Longest-running elected sheriff in the history of Comanche County
LAWTON - Underneath the cowboy hat and behind the badge, lies a man of unwavering faith, dedicated to upholding the law and willing to go that “extra mile” to better serve the people.
Stretching into his thirty-first year as Comanche County Sheriff, Kenny Stradley holds the record for being the longest-running elected sheriff in the history of the county.
Despite going through trials and tribulations throughout his law enforcement career, including one particular life-altering event that almost cut short his very existence, Stradley’s love for the Lord and love for the law remains strong.
“First off, I believe that the Lord allowed me to be here or I wouldn’t be here. This is His department,” Stradley said. “It’s pretty cool to be sheriff of the county, but the ultimate boss is God.”
Reaching back into his memory, before he ever became sheriff, Stradley recalls the tragic events in 1985 that almost brought an end to his career in law enforcement and his life.
While working undercover with the Lawton Police Department, he entered a residence near 62nd Street and Maple in search of a fugitive who was wanted for nearly beating another man to death. With his own gun drawn, Stradley maneuvered down the hallway of the residence as he searched. There, he said he encountered a man holding a raised 12-gauge shotgun.
Stradley was shot. Knocked backward from the close range blast of buckshot, he struck a concrete block wall behind him and sustained 20 buck shot wounds to his left arm, five to the chest and several to his right leg.
Thinking he was only minimally hurt at the time, Stradley said he had to be convinced to go to the hospital where he was treated and released. But by the following day, things began to take a turn for the worst. He suffered from severe headaches that quickly led to nausea and vomiting.
After seeing several physicians that were unable to pin-point the cause of the headaches, a nurse that went to Stradley’s church took a look at him and recommended a different doctor. A CT scan was arranged, and results revealed a hematoma in his brain. An injury, said Stradley, that was most likely caused when his skull struck the block wall during the shotgun blast.
In an attempt to relieve the pressure inside of his head caused by the bleeding, Stradley’s doctor gave him a local anesthetic and performed a medical procedure which involved drilling into the left side of his skull. With no improvements, another hematoma was later discovered and Stradley’s health continued to rapidly decline.
After developing encephalitis, a bleeding ulcer, requiring a trach tube and dropping down to only 90 pounds, Stradley said his family was called in twice to tell them he wasn’t going to pull through.
PRAYERS, SECOND CHANCE
“...But people were praying and that’s how I made it,” he said. “The Lord gave me another chance.”
Surrounded by shelves stacked with gifts, gadgets and trinkets and walls lined with art and photographs, Comanche County Sheriff Kenny Stradley said he's honored that people in the community think of him when they decide to bring him a little piece of themselves.
Slowly on the mend, his life once again began to take shape. Plastic was used to replace the section of skull that was lost while doctors worked to save his life. Told he would most likely need rehab for the remainder of his life, Stradley remembers crawling on his hands and knees as he struggled to develop the skills necessary to learn to walk again. With hard work and perseverance, his motor skills eventually returned.
CAREER FACED A SHUT DOOR
Six months after the shooting incident, Stradley said he was given a written release from his doctor so he could finally return to work. Unfortunately, he discovered that his door back into the Lawton Police Department, had been permanently shut.
“I’ll never forget those words. ‘We can’t use you anymore. You’ll probably have to be on workman’s comp (...) You’ve got that plastic skull and we just can’t use you anymore’,” said Stradley. “Well that pretty well broke my heart.”
Making do, Stradley bought a dump truck, began to haul sand and hired a lawyer who fought for his medical retirement. But that wasn’t the life he had originally planned for himself, so he prayed for change.
PRAYED FOR A CHANGE
“I told myself a long time ago that I’d be a policeman for 20 years then run for sheriff,” he said. So when the Comanche County Sheriff election rolled around in 1988, he prayed for guidance and said, “Lord you know what’s my heart’s desire, but you know best.”
Everything from the $200 cash he needed to register as a candidate, the paint and supplies necessary to make campaign signs, to the votes from the people - everything aligned and fell into place.
“I sit here in this office because Jesus and the people let me be sheriff,” said Stradley. “I can’t explain how it is to lose something and get it back. When you lose the life that you’ve loved, your health, your job you believed in and the Lord gives it back - maybe I felt a little like Job when he lost everything.
“I lost that job, pride in myself and I felt like I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Being that down and out, depressed and not knowing whether I’m going to pay my bills or not,” he said.
“Then the Lord takes a little simple ol’ boy like me and lets him become sheriff. Wow! That’s why I’m so honored to be here.”
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
According to Sheriff Stradley, it was his own struggle of being “down and out” that has affected how he communicates and interacts with the people he serves in the community. Taking the time to listen to someone’s current situation and offering help whenever possible, is something he said he emphasizes to all is employees at the Comanche County Sheriff’s Office.
“I feel it’s important since the Lord lets me be here, to go that extra mile further,” said Stradley. “The extra mile of caring makes all the difference for everything. I teach my guys to think out of your brain to keep you alive but work out of your heart to be compassionate to people. That’s what we do at this department. I’m honored to have a group of people who believe in what I believe in.”
As far as running again in the coming 2020 election goes, Sheriff Stradley, age 69, said he’s simply going to pray about it.
“It’s hard to walk away from something you love doing. It’s my heart’s desire to continue on,” he said. “With God’s help, I’m going to continue to do the job the best I can.”