'Mentor to a lot of police officers' fondly remembered

Cary Ashby • Jul 31, 2019 at 11:00 PM

Co-workers of the late Randall “Randy” K. Sommers remember the retired sheriff’s lieutenant as an outstanding investigator who was a mentor and master storyteller who cared deeply about everything he did.

Sommers, of Norwalk, died Friday at the age of 67 in his home surrounded by his family and friends. Born July 11, 1952 in Norwalk, the Willard High School graduate attended Utah State University with an emphasis in forestry in the mid-1970s.

“He would always take the time to help all of us,” said Dane Howard, who served in the Huron County sheriff’s office detective bureau for about 12 years with Sommers as one of his supervisors. “I learned a great deal from him. … I enjoyed working with Randy.”

Just before Howard took office as sheriff in 2008, Sommers retired after 31 years in law enforcement as a lieutenant. He specialized in investigating sex crimes and was the juvenile officer in the sheriff’s office, a position he held starting in 1983.

Former Sheriff John Borgia hired Sommers in 1976 as a road deputy. Sommers, after his retirement, told the Norwalk Reflector that Borgia offered him a job after “he noticed the work I was doing in the private sector.” Sommers handled loss prevention for the Fishman Co., a New York-based security firm, and performed audits and theft prevention services for Northern Ohio retail stores.

Borgia, the sheriff from 1961 until 1985, went to school with Sommers' father since the second grade. The pair worked together when Borgia was a deputy and the elder Sommers worked for the Norwalk Police Department in the 1950s and 1960s.

Randy Sommers said he remembered what Borgia told him after being hired: “If you're half the cop your dad was, you’ll do just fine. … They were pretty big shoes to fill.”


Law enforcement career

“He was an invaluable asset to the sheriff’s office,” said Howard, who presented Sommers with the Excellence in Law Enforcement Award, a lifetime achievement honor, during a department banquet.

Even after Sommers retired, Howard said the sheriff’s office would call Sommers for his expertise. 

“He would help us out a lot,” said Howard, who strongly believes that Sommers’ retirement was “a huge void” for the department. “I can’t say enough about Randy.”

Sommers maintained his status as a special deputy while working for the New London Police Department from 1980 until 1983. 

An avid reader and historian, he enjoyed the outdoors, woodworking, his cabin in the woods, watching movies and spending time with his family and friends, according to his obituary

“He was the best listener that I have ever known in my whole life. He truly listened to what people were saying to him,” said Terry Shean, who worked with Sommers at the sheriff’s office for many years.

“He could tell the best stories,” added Howard, who said he was captivated like a “kid in a candy store” listening to Sommers share anecdotes.

“He had a lot of passion for whatever he did — whether that was gun ownership, protecting children or being a mentor.”


Thorough investigator

Bob McDowell, a retired investigator for county prosecutor’s office, investigated the case with Sommers that led to the indictments of Tom Cochran, the Norwalk mayor in the early 1990s, and city finance director Vernice George. Cochran served about a year in prison for misappropriating revolving loan funds available to local businesses.

McDowell said he will remember Sommers for “all the pedophile cases” he investigated, “the juveniles he worked with over the years” and being “very good at interviewing defendants,” which led to many prison sentences. 

“If they would go to trial or end up in the courtroom, he would be on top of it. He’d have everything memorized; he was always prepared,” McDowell added. “He gave comfort to a lot of families in this county over the years, when it came to child cases.”

The retired investigator and Erie County sheriff’s deputy said it takes a special person to investigate cases involving juveniles.

“Especially when you have children of your own. It’s very hard; you have to set all that aside and focus on what you’re doing. And Randy was able to do that; he was a mentor to a lot of police officers — not only in this county, but all over the state — on his techniques and his procedures and his thinking. He was just very, very, very good at what he did,” McDowell added.


‘Gravelle case’

Sommers was the lead investigator in the “children in cages” case, a story first reported by the Norwalk Reflector and which had international coverage. Michael and Sharen Gravelle, formerly of Clarksfield Township, spent two years in prison for using cage-like structures built around bunk beds for punishment and sleeping quarters for some of their 11 adopted children.

“Randy had the insight to take this case and work long and hard. The outcome is what we wanted and he should be commended for the job he has done,” retired Sheriff Richard Sutherland said after Sommers retired.

Years later, Sommers had little to say about the case, except to call it “nerve wracking” because of its complexity, the media attention and having “11 lives (and) 11 outcomes.”

Defense attorney T. Douglas Clifford represented some of the children. He remembered Sommers as being “very persistent” and said it was one of the most significant local cases in the last 15 to 20 years.

“There were thousands of pages of documents. He was a front-line investigator in that case,” Clifford said.

“He (Sommers) also did a lot of investigation in some of the gross stuff that people don’t want to deal with. He investigated some of the more heinous crimes in the county, as far as sex crimes or crimes of violence. He had the stomach for it that very few people do, to be able to get through those type of things.”


Mentoring others

Sommers “informally mentored me on understanding criminal justice,” Clifford said. 

“He was an incredible investigator. He had years of training before I every met him,” he added. “He had a good work ethic. It showed by the type of investigation he had done, especially if you think about the Gravelle case.” 

Early in his law career, Clifford was an assistant public defender who represented a client in a juvenile court case investigated by Sommers.

“We had tussled in the courtroom, as you would call it. I cross-examined him. We talked (about it) afterward, a couple weeks later after that hearing. … Even though I was very green, I think he saw something in me and my abilities and that I knew what the hell was I doing,” Clifford said.

Regardless of Sommers being on the opposite sides of many cases, the attorney said he sees the late investigator “as more of a mentor and quite frankly, we became friends when it was all said and done.”


Favorite memories

One of Shean’s favorite memories of Sommers involves her .357 service revolver.

“Over 30 years ago, when I first got this weapon when I went to the sheriff’s department, I couldn’t fit my hands around (it); my hands were too small and Randy said, ‘I think I might have something.’ He gave me a pair of hand-carved grips for my .357. They are on my service weapon to this very day,” Shean said.

“As a matter of fact, I go to qualify again this Wednesday with Rich Larson for the Plymouth Police Department.”

Clifford attended the auction Saturday at Sommers’ residence which Sommers had organized before his death. At the event was a Raccoon Club poster signed by many people in honor of his 60th birthday. Sommers was the club founder and president.

“I saw what I wrote and I forgot what I had written seven years ago. ‘Thank you for all the wisdom you have given us and thank you for imparting wisdom beyond your years,’” Clifford said, quoting what he wrote to Sommers.

“I think that’s absolutely true; he was able to inform and enlighten and guide so many people. … There are so many friends and acquaintances and people that his life touched. … the community has lost an asset for sure — somebody who is very important to Norwalk and to Huron County.”

McDowell said his friend “loved Huron County, loved the people here (and) loved his job.”

“He will be missed; he definitely will be missed,” added McDowell, who provided courthouse security with Sommers after they retired from law enforcement.

McDowell talked to Sommers just a few days before his death.

“He was ready. I asked him, ‘Randy, how do you prepare yourself for this?’ He said, ‘Bob, when it’s your time, you’ll be ready,’” McDowell said. “He did everything for his (funeral) service here today and he wrote his own eulogy. He was an organized kind of guy.

“He talked as calm as I am talking to you. He was ready. He told me he’d see me again some day.”

“He had a crazy sense of humor,” McDowell added. “For a lot of us in law enforcement, you have to joke and kid to get a lot of that stuff out of your mind. When you get home at night and you close that cruiser door and walk in the house, your job stays in the car; you cannot take it home. Your family does not need to know what you go through on a day-to-day basis and that’s hard to do sometimes.”

When it comes the news of Sommers’ passing, Shean said “barking chain” has reached Savannah, Ga. “and places beyond.”

“We’ve all lost a good friend; he’s been a friend to us in many different ways — to each and every one of us. But there is nobody (who) I know who can tell a story better than Randy Sommers,” she said.

“We’ll love him forever; he’s going to go forever with us in our hearts — all of us.”

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