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More than a memory

Bratka recalls personalities of fallen officers

Logan County’s three fallen law enforcement officers are more than just a name on a building or a park, Judge Dan Bratka said during Saturday’s Police Memorial Ceremony.

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Logan County Family Court Judge Dan Bratka speaks during Saturday’s Police Memorial Ceremony at the Holland Theatre. EXAMINER PHOTOS | REUBEN MEES

And although he has little memory of the first of three of Logan County’s fallen officers, he painted colorful pictures of the other two who he remembers from his youth.

“We read their names every year, but do we remember them?” the family court judge asked the audience. “In a few years, these guys are going to be no more than a name on a park or a building if we don’t take the time to remember them.”

He began with Frank W. Hossler, an Ohio State Highway Patrol officer and expectant father who died in a car crash while on duty near DeGraff on Sept. 22, 1956.

“I’m kind of embarrassed I don’t know more about Frank W. Hossler,” Judge Bratka said.

“But having grown up in West Liberty, there isn’t a kid that doesn’t remember Sherman Ricketts. We called him Marshal Ricketts to his face and ‘Old Sherm’ behind his back — if our fathers weren’t around, that is.”

Marshal Ricketts, who died after being shot by a Michigan parolee breaking into houses in West Liberty on June 29, 1962, helped the village’s children cross U.S. Route 68, and his slaying cast a shadow over the town.

“There was a black cloud over West Liberty that day,” Judge Bratka said. “That day Sherman Ricketts got a call at about 2:45 a.m. about a suspicious person trying to break into houses. A parolee was trying to get stuff.

“He confronted him in front of old Sam Zook’s house and before he knew what happened, the parolee from up north gunned him down. But Sherman Ricketts returned fire and hit him three times.

“Then Bill Dodge came out with his shotgun and made sure he didn’t get away,” the West Liberty native said. “I hope that thug never gets out of prison.”

He then turned his attention to Belle Center Marshal Murray Griffin, who was shot and killed while responding to a reported disturbance that turned out to be a murder in progress on July 5, 1986.

“In 1978 after I got out of the Air Force, I was hired by (sheriff) DeWeese Skidmore and one night we got a call about a disturbance in Belle Center and the sheriff told me to take a car and head up there and meet Marshal Griffin,” he said of his first encounter with the colorful individual who kept the peace in Belle Center.

“Over the years I knew Murray, I always tried to get him laughing because he always slapped his leg.”

On one occasion, the marshal helped the young deputy avoid an unnecessary investigation when he got a call about a possible kidnapping in the marshal’s jurisdiction.

“I remember going up there and meeting up with Murray,” Judge Bratka said. “He came out of his house with his ball cap cocked on; he had on a flannel shirt and blue jeans; his gun belt was strapped on like it was the wild, wild west; he had on his house slippers because he liked to do that, and he was smoking a cigarette.

“I was in a rush about this man that had reported his wife had been kidnapped and Murray told me that the man’s wife had been dead 10 years. He told me to go up the street, turn right and go down a couple of houses to wake up his daughter. That saved me days of work investigating a kidnapping.”

And when he decided to shift gears from law enforcement to a legal career, Mr. Bratka kept in touch with the marshal and his wife.

“Just getting to sit down with Murray and Harriet made a bad day at law school so much better,” the judge said.

And while working as an assistant prosecutor, the fateful night arrived.

“When he went to (Tootie) Mullet’s house in Belle Center, there’s no doubt Murray knew who it was. Then when he went upstairs, he died by his own service revolver.

“We know who probably did it now,” the judge said in reference to DNA evidence that was uncovered last year linking a suspect who  had been previously tried and let off on legal technicalities. “And he will pay for it one day.”

And before the firing of the 21-gun salute to remember all of Ohio’s fallen police officers, Judge Bratka again reminded the participants not to let the memory of the fallen fade.

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A team of local law enforcement officials under the direction of Bellefontaine Police Officer Roger Hager, left, fire off a round in a 21-gun salute to remember Logan County’s fallen officers during Saturday’s Police Memorial Ceremony at the Holland Theatre.

“Don’t let them become just another name on a park in Belle Center; don’t let them become a name on a plaque at the town hall in West Liberty,” he said. “Don’t ever forget them.”

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