You Don't Mess Around With Jim:
Washington County Sheriff's Office, August 1979
We used to joke around the office that the saying, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” referred specifically to Sheriff, Jim Kelly.

During the summer of 1979, I was a very young and for the most part inexperienced public safety communications operator. Specifically, I was a Dispatcher for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at Blair, Nebraska. Washington County is just north of Douglas County and Omaha, Nebraska. Back in those days, it was predominantly rural, as compared to today, where it is considered to be more of the northern suburbs to Metropolitan Omaha. Blair is the County Seat, with a population then of about 8,000, along with several other towns of about 2,000 or less. As is typical to most of Nebraska, our office dispatched not only for the Sheriff, but for all the Police Departments and Marshalls in the county, (in this case Blair PD, and the Villages of Arlington and Fort Calhoun,) as well as dispatching for all the Fire Districts and Emergency Medical Services in the county.


In that day and age, on a weekend night, the Sheriff would have one deputy on patrol, maybe two. Blair PD would have two to four officers on duty. The two Marshalls, unless something was going on, would usually go off duty by 2:00 or 3:00 AM. In most cases, the period after the closing bar rush between 3:00 AM until sunrise was very, very quiet. The jail was very new at the time, less than a year old. It consisted of four “blocks” each consisting of several cells for the various class of prisoners. On this particular evening, only A Block was being used to house about six or seven inmates, with the remaining three blocks being empty.

Around 1:30 AM, one of the two Blair PD officers arrested a drunk driver whom we shall refer to here after as the “Subject.” The one and only Sheriff’s Deputy was called in to book the subject into jail, after the Blair Officer was done processing the DWI Arrest. The booking area was down the hall from my position in the Radio Room, but from where I sat, it was obviously clear that the subject was being an obnoxious, uncooperative, belligerent, and somewhat violent ass hole! Ultimately, he refused to test, adding to the DWI and other charges he was being booked for. After the festivities in the booking area, the subject was literally dragged from the booking area to C Block in the jail, thus giving the subject his own personal cell block all to himself. This was done primarily for the safety and consideration to the inmates in A Block, so they would not have to be subjected to the shouting and ravings of this loud mouth!

Now, the Deputy did not tell me at the time, but it was later clearly evident that he could see the hand writing on the wall. When he left the office to go back on patrol, he proceeded to the most remote area of the county and furthest distance from Blair. His reasons for this will become obvious a bit latter.

The jail cells all had audio monitoring. I imagine that today, they would include video surveillance, but this was pretty state of the art for the time. Most of the time at night, the audio monitors were silent, but were set to go live if any noise was present, such as a fight, shouting, or other disturbance. All of the monitors in C Block were live because of all the shouting and cussing from the subject. The A Block Monitors would go live from time to time when one of the prisoners from that area would shout down the hall to the subject to “Shut the F**k Up!

This carried on for the next few hours, until about 3:15 AM, when it appeared from the perspective of the monitors that the subject was jumping up and down on the tables in the cell block, possibly trying to damage them. I contacted one of the Blair Officers to advise that their prisoner was getting out of control, to which he replied, “That’s a county problem, not ours…” So I called the Deputy. He replies, “Did you advise Blair?” I advised yes, and that they replied it was a county problem, not theirs. He comes back with, “Be advised; I’m between Winslow and Nickerson. You’re going to need to call 929 at his residence…

929 was the badge number and call sign for Sheriff, Jim Kelly. Let me tell you about Sheriff Kelly. He was a big man. No… He was a very big man with most of his bulk consisting of muscle. His short sleeve, summer uniform shirts needed to be tailored to fit his massive tree trunk arms into the sleeves! He was a River Boat Captain on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers by profession, before being elected to office. A decorated War Hero, he was fair and honest, but had a famous temper that you did not want to be on the receiving end of. We used to joke around the office that the saying, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” referred specifically to Sheriff, Jim Kelly. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up the Sheriff at 3:30 AM on a Sunday Morning…

So I braced myself, and made the call… “Sherriff Kelly? Good morning Sir. This is your Dispatcher, Randy Schulze. I apologize for waking you at this time of the morning, but we’re having problems with an unruly prisoner in the jail.”

