One of Sumter’s first black deputies retires

Roosevelt Sinkler Sr., center, gathers with his family before his retirement party in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 26, 2013. He started full time at the Sheriff's Office Sept. 14, 1973, and retired Sept. 27 this year. (AP Photo/The Item, Jade Anderson)

SUMTER (AP) — Four sheriffs. Ten uniforms. Forty years of service.

Capt. Roosevelt Sinkler Sr. retired from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 27.

“I’ve seen some things that would blow your mind,” said the 68-year-old. “I’ve seen it. I’ve been to it. I’ve been through it. The Lord watched over me all these years. Young people, you can do it, too. Put God first in your life, treat others with respect and do the right thing. (Then) the Lord will take you through seen and unseen danger, and God will bless you.”

His words of encouragement are nothing new to his coworkers.

“Capt. Sinkler has always been a professional and spiritual mentor for me,” Sheriff Anthony Dennis said during Sinkler’s Sept. 26 retirement party. “He taught me to be a good police officer, you have first got to be a good person. I want to say thank you on behalf of the citizens of Sumter County, the sheriff’s office and me personally. We will truly miss you.”

Many laughs were shared at the party as well.

Sinkler loves to talk on the phone, said Lorraine Dennis, the sheriff’s wife and assistant county administrator. Even after a policy against cellphone use in the office had been passed, she caught Sinkler talking on his. He just waved at her with a “Hey, Mrs. Dennis. Yeah, I know, I know,” she said.

Another time, before Anthony Dennis was sheriff, he said he went to speak to Sinkler about a specific case, and he was writing religious music.

“I’m worried about a homicide, and he’s back there writing songs,” Dennis said. “I’m sure he was praying, ‘Lord, please help us find the person,’ too.”

Sinkler helped form the Sheriff’s Office Choir and plays guitar. Other jokes were made about his generosity, except when it came to sharing delicious-smelling lunches prepared by his wife, Rebecca, or “Ms. Bec.”

Of course, it hasn’t been all fun and games.

He was one of the first blacks to work for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office when he started on Sept. 14, 1973.

“I don’t feel they treated me differently, but I felt I had to prove myself,” Sinkler said. “I had to go beyond what was needed to be done so I could try to maintain my job.”

On patrol, though, he got called “all kinds of names.”

“I’ve been called the N-word so many times making arrests and stuff,” Sinkler said. “I was able to deal with it and do the job, though. You have to know when to hold it and when to fold it.”

Then there was the time in 1976 when a white woman threatened him with a loaded shotgun.

It was a Sunday evening, and Sinkler was out on patrol. He got a call about someone shooting at children under the plum bushes at an address in the south side of Sumter. He responded and spoke to a white couple living in a black neighborhood. At first, they denied knowing anything, but then the woman said she was trying to run the children off from picking her plums.

Sinkler told her to call the law next time, but she began to curse and say no one would tell her what to do in her yard, Sinkler said. He cautioned her that if she kept cursing, he’d have to take her to jail. She continued, so Sinkler placed her under arrest.

The man grabbed him by the chest, and the two ended up fighting. As Sinkler pinned the man to the ground, the man told his wife to bring him his shot gun.

“So she got the shotgun and pointed it at my head,” Sinkler said. “All I could say was, ‘Lord, I’m not ready to die.”’

He drew his weapon, and despite yelling, nothing else occurred until backup arrived.

“Both of us were blessed,” Sinkler said. “I didn’t get shot, and she didn’t either.”

In 1981, he moved to investigations. There he was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and captain, eventually becoming captain in charge of investigations. He even worked with the S.C. Law Enforcement Division on a possible serial killer in Sumter while leading this department, Dennis said.

Eventually, he transferred out of investigations to head up a new program, Community Oriented Policing.

Sinkler tried to retire once in 2003, but it didn’t stick. In less than two months, he was back, this time in civil processing. He soon became a familiar figure at the courthouse.

What he has loved most, though, is what first drew him to this career in the first place.

“When I was probably in fifth or sixth grade at school, I saw a police officer helping a little child cross the street in a book,” Sinkler said. “I thought, one day I want to be a police officer.”

“I stayed as long as I did because I really enjoyed helping lots of people. It’s not all about putting people in jail. Now some people you can’t help, and then you do what you’ve got to do.”

After a couple of weeks relaxing, Sinkler said he plans to travel some.

“During my policing time, I couldn’t take too much time off,” he said. “I want to visit Texas where my son (Manolito Q. Sinkler) is. He owns his own business. I have a sister and brother in Rochester, New York, and in Brooklyn, New York.”

Besides Manolito, the Sinklers have a son, Roosevelt Sinkler Jr., who is a deputy sheriff. He’s known as “RJ” to most of those who have worked with his father and him.

The couple also has a daughter, Stacy Lynn McCray, who works in probation, and three grandchildren.


Information from: The Item,