All of the stories in this post are from a visit I had with Mike Kinniburgh about the Green River Police department. A few of these are from the time of Police Chief Chris Jessen but the majority of them are cover Mike’s experiences in the 70s and 80s.
Not a Day off in 30 Years
Chris Jessen was the Police chief in Green River from 1933-1963. During his 30 years as the chief of police, he never took a day off and never left town. There were only two officers serving under him. One would work during the day, the other would work during the night.
While at home, people would come knock on Chris’s door and complain about things that he or his officers would then look into. He never carried his gun. It was kept in a drawer in his office.
Call Boxes and the Missing Bullet
For a time, the GRPD had no dispatch center. Instead, there were two call boxes on telephone poles with red lights on the top. One was located on 2nd South, where the road turns to go to the Island in Green River, and the other was up by the Merc.
If there was a problem, a person called the telephone operator and who would throw a switch that turned on the red light at the top of the pole. When an officer saw the light come on, he would answer the phone in the call box and attend to the problem.
During Chris Jessen’s time as chief, a lady was killed. The bullet taken from the body in the autopsy looked like the same kind Chris had in his gun. He went to his office and found five bullets in the gun and one empty chamber.
Through the process of the investigation, it was discovered the janitor responsible for cleaning City Hall was having problems at home. He knew where Chris’s gun was and he took the gun and shot his wife.
Mike Kinniburgh started on the reserve force. On his first day of work with the full time force, they told him, “Take the brown car, go out and don’t do anything stupid and don’t get hurt.” That was his initial training. There would be more to follow later.
The job taught Mike a few things quickly. He explained,
When I first started, I thought you could throw a police badge up in front of people and they had to obey you. Well, you threw it up in front of steel workers and they would punch you. I learned real quick you had to talk your way in and talk your way out or you would get beat-up all of the time.
A while later, when Mike went to basic training with some local officers, the other officers from other parts of the state would say, “Oh gosh, you’re from green River and Rock Springs. I would never work there. It’s like a war zone down there.” Mike told me he said, “It is?” The other officers responded, “Oh yeah. We would never work there. That Railroad Avenue and K Street are the two worst places in Wyoming.”
Mike and the other officers worked it every day and had nothing else to compare it to. For them, it was normal. Mike said, “We were just some kids and so to us it was simply fun and excitement.”
Get Your Needle and Thread
Mike’s first domestic case involved a guy who would go to the bar on payday, get drunk, then go home and beat-up his wife. When Mike received that call, he called the chief and the chief came down to show him what to do.
The guy was passed out on the bed when they arrived. The chief told the wife to get a needle and thread and make big stitches around him sewing him in-between the sheets. Once that was done she should get a broom and tap him to wake him up and tell him, “Next time I can hurt you if you hurt me. Mike said,
We left, about an hour later I got an ambulance call to the same place. The lady had taken her time sewing real fine stitches; you could see the anger in the stitches. Once her husband was stitched tight between the sheets, she went and got a frying pan and gave him a taste of his own medicine.
After that, on pay-day, the man would get drunk, head to the jail and tell them he was too drunk to go home. The officers would would let him sleep it off in a cell.
Two Men and the Judge
While Mike was an officer, Judge Rickman served on the bench. When you went into court, there were no lawyers. An officer would tell his side and the charged person would tell his or her side and the judge would make a decision based off of the evidence presented.
After Judge Rickman made a decision, if he ruled against you, the officers would go with judge and get coffee. There he would explain the laws in more detail and what he was looking for as the elements of that crime. Judge Rickman would explain what was needed and why he ruled against an officer.
Mike said, “In court, because of the lack of lawyers, it was your word against somebody else’s. Sometimes you won, sometimes you lost.”
To be continued…
Mike told me so many interesting stories, I had to break this article into two parts. Don’t miss the other stories about bar fights, crime in Carriage Park and more. Read the next half of this story.
Special thanks to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum for our feature image.