“Where’s my Deputy?”

“9293 is up by Wislow…”

“Hmmmm….. I’ll be right there.”

Ok. That wasn’t so bad.

Around 4:00 AM, the Sheriff arrives, smoking his pipe, and wearing a Hawaiian shirt, blue jean cut offs, and tennis shoes.

“So… You’re having problems with a prisoner?” He walks over to the monitor and turns it up, just as the subject is shouting, “You Fat F**ker! I’ll kick your fat little ass!” The Sheriff says, “You hear that Randy? That prisoner just called you a Fat F**ker! We can’t have that! Hand me the keys!”

Over one channel of the monitor, you can clearly hear the subject ranting and raving… At the same time, one by one, you could hear the other channels coming on line with the sound of the Sheriff turning the locks of the various doors until he reached C Block. After hearing the locks turn on the C Block Door, the next thing you heard was,

The Subject: “I’ll kick you’re a…”

The Sheriff: “COME HERE YOU SON OF A BITCH!”

(Muffled thumps)

The Subject: “ULP! NO! I’M SORRY SHERIFF KELLY! NOOOOOOOOOO!

(More muffled noises…)

The other prisoners are shouting, “You’re gonna get it now!

I can now see the Sheriff holding the keys in one hand, and the subject by the neck in the other hand as he is carrying this guy out of the cell block, down the hall and into the Radio Room, where he throws the subject on the floor next to my desk!

The Sheriff shouts at the subject, “I want you to get on your knees and PRAY to this Deputy for his forgiveness for calling him a Fat F**ker!

The subject gets on his knees with folded hands, “I’m sorry Sheriff Kelly! I’m so, so sorry!”

NOT TO ME, you Stupid Son of a Bitch! Pray to HIM!” Pointing to me…

The subject turns to me, still on his knees, with folded hands… “I’m so sorry Deputy for calling you a Fat F**ker! I’m so, so sorry! Please forgive me!”

The Sheriff simply waves his hand toward the subject, and the subject hits the floor, sniveling…

Sheriff Kelly says to the subject, “I ought to let this Deputy kick the crap out of you!” (Noooooooo…!) But my men have strict orders from me that they are NOT to touch a prisoner. I RESERVE THAT WORK TO MYSELF!

“Noooo! Sheriff Kelly! NOOOOO!

Sheriff Kelly goes on, “While you’re a guest in my little establishment, you’re to follow some very basic rules. You are not to speak one word the entire time you are here unless it is in response to a question or instructions given to you by one of my deputies or officers. You will behave yourself like a gentleman at all times. And after were done here, we’re going to stop by A Block so you can apologize to all the others you’ve kept awake all night. ARE WE CLEAR?

The Sheriff helped the subject to his feet, and they walked back to A Block, where the subject respectfully apologized to the rest of the inmates. He was then escorted by the Sheriff back to C Block and the subject went to bed.

Sheriff Kelly came back into the Radio Room, and said, “Ok. He won’t cause anymore problems… Call me if you need anything else. Good Morning!”

…And that was it!

The subject did not make bail, so he was our guest for a few more weeks. After his court appearance, he was allowed to join the other prisoners in the A Block Bull Pen, so as not be in solitary confinement per se. He was polite and most respectful for his entire stay. Interestingly, near the end of his stay, he asked if he could speak with me, where he gave me an honest apology for how he acted on the night of his arrest. He said he got stupid when he’s drunk…

The Deputy returned to the office at around 6:00 AM before ending his tour of duty. He stuck his head into the Radio Room, “Did you call the Sheriff like I told you?”

“Yes…”

“And did he chew you out?”

“No…”

(Pregnant pause…) “So what happened?”

“Praise was bestowed upon me for a job well done… But I think he wants to talk to you on Monday!”


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