a sidecar, turned onto Eldridge Avenue from Lynn Street. Brown moved into the middle of the street, where streetcar tracks ran, so a taxi headed downtown on Eldridge would have room to pass.

However the taxi driver, who later said he didn't see Brown, crashed his car into the motorcycle. The collision knocked Brown off of his seat and lodged him between the motorcycle and the sidecar. While he was stuck in that position, the motorcycle accelerated and crashed into a telephone pole nearly a half-block away, throwing Brown into the street.

"He had some pretty serious internal injuries," Cook said.

Brown spent several weeks in the hospital, but returned to work enforcing liquor violations in the city. Almost a year later, on Jan. 7, 1930, Brown was taken to St. Luke's General Hospital in critical condition.

According to the attending physician, Brown died the next day from organ failure related to high blood pressure brought on by the motorcycle crash and exacerbated by pleurisy.

Newspaper stories gathered by the police officer don't say whether the taxi driver was charged with an offense.

Brown, 40, was survived by his wife and six children. Bellingham motorcycle officers plan to attend the ceremonies in Olympia and Spokane in his honor.

"Any duty death to us is an extremely unfortunate situation," Cook said.

MORE DETAILS

- Bellingham Motorcycle Patrolman Otto Brown will be honored at the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial at 1 p.m. Friday, May 2, in Olympia. Online: behindthebadgefoundation.org.

- Brown and Whatcom County Sheriff's Deputy James Chatfield will be honored by the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Project at 11:30 a.m. May 6 in Spokane.

- Officer Down Memorial Page: odmp.org.

- HistoryLink.org: Online encyclopedia of Washington state history, historylink.org.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-229 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com .

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