Ransome reflects on law enforcement career

Published 8:38 am Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WINDSOR – While there may be emotional scars to deal with, if there’s one thing Dwight Ransome will boast of over his 30-year law enforcement career it’s that he never was injured on the job as well as never causing injury to others.

Ransome recently ended a career that spanned three full decades and briefly touched another when the Ahoskie native retired as a Level 4 (Assistant Special Agent in Charge) with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

At a retirement ceremony in his honor held June 4 in Greenville, Ransome was hailed as a man who was totally committed to the safety and well-being of all citizens of North Carolina and for the many sacrifices he made along the way to back-up that commitment.

The ceremony attracted over 300 individuals from all walks of life, the majority of which were law enforcement and judicial officials from across the state and from as far away as New York.

While the ceremony was filled with many memories, Ransome was quick to point out there was nothing to equal the feeling he had when then Ahoskie Police Chief Jake Willoughby gave him his first job in law enforcement.

“To me there’s nothing more rewarding in life than being a public servant,” Ransome stressed. “Law enforcement is in here (pointing to his heart); you’ve got to want to help people.”

He continued, “It’s the same thing with any type of public servant…example, a fire alarm goes off; you and I run out of a building while a fireman runs in to a building. You’ve got to have it in your heart. The same thing with law enforcement. You call us when you have a problem you can’t handle, whether it’s a threat, domestic, burglary, shooting, stabbing, fight, whatever it is. Do we always get it right…no, because we’re human. Do you hold us to a higher standard, yes you do, but are we perfect…no, we’re not. For the past 30 years, we’ve gone from the automatic respect from the public to a respect that we have to earn. We do that by doing our jobs and doing it the right way.”

The son of Gladys L. Ransome of Ahoskie, Dwight graduated from Ahoskie High School in 1974 and went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce from North Carolina Central University in 1978.

One year later he joined the Ahoskie Police Department as a Patrol Officer. After three years on that job, Ransome aspired to move up the law enforcement ladder, doing so on Jan. 3, 1983 when he joined the SBI.

“I was more interested in doing investigative work than patrol work,” Ransome noted. “I was encouraged by Eugene Bryant, a Resident SBI Agent back in 1980, to let my college degree go to work for me. I followed his advice.”

While his list of accomplishments are numerous – solving murder, drug, firearms, felony assault and embezzlement cases over the years – Ransome said he wouldn’t single out one case over another in importance.

“They’re all important to me as we work in an effort to solve criminal activity,” he said.

One case that does still weigh heavily on Ransome’s heart are the Windsor Belo Supermarket murders in 1993.

“There are cases where you go in and everything fits together perfectly and then there are cases like the Belo murders…it takes forever to find the pieces and even longer to put it all together,” he said. “Do I still think about that case..certainly I do, but it’s not like when I was actively working it every single day, seven days a week. It’s just one of those cases that you try so hard to solve and the pieces just don’t come together.”

The Gell case

In 1995, Allen Ray Jenkins was found brutally murdered in his Aulander home. With Ransome as the lead SBI investigator, Alan Gell of Lewiston was arrested, charged and found guilty in that case. His sentence was death by lethal injection.

However, as it is in all capital murder cases, a review of the case was conducted. A new trial was ordered, one in which Gell was acquitted in 2004. During that new trial, Ransome was accused of not turning over all his files from the original trial, something he still denies doing.

“When a story is printed and no one responds to it, be it the (SBI) Director, the Attorney General or even the (SBI) Agent involved, then it’s not all of the story, it’s what the public reads and goes on,” Ransome said. “You can’t blame the public from reading what’s in front of them and reacting to it, but at the same time it’s a tad bit unfair to print one side of a story and never have a chance to hear the other side. At a later time, I’ll get to the other side of that story…there is another side to tell.”

Ransome also reacted to a lawsuit filed against him following the Gell trial.

“When you are working in the capacity as an Agent with the North Carolina SBI and you get sued and that suit is personal, not you being sued as an Agent, then it takes on a whole other level of how do I handle this case,” Ransome stated. “If I get sued for nine million dollars and I don’t have nine million dollars, particularly not to give to Mr. Gell, then how do I handle this case? If this goes to trial, it’s not Alan Gell suing the SBI, it’s Alan Gell suing Dwight Ransome. I think that’s unfair because I was working in a capacity for the State of North Carolina. I think you should sue the state.”

He continued, “If we go to trial and a jury rules in his favor, whatever judgment the court hands down is Dwight Ransome’s to pay. This is a no-brainer; if you’re telling me that I’m working and in my job as an Agent that I’m going to be held personally liable, then you change the ballgame…we’re now working under a different set of rules and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I don’t have nine million dollars. So, with that in mind, if somebody talks about settlement, you dog-gone right I’m going to be willing to go along with a settlement as opposed to the possibility of nine million dollars coming from me.

“As soon as you reach a settlement people will think, and I do too, that you’re assuming guilt…that something was wrong in that particular case,” he added. “Rather, this is a case of survival, financial survival, particularly when you have a family. You don’t know what a jury will do. I’m not willing to take that chance with my personal life, my family’s life, and say let’s go to trial. I’m not going to do that, particularly since I’m working in the capacity as an Agent for the State of North Carolina.”

