GOSHEN COUNTY – Sheriff Murphy is the name most know him by, for 33 years he worked for Goshen county and the city of Torrington.
Now retired, Donald Murphy can be found most days at his work bench in Gary’s Gun Shop.
Just don’t call him sheriff.
“Nope,” Murphy said. “You can’t call me that anymore.”
He was working on a Smith and Wesson revolver, sanding the center pen until it would fit into the cylinder freely. Ending his 25-year tenure as sheriff was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.
The sheriff department was part of his family. They all fit in with his wife Margie, daughter Stacy and sons Drew and Beau and his grandchildren.
“Life is good when you become a grandfather,” Murphy said.
Don Murphy was born and raised in Torrington. Like most kids, he played baseball, went to school and graduated from Torrington High School in 1971.
As a kid, “We would go to Travelers Motel, (because) they had a swimming pool and that was where we would swim in the afternoons.” Murphy said.
Then they got Little League and he played baseball.
He remembered: “The fields were across from where Safeway use to be on West C Street and the land was donated for Little League Baseball. Mom didn’t want us in the house all day so we would go out and run around all day. It was a time when you could do that, we were just having fun.”
It was a very special time for Murphy.
“The first time my dad took me antelope hunting,” he said. “The whole lumber yard would go all at the same time.
“They closed Saturday at noon and everybody would take off and we would go north of Douglas to Dell,” Murphy said. “It was when I got old enough to go it was pretty special. Then Christmas was always good, on the weekends we would go water skiing, that was fun at Springer Lake.”
Don was married right out of high school, which ended in divorce and with a daughter Stacey who still lives in Torrington.
“I met Margie while I played and umpired softball. I met her when I was coaching the women’s softball team and we hit it off and decided to get married,” Murphy said. “She said yes and I think everybody thought she was crazy but it worked out for me. She has put up with me ever since we were married in 1975.”
“God only knows how she has put with me for over 40 years. We helped with a senior high youth group, which was a lot of fun,” he said. “Now, I like retirement, I really do. I wasn’t sure when I finally made the decision to retire.”
After graduation, Murphy went to work for his father at the lumber yard as a carpenter. It was his brother, Dennis, who began his life-long involvement in law enforcement.
“Dennis ask me to join the Sheriff Pose,” Murphy said. “The Sheriff’s Pose – it was a lot of fun, but a lot of work also. You had to pay attention to what you were doing.
“We backed up the regular deputies,” he said. “I spent a couple of years riding with deputies learning their job.”
At that time, the sheriff pose didn’t have to go to the academy to be certified. But Murphy wanted more.
“I decided I wanted to be the sheriff,” he said.
Murphy’s first run for the office was in 1990. He was defeated by Carl “Brad” Schuppan.
Problems later arose in the Sheriff’s office and Schuppan was asked to step down, leaving the Sheriff position open. Four people were interviewed to fill the position, from which a pool of three candidates was sent to the commissioners. Murphy was selected to fill the position for the remainder of the unfinished term. Murphy then ran for the office in 1994, when he won the position of sheriff for the next 24 years.
“I could not have asked for a better life,” Murphy said. “Actually, I could not think of anything that is better than what I’ve done, what I am doing and who I am with.”
This is a very well-liked man in the community. Murphy said you can fool some of the people some of the time and that he won because he fooled everyone for a long time.
“It really has been a really good time and I could not ask for anything better,” he said.
He walked away from his 25-year career with trepidation.
“Once I made the decision to go, it was not that tough, once I decided I’m done,” Murphy said. “The deciding part was the hard part but once that was decided it wasn’t that tough at all, it was pretty easy.
“What I am going to miss, is the people,” he said. “Simply because I don’t care what you do or where you do it, you become a family and you take care of each other.”
He always worried when his guys went out on calls.
“It wasn’t bad for years but the last four or five years when they declared war on the cops it scared … me,” Murphy said. “I don’t care how old I get, those people who worked for me they’re still my family. Have been and always will be.”
When attending the new sheriff’s meeting, Murphy would tell the new sheriffs, “You got elected but if you want to get re-elected you take care of your staff.”
Over the years, Murphy and his deputies responded to thousands of calls for assistance. But one call sticks in his mind – a plea for assistance in South Torrington, where a woman had been sexually assaulted and was being held against her will.
The deputies got there and called Murphy. There was a whole family inside this trailer.
“We decide to use a gas grenade, but then after I thought about it,” he remembered. “I realized this trailer was 40 to 50 years old. And if we throw a gas grenade in there, God knows what will happen.
“It could cause a fire, so we had the fire department come down to talk about what we should do,” Murphy said. “We finally decide to do it, so Jim Lowery the undersheriff and I went up to the front door.”
Murphy still has reservations. Looking inside, he could see the door was open, with strings of beads hanging in the opening. He knew in his heart using a gas grenade would only make a bad situation worse.
“I tell Jim Lowery to get me a big rock,” Murphy said. “He found me a big rock and I fired it in the trailer and hit this guy right in the chest and boy he came out of the bed screaming and yelling wanting to know what
was going on.
“We got him out and everybody else out without anyone getting hurt,” he said. “There is a lot of things over the years you look back on and wonder, why I did this?”
But there’s one duty anyone in law enforcement dreads more than any – informing the family of an officer their loved one has been shot.
It was a call where a man was allegedly attempting to kill his wife. The deputy moved between the assailant and his intended victim, taking the round intended for the woman. The deputy survived his injuries, which ended his law enforcement career.
“The worst was when I had a deputy get shot,” Murphy said. “I walked up to his door way where his wife was waiting. She was listening to the scanner and she knew that something had happened. I felt like it had taken two hours to walk up the sidewalk to the house. I told myself that this would not happen again.
“I will go in the door first,” he said. “I am not having my guys or their wives and family go through this. It effected his kids and his wife. The officer shot the husband and killed him. I was thankful that it didn’t kill the officer but he had to go through a lot of surgeries and rehabilitation.”
After a quarter-century, Murphy’s retirement leaves a void in county government it’s going to be tough to fill. But he did have words of advice to whomever steps into the office to fill his shoes.
“Take care of your staff and take care of the people in the county, because that is what you were elected to do,” Murphy said. “It is that simple. And always do the right thing. It may not be the politically correct thing, but you should always do the right thing, do what your head tells you what to do.”