Sheriff credits faith, family, fellow officers for strength to deal with worst of local crimes

Monday, October 26, 2015
In 2003, Red Willow County Sheriff Gene Mahon receives an award for "Outstanding Service to the Community" from McCook Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 2769. (Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Gazette)

Editor's Note: Red Willow County Sheriff Gene Mahon retired from the sheriff's department with the swearing-in of his replacement, Alan Kotschwar, in January 2015. His retirement ended a 47-year career in law enforcement. Mahon was inducted into the Nebraska Law Enforcement Hall of Fame on Oct. 6. Final in a series.

McCOOK, Neb. -- As a police officer in McCook and as the sheriff of Red Willow County, Gene has seen crimes of all levels -- the worst, of course, the murders of the prospector Tucker brothers in Karrer Park, the murder by Jerry Bussard of the man that he, his brother and a friend thought (erroneously) was a drug informant, and the killing of teen-aged Kailee Clapp at the cemetery northwest of Bartley. The death of a young woman in a large apartment house on East Second in McCook was also thought by some to have been a murder.

Gene and his sheriff's department saw hostage situations.

They raided many a meth house, at one time racking up 28 felony methamphetamine/manufacture arrests.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the insidious threats of Posse Comitatus and "We the People" pervaded the county. "Those were tense times," Gene said.

He has seen car accidents, unfortunately many with fatalities; car-train accidents; train derailments. A plane crash with fatalities, in a blizzard, near the McCook airport.

Oilfield and farm accidents. Drownings.

Structure fires, grass fires.

Suicides and suicide attempts ... "EPC" emergency protection custody transports to facilities in Grand Island, Hastings and North Platte.

Thefts, vandalism, rings of car/pickup thieves, domestic violence, alcohol abuse. Animal abuse.

An armed situation in a small community that could have resulted in the death of his officers ...

As a sheriff, his department worked closely with the McCook Police Department, with the Nebraska State Patrol, with state and federal officials.

"We always strived to cooperate with other agencies," Gene said.

While he was a sergeant for the police department, Gene was named "Officer of the Year" by the City of McCook and by the State of Nebraska. He was also honored for "Outstanding Service to the Community" by McCook Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 2769 in 2003.

The latest honor, being inducted into the Nebraska Law Enforcement Hall of Fame, really floored him. He knew nothing of Alan's nomination of him for the award. "I've sat at those conventions for 28 years and saw those awards being presented," Gene said. "I feel so privileged to get the same award."

"This is an honor that really touched me," Gene said. "My career would not have been so successful without my officers and staff. I didn't do any of this by myself. It goes back to the dedication of my deputies and my staff."

Gene ultimately credits his faith in God. "God has had a hand in my career as well. I've looked there for guidance so many times in my career," he said.

The support of his family throughout his career meant the world to Gene. "A law enforcement career is a real test for families," he said. "They miss out on a lot because of the demands of the job."

The label of "family" extends to Gene's officers, and his retirement doesn't mean that he stops thinking about them and worrying about their safety. "What's going on with law enforcement officers today ... threats against officers are more prevalent this last year ... " Gene said quietly. "That scares me to death."

His retirement? "Retirement is good," Gene says, with a smile. "I'm enjoying time with my family."

And he still stops by his new jail and sheriff's office, just to see what Alan and his department are up to now ...

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