Not all of Captain Jerry East’s remarkable stories occurred in the realm of law enforcement.
One involved a young girl who was a relative of former Sheriff Edwin Tomlinson. East was at Tomlinson’s place north of Granbury and the girl insisted on riding one of the horses. After she got on, the horse bolted out the gate and was galloping down the pavement on Weatherford Highway with the girl hanging on for her life.
East took off after her on his horse and pulled up alongside the runaway animal before pulling the little girl to safety in front of him.
“The whole time, I hoped neither one of the horses would slip. It was just like Gene Autry or Roy Rogers,” East said, half-joking.
He explained that Autry and Rogers were his heroes growing up. He proved it a few minutes later, pointing to framed pictures of the two iconic Hollywood cowboys in a room he calls his “man cave” inside his Granbury home.
East is officially retiring this week as a full-time member of the Sheriff’s Office after 24 years of serving the public.
MAN OF ACTION
The stories were flying left and right last week in East’s office as Sheriff Roger Deeds, Chief Deputy Biff Temple and Lieutenant Steve Smith joined their longtime friend in reminiscing about some of the humorous – and dangerous – situations they’ve shared over the years. As they admitted, many of the stories included raw and wild incidents that they agreed are better kept out of print.
Others – such as the time East and Smith found themselves alone in the middle of what they described as a riot – were fair game.
East, who found himself in plenty of dangerous and tricky situations over the years, grinned as he recalled each story with his easy-going manner and a familiar twinkle in his eyes.
“You’d be surprised how many people you find in showers,” East quipped.
As Deeds pointed out, “Personally, he’s easy to get along with, but he can take care of business when he has to.”
As a youth, East was formally taught the art of boxing by a neighbor, Tommy Bryant. He competed in organized tournaments, and had some success – although now he downplays that fact. He admitted that learning how to handle himself one-on-one helped him “tremendously” in some of the physical encounters he’s been forced into while trying to apprehend suspects.
That included a true slugfest more than a decade ago when he and Smith were at an event with about 400 people present when there was a disturbance and fights broke out throughout the crowd. East and Smith finally subdued and arrested the key “actors” – and eventually the others calmed down.
Smith, who said he was in junior high when he first came to know East while hanging out at football games and other activities around town, said the captain reveled in the humor of quoting memorable movie lines such as Val Kilmer’s “I’m your huckleberry,” from “Tombstone.”
East won’t reveal his age. His standard line is that he’s 27.
He admitted that some of his friends at the Sheriff’s Office have joked that he can still remember the sound of the cannons from the Civil War.
“They don’t cut you any slack up there,” joked East, who was born in Granbury and never moved away.
He pointed out that Granbury was “a good place to grow up” where “everybody knew everybody.”
He said that, as a result, “Through the years I put a lot of people in jail I was friends with.”
East admitted that some of his behavior during his early years growing up was far from perfect, although he attended Church of Christ services every Sunday.
“I grew up in the church, then I strayed away for a few years,” he said. “I ran around with the wrong crowd, but I figured out I had to make some changes in life.”
He said he was about 22 or 23 when those attitude changes occurred.
“When Gayle and I got married (43 years ago), it sort of changed my behavior,” East said, noting that he started attending a Baptist church with her. “You get to a point in life where you have to go one way or another. Some friends of mine ended up in the cemetery or in jail. At that point in life, I totally quit drinking. I didn’t have a drinking problem, but I had problems when I drank.”
East indicated that his Christian faith has played a big part in how he treats people – co-workers, everyday citizens or criminal suspects.
“He has a kind, forgiving heart,” said Gayle, who grew up in Glen Rose and ran a child day care business out of their home for 38 years before retiring in June.
“Being brought up in the church was my foundation,” East said. “My commitment with the church and God was what pulled me through a lot of hard times – and having a good wife. Most people have no idea what a law enforcement wife puts up with. You can come home with your head banged up and black eyes.”
Sometimes the results are even more serious. East and his co-workers grieved over the deaths of two deputies in the line of duty – Larry Miller in 1992, and Lance McLean, who died May 29 from a gunshot wound.
East and his wife were on a vacation road trip when he got the call about McLean.
“We were on our way to Montana, and I had talked to (McLean) about an hour before he was shot,” East said of the call, which of course immediately sent them rushing back to Granbury to be with his law enforcement family.
East said that Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford counseled him, and gave advice on how to conduct himself around the deputies after the shooting.
“He told me you can’t cry in front of your deputies,” East said. “At the funeral, that kept running across my mind, what Bob Alford said. It helped me through that hard time.”
East’s natural ability to calm down people in all sorts of tense situations – despite never having formal standoff or hostage negotiation training – has been an invaluable tool over the years.
East found one man who had been threatening suicide sitting in a tree with a rope around his neck and holding a machete.
“He was talking on a phone in (another language),” East said. “It was one of those situations where you think, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I finally got that guy out of the tree.”
In his typical way of finding a ray of humor, East said, “They can’t cover everything in the academy.”
East’s wife, Gayle, recalled that one man threatening suicide who East convinced to give up his gun had something to say to him later.
“He came back later after he got his thoughts straight and thanked Jerry for saving his life, basically,” Gayle said.
“He has an innate quality of being able to talk to people,” Temple said. “It might take him a while, but he has the quality of talking to people and getting them to come down.”
East said, “When you’re sitting on a couch looking at a guy with a loaded gun, that’s the main time you want to pray. I’m not the only one up (at the Sheriff’s Office) who says prayers.”
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