By Staff Sgt. Patrice Clarke
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
James Chamberlain didn’t have time to think. As he was setting up his position on I-25 near Walsenburg, Colo., the three fugitives dubbed “The Dougherty Gang,” literally rolled to his feet. With his Air Force military training and years of police training, thinking wasn’t needed. His training kicked in. When Lee-Grace Dougherty raised her Mac-10 toward Chamberlain, he didn’t hesitate and fired, hitting her in the leg and ending the gang’s eight days on the lam.
When Chamberlain entered active duty, more than 19 years before, as a radio television broadcaster he had no idea that this was where his path would lead. He never suspected he would be the Walsenburg Chief of Police or a master sergeant assigned to the 310th Space Wing.
“I wanted to be security forces when I first enlisted but they just weren’t looking for that then,” said Chamberlain. “I had a great time as a broadcaster, but when my four years were up, I got out.”
It was two years later that Chamberlain received a call asking him if he wanted to join the Air Force Reserves as a security forces member. Chamberlain jumped at the opportunity.
Around the same time, his civilian police