Friday, May 1, 2015

Thanks for the memories, Bob

NORWALK, Ohio — Recently retired investigator Bob McDowell and I bonded over talking about two of our passions: Dogs and football.

Investigator Bob McDowell (left) and I wait for
a sentencing hearing to start Aug. 27, 2010. Coincidentally.
we were wearing nearly identical clothes that day.
JEFF VAN NATTA/NORWALK REFLECTOR
And now that he’s retired, I can reveal one of his secrets; Bob is a lovable, big teddy bear and definite people-person. (I’m forgoing the common journalism style and referring to Bob by his first name. McDowell is just way too formal at this point.)

Bob is quick with a joke, a roll of his eyes and certainly a smart-aleck comment (especially at my expense — more on that later), but don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen him, well, lay down the law when necessary in Huron County Common Pleas Court over the last 10-plus years.

Most recently, a girlfriend of a co-defendant stepped close to her seated boyfriend, just moments after he’d been handcuffed. Bob was quick to let her know nobody in court is allowed to touch the prisoners once they’re in custody.

And as Bob and I often muttered to each other: Don’t these people know they’ve had weeks to say their good-byes and the defendants could be heading to jail or even prison?


Waiting for hearings to start is a part of the deal for victims, defendants’ families and friends, reporters and even attorneys and victim advocates. So needless to say, in the 10-plus years I’ve been the “cops and courts” reporter for the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper, I’ve done more than my share of waiting in court with Bob. He and I spent many hours talking about dogs, football and also the Cleveland Cavaliers.

One of Bob’s longtime passions is training canines to be police dogs.

“When I got my first dog back in 1974, I had the only police dog that was trained in patrol and drugs between Cleveland and Toledo,” he said in a previous interview.

Master police dog trailer Bob McDowell gives me some last-minute tips
— and harassment — before his dog Theo (center) "takes a bite" on the sleeve
I'm wearing. This 2011 canine demonstration was Theo's last appearance
at the Huron County (Ohio) Fair before he died of old age.
JEFF VAN NATTA/NORWALK REFLECTOR
He has trained 123 police dogs over the last 30 years — something he’ll continue to do after his retirement. Police departments in Bellevue, Perkins, Vermilion, Willard, Oberlin and Sandusky and sheriff’s offices in Huron, Erie and Ashland counties use dogs Bob has trained. He’s also trained canines that have worked in law enforcement “as far away as Puerto Rico.”

Knowing I’m a dog lover, Bob kept me up-to-date on which agencies would be getting which dog he had trained.

I took my “first bite” off a sleeve from one of Bob’s most beloved dogs, Theo, during the 2011 Huron County Fair. I’m honored to know that was Theo’s last fair and I was his victim/bad guy in one of his last public canine demonstrations. (I wrote a memorial story about Theo, shortly after he died in August 2012. Theo, a very lovable German Shepherd, was one-half of the canine unit with Bob for the Huron County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office special response team for many years.)

 As crazy it sounds, once I did “took a bite” I was hooked. I also knocked something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know had been there.

Naturally I had to wear a Washington Redskins fleece
to get a rise out of my buddy Bob McDowell during his
April 24, 2015 retirement party.
CARY'S COMICS CRAZE
While waiting for court to start, Bob and I griped about the Cleveland Browns and my team, the Washington Redskins.

There was rarely a morning before a hearing when Bob wouldn’t drag me into an unrelated conversation just so he could poke fun at me being a ‘Skins fan or what ‘Skins coat I was wearing. Naturally, I’d find a way to return the favor with a zinger of my own. I also made sure I wore a Redskins fleece to his retirement party — just to get one more rise out of him.

Here’s one other thing you might not know about Bob: He’s a master storyteller. And he loves an audience.

While waiting for the proceedings to begin (of course), Bob would liven it up by speaking louder than necessary and tease me about anything from my love life, to the Redskins to what I got wrong most recently in the paper. I called it the “Bob McDowell Comedy Hour.”

“You’re about two seconds away from spending the weekend in jail,” Bob would say to me, pointing his finger at me. His other favorite line was a variation of: “Keep it up and nobody will see you for a long time.”

"Let go of my dog!"
German Shepherd Ilko grabs onto the bite sleeve I'm wearing in front of
the Huron County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office on Oct. 9, 2012 as his handler
and owner, investigator and master police dog trainer, Bob McDowell, observes.
JEFF VAN NATTA/NORWALK REFLECTOR
Anybody witnessing all this insanity would think it was just tension between the media and the prosecutor’s office. But our banter and him harassing me was all done in good fun. Even when we’d say good morning and he’d cut his eyes at me with what I call “The Look.” (The translation was to tread lightly as Bob was having a rough day.)

Bob’s other favorite words to say to me were “No comment.” But I had gained his trust enough over the years that we had a lot of “off the record” conversations about cases. Needless to say, after being a cop and investigator nearly 50 years — not to mention his time serving our country in Vietnam, Bob has a ton of you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it stories to share.

Maybe I should take him up on our idea to write separate books about his military and law-enforcement service. …

As the late Bob Hope always said: Thanks for the memories, Bob.

REFLECTOR staff writer and Cary's Comics Craze webmaster Cary Ashby has covered the criminal justice beat for the REFLECTOR since September 2004. 

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