One of our favorite law enforcement officers – perhaps our all-time favorite officer – passed away Sunday, saddening those in the law enforcement community as well as those of us in the PINAC community.
Lieutenant Robert Guthrie of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office in Southern Georgia suffered a stroke as a result of his long-term battle with high blood pressure.
He was airlifted to a Jacsksonville hospital on Friday and was placed on life support.
On Sunday, he was pronounced dead.
But his legacy will live on in a YouTube video recorded by PINAC reporter Jeff Gray in June 2014 when Guthrie was a staff sergeant.
Gray had been conducting one of his usual First Amendment audits outside the Moody Air Force base in Valdosta, Georgia after we had received complaints from readers that they had been harassed for taking photos outside the base.
It was not long before federal service officers approached him and gave him the usual spiel about him not being allowed to photograph a guard shack in full view of the public.
They told him he was detained but then allowed him to leave, deciding to call the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office to deal with him, probably because Gray was not on federal property.
And that is where Staff Sergeant Robert Guthrie entered the picture.
Guthrie was a burly man, who may have come across intimidating, had he not immediately reached out to shake Gray’s hand, introducing himself by name, then asking him, “can you tell me what’s going on?”
Gray informed him that he was only taking photos of airplanes, specifically F-16s, telling Guthrie, “They don’t like that very much.”
And this is when Guthrie won us over.
“They need to go back and read the Constitution,” I believe,” the sergeant responded.
“I’m not angry at you, I’m not upset at you, and you’re not doing anything illegal as far as I’m concerned,” he said
“They get a little excited, but as I said, you’re in a public access area.”
“You can have a telephoto lens, it can go anywhere in there, it don’t matter, you’re not violating any law, you’re not violating the Constitution.”
Guthrie went on to explain that he frequently watches YouTube videos of citizens doing First Amendment audits and acknowledged there were many cops out there who were clueless about the Constitutional rights of citizens.
“Just know there are some educated folks out here that carry a badge and a gun,” he said.
And he proved that to us that day and we will never forget him.
In an interview with Photography is Not a Crime Saturday night, Lowndes Sheriff’s Detective Jack Priddy fought tears as he spoke about his friend, who was still clinging to life.
“He is a very intelligent man, he knows all the laws, he studies the laws,” he said. “He is one of those guys who will always do what he is supposed to do. Always by the book.”
Priddy said that he even treated those he arrested for breaking the law with the utmost respect, treating everybody with respect and civility.
“He’s just an all-around good guy, never said a bad word about anybody,” he said.
He was promoted to lieutenant since the interaction with Gray.
“If one of his guys did something wrong, he wouldn’t get on them in front of everybody,” Priddy said. “He would pull them aside and talk to them.”
Priddy also mentioned that he was a dedicated husband and father.
“I’ve been to a ton of cop funerals but this one hits hard because he’s such a good guy,” he said. “I love him like a brother.”
His wife is disabled because of a car accident but never qualified for disability because of her husband’s income, but that will cease for now, which is why they are raising the money.
So many people are posting stories of positive interactions they had with him as a law enforcement officer.
It is apparent that he was not only a one-of-a-kind law enforcement officer, but a one-of-a-kind human being.
A man who always had time to listen to people, who always had solid advice to give, who always was willing to learn as well as teach.
If there is anything positive to say about his death is that perhaps we can all aspire to be as cordial and professional and non-judgmental as he was known to be.
Rest in Peace, Lieutenant. We need more like you.