The conversation turned to a recent article printed in the Raleigh News & Observer concerning Ransome’s retirement.

“The person writing that particular story really doesn’t care if his facts are straight or not,” Ransome said. “I read the article Sunday (July 4) with the headline – SBI Agent in charge of Gell case retires. He talked about me retiring with 28 years of service and not receiving full retirement. What kind of sense does that make? His article would lead you to believe that after I got transferred to Raleigh that things were so bad, I had done so much wrong, that after a year I decided to leave. Not true. I retired with 30 years and 30 days…full retirement, full benefits and that is for print.”

He continued, “As far as I’m concerned, the case is over and done with except that Joe Neff (the N&O reporter) wants to keep going with old news. Then if you are going to print that the Attorney General’s Office had an FBI Agent do a formal review of my cases, then don’t print just part of that review, print the whole review; unless the whole report kills your story. If you’re going to print a story, print the facts or at least get your facts straight. He’s been ticked for the past five years that I would not agree to an interview with him. I don’t trust him.”

Reflections of a public servant

As he stated earlier, the life as a law enforcement officer is all about heart and the desire to help the public.

“What’s it like being a cop, the only difference between you and me is the oath I took and the training I’ve had. I could be you if you gave me the same training you’ve had and you could be me with the same training,” he said.

Ransome also talked about how respect for law enforcement officers has deteriorated over the years.

“In 1983, if you were a police officer you automatically had respect from the public, in uniform or not in uniform,” he said. “But as we have progressed from 1983 until 2010, we, as law enforcement officers, have done some things, have been involved in some cases, that have caused us to come into question with the public. I can’t think of any local incidents that have brought law enforcement credibility into question, but when you see a video on TV where a man or woman is being beaten or struck several times and they are on the ground offering no resistance, then we do ourselves a disservice by being involved in that.

“What does those types of incidents lend themselves to….training,” he continued. “You can’t tell me that’s what you do when you become a law enforcement officer because it’s not. It’s wrong. It has everything to do with training…how you start is how you finish.”

Training was a key part of Ransome’s life as a law enforcement officer. He said without proper training, you are setting yourself up to fail.

“All through the Gell case there were questions about my honesty, integrity and doing things right; if I was that bad then why am I training all the new agents coming into the district,” Ransome stressed. “Is it a case now that we’ve got a bunch of little bad Dwight Ransomes running around? I don’t think so. You can’t argue that this guy is bad for us and he’s training all the new agents coming out of the (SBI) academy that are coming into this district. You can’t have it both ways….either he’s bad or he’s not.”

He also addressed the vast improvements in technology that have greatly aided the jobs of law enforcement officers.

“Back when I first started, we didn’t have cell phones, we were just coming into pagers and then you had to go find a phone, sometimes a phone booth, that worked,” he recalled. Computers, laptops…unheard of back then. Now look what we have at our fingertips…a device that fits in your hand capable of voice, text, e-mail, the Internet.

“Investigative work through the use of DNA samples has grown by leaps and bounds,” he added. “But here’s the thing that we must take into consideration, with all this advanced technology you can’t hold me responsible in 1995 (the beginning of the Gell case) using 2010 technology. If you are, then I automatically lose.”

Roots buried deep with local law enforcement

Ransome said he was appreciative of his start in law enforcement.

“If you’ve never been a local police officer or with the local sheriff’s office and you’re now with the SBI then you’re behind the curve,” he said. “You don’t know how they think, you don’t know what they think of you and you don’t know how they work. They have blinders on and rightfully so because they don’t have a whole district or a whole state to worry about.”

He added that without law enforcement, preachers would never have time to conduct any type of service other than funerals.

“I had a friend of mine, a minister, once tell me that what we do as police officers sometimes causes death,” he recalled. “I told him that I did not disagree with that statement based on certain situations, but what would we be like if we didn’t have the police? Yes, in certain cases we do cause death, but in more cases we cut it off before it becomes a life or death situation.”

Hello, retirement

After many long days and sleepless nights, all tied to his work, Ransome said he welcomes the chance to live a normal life.

“There’s no pressure; there’s no schedule; there’s no responsibility as far as enforcing the law; there’s no stress related issues, administrative issues; I don’t have to worry about whether or not I need to go to the Raleigh office today or the Greenville office today; I don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s a different world,” he noted.

While he didn’t completely rule it out, Ransome said he had no plans to re-enter the field of law enforcement.

“For the next month or two I’m going to enjoy retirement; I’m going to play as much golf as my back will allow,” he said. “It’s good right now not to have a schedule. My intent at this point is to go to work as a security consultant for the PGA. If that works out, fine, if it doesn’t I’m not going to sit around and mope about it.

Ransome also plans to become more involved with work at his church.

“It’s twice the reward when working at a church because you know who you’re working for. To God be the glory because that’s who we are really working for,” he concluded.

Married to the former Sherry Davis of St. John, Ransome and his wife are the parents of one daughter, Courtney, a 2009 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She is employed at Brittenhaven Nursing Home in Chapel Hill where she is in charge of admissions.

Other than golf, Ransome said he enjoys gardening and riding his bicycle..“any type of outdoor activity.”

He is active in his church – New Ahoskie Baptist, where he has been a member since age 8. There he now serves as Chairman of the Trustee Board.