By Charley Wilkison
The Central Texas area has not seen such an outpouring of grief and mourning for many years. The very public death of Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron last week touched a strong vein of public sentiment.
Yesterday, thousands of Williamson County residents joined their Travis County neighbors as they lined the roadways of the funeral procession holding flags, homemade banners or just standing quietly with their hats in hand.
It was very moving to see Shoreline Church in Round Rock filled with his fellow officers who perhaps knew him in a way that even close family and friends weren’t even able to know him. Just as moving were the scores of regular citizens who took time to come to honor his life.
When a Texas peace officer is murdered in the line of duty, the earthquake-like effects are felt close at hand, but the aftershocks often reach farther afield than one could ever imagine.
The Liberty Hill community is home to many law enforcement officers from the Austin Police Department and other neighboring agencies. They come here with their families to seek the solitude of the Shin Oak Ridge and escape city life to build their private lives here.
I met Austin Sr. Police Officer Jaime Padron when he was a young policeman in San Angelo around 1996. When he moved to Austin he would come by my office in downtown Austin where he’d visit and we’d kid one another about old times.
We last visited less than a week before his death at the Austin Police Association union hall where I spoke about legislative and retirement issues. He was a member of the APA Board of Directors. We joked about running to the Capitol many years ago in a good old Central Texas downpour in the wee hours of the morning where we testified before a House Committee with rain water still dripping from our clothes.
Besides the officers who work in the Austin Police Department and live here, there are many officers from other area law enforcement agencies who considered Jaime to be a family member, a Brother in Arms — a member of the tightly knit community of the thin blue line.
At his funeral on Wednesday there were officers I knew from all across Texas as well as officers from other cities and states across the country. Among those paying their respects was Officer Michael Manis in the familiar gray uniform of the Liberty Hill Police Department.
The Liberty Hill connection even found its way into our newspaper this week with photos taken by Sgt. Chris Jones, who moved here last year after he retired with 27 years in the Houston Police Department. (See Page 10)
For the past 19 years, it has been my honor to serve Texas law enforcement officers as their advocate in the Texas Capitol representing their issues before the Legislature.
Upon the death of a fallen hero it is often human nature for us to build that person into someone greater than they really were. That is as it should be. But in Jaime Padron’s case, I can say that every word spoken in praise of his life and career was true. As total strangers and just regular folks gathered to stand on the side of the road to show their respect, I can personally attest that their instincts were absolutely correct.
Charley Wilkison is director of Public Affairs for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. He is also co-owner of The Independent.