Profile 2020: Woody Spencer has been patrolling the roads of his home county for two decadesBy BY MARK H. STOWERS FOR THE E-T,
Sunflower County encompasses more than 444,000 acres of land or 693 square miles where nearly 27,000 people call home.
The long yet narrow county is home to rich Delta farmland, businesses of all types as well as educational facilities, rivers, lakes, cities and towns. And there’s plenty of woods scattered throughout. But to protect those 27,000 residents, there is the Sheriff’s Department with a sheriff and 15-16 deputies and two investigators along with local police departments.
For the past two decades, Woody Spencer has been part of the Sheriff’s office as a deputy and now an investigator. The Indianola native graduated from Indianola Academy in 1981 and then was a scholarship football player at Mississippi Delta Community College for two years.
He followed his football dream to the University of Southern Mississippi where he was a walk-on offensive guard. But he found his interests were a bit too divided to excel on the education front.
“I played one year and after that I kind of partied a little bit and had to come home. Southern is too close to New Orleans,” Spencer said. “I was a redshirt and I just got tired of football. It was time to let it go. I knew a professional football career was not in my future.”
He came home to Indianola and took a job at SuperValu working in the warehouse for 10 years.
“After that, I went to work as a dispatcher for the [Mississippi] Highway Patrol in Greenwood,” he said. “Then I went to work for my former father-in-law but came back to the Highway Patrol in 2000.”
But when now Sheriff James Haywood was elected and moved from the MHP, he asked Spencer to come along and join his staff.
“I became a deputy in 2004 and went to the Police Academy at Moorhead (MDCC) and have been here ever since,” he said. “I was a deputy and was promoted to Sergeant about six years ago. I’m still a Sergeant but was promoted to Investigator about two years ago.”
From south Mississippi, Haywood had been part of the MHP since the early 1970s and was a fan of USM – something that connected the duo.
“We got to be real good friends. He graduated from USM. He was still on the road when I was a dispatcher and then got promoted to Investigator. He’s a guy you couldn’t help but like and he’s the person who would give you the shirt off of his back,” Spencer said of his boss. “He asked me to go to work for him and I said, ‘Heck yeah.’ He’s a good leader and a heck of a boss.”
Being on the job, each day is different.
“Nothing is ever normal in law enforcement,” Spencer said.
One of his first lessons on the force was to figure out the vastness of the 72-mile county.
“It goes from Caile all the way to Rome. All I thought of growing up was Indianola,” he said.
Over his two-decade career, Spencer has had his share of helping motorists and participating in missions with other law enforcement agencies. But his scariest moment was one that seemed tame and unassuming at first. So much so that he left his police radio in the car during the stop.
“I had to run to Indianola [from Inverness] to the office for something and on the way back there was a truck on the side of the road by the [Sunflower] River,” he said. “I pulled up and asked him if everything was ok. He said, ‘not really. I really need to talk to you.’”
Spencer turned around and parked behind the truck. He got out and approached the man but without his radio he felt he didn’t need for what looked like a harmless person in need.
“He was kind of nervous and I had already called the tag in but I was non-chalant. God was with me that day. He’s with me every day but He was really with me that day. It just wasn’t my time.”
After asking the man what the problem was, he told Deputy Spencer that he was a wanted man.
“He said, ‘I murdered my wife two days ago in Atlanta.’ I pulled my gun and had him get on his hands and knees and I handcuffed him,” Spencer said. “But God was with me as I had left my radio in my vehicle. I could hear them calling me on the radio and they kept panicking. But this is how routine things get. You see what looks like a broke down vehicle and you think, let me get out and help him.”
Spencer asked him where the gun was. It was on the front seat of his truck.
“He could have pulled that out and blew my head off and got in the truck and drove off. That’s the scariest situation I’ve had,” he said.
He credits his co-workers with making the Sheriff’s Department a great place to work and be a part of.
“There’s a great group of guys that I work with,” he said. “There’s not many jobs in Sunflower County that I would want to do but this is one. We have such a good boss and good leadership.”
He spends a lot of time in his Sheriff vehicle scanning the ins and outs of the whole county but he enjoys getting out and talking to residents and business owners.
“I’m 58 years old and I’ve been here all of my life so most folks know me,” he said. “I have a good family here with my wife Susan who teaches public school in Inverness. You get up every day and talk to the citizens and you try to make the county that you grew up in a better place to live.”
As a deputy they do have to go through periodic training such as learning how to use and how a taser works - an education Spencer will well remember the rest of his life.
“I will never get tased again,” he said. “That hurt so bad. I think I’d rather get shot than get tased.”
One of the biggest problems the department faces are drugs but they do bust the occasional moonshine still as well. But it was a former site outside of Moorhead where the county farm was located that held one of the county’s largest crime rings.
“I was training when I first started and there were some lights out there and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. Another deputy and I drove back there and I bet there were 500 people back there dog fighting,” he said. “We did bust up that ring. That was back in 2004.”
Spencer has worked his way up and has thought about being the top man in the department one day when Haywood decides to step down from being sheriff.
“I’ve been there 18 years and hopefully one day I could be sheriff. If everything goes right and God is willing. But as long as the sheriff is there, I’ll be working for him,” he said of the elected position.