SIDNEY — Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart has applauded the local residents who took part in the peaceful protest in Sidney over the weekend.
“I’d like to acknowledge the local people who took part in the protest Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” Lenhart said during his weekly interview. “They were able to voice their opinion. They shared what needs to be done. And it was all done in an orderly fashion.”
The protests were held in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck. Floyd, who was handcuffed, was pleading for air while three other police officers watched. All four have been fired, and Chauvin has been charged in Floyd’s death.
“I talked with a couple of them,” said Lenhart. “I urge caution to those people who are interested in getting involved to hesitate before going to a metropolitan area to protest. Some of those people are not there to peacefully protest but are there for the destruction they can do. I fear that local folks going there would be an innocent bystander and get hurt.”
In Columbus, a news reporter was tased and a state representative and president of the Columbus town council were hit with tear gas during protests.
“If you’re being part of the change, be careful,” said Lenhart. “Write letters, vote and help get a candidate elected who has the same beliefs as you do.”
Lenhart remembers the 1960s, which were a troubling time in American history. There were the assassinations of President John Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“I had just got out of the military,” said Lenhart, who was then in the reserve. “We were in Columbus, Lima, at two penitentiary riots and Kent State. It was a perfect storm and included the Vietnam War.
“The activities of the people on the right and the people on the left are what we’re seeing today,” he said. “We have the same scenario today — high unemployment, the coronavirus and social disorder. I think it’s going to be a long, hot summer.”
Lenhart said a friend who is a truck driver was getting ready to travel through Minneapolis. Because of radio traffic, he detoured his trip 100 miles so he didn’t have to go through the protests in the city.
For the regular part of his weekly interview, Lenhart reminded residents what they should do if they are stopped by law enforcement or served a summons to court.
There’s a checklist a person should use if they are arrested, he said.
The checklist includes:
• Don’t talk to the officer about the charges. The officer will advise you of your right to remain silent and that you have the right to have an attorney present during questioning.
• Be respectful of the officer.
• Remain calm.
• Get the officer’s name and badge number.
• Get witnesses names.
• Don’t argue the case with the officer. That will happen with your attorney in the legal system and in court.
• You don’t have to give the officer permission to search your vehicle or house.
• Do not resist arrest.
“You are innocent until proven guilty,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart said community police officers can do a lot to better the relationship between law enforcement and local citizens.
“We need to get to know the people who live in our towns,” said Lenhart. “I’ve seen police chiefs and sheriffs walking with the protesters. We all need to have dialogue with our folks before we get to the situation we’re in now. Black residents have talked about the same issues for a long time. Elected officials are not listening to them.
“Nobody is condoning the violence that is going on,” he said. “These underlying issues have gone on for generations.”
Lenhart said he thinks residents and law enforcement are on the right track to have better relationships.
“We have cameras in all our squad cars,” he said. “Officers are wearing bodycams. Officers use Tasers instead of other means of force. We just bought a ‘glove’ that will give a person a moderate electric shock. There’s all type of new equipment to prevent things (like George Floyd) from happening.”
Training is also an important part of each officer’s responsibilities.
“We’re going to see changes in the future, and technology will help that change,” he said. “I jut know that I’m proud of the folks here.”
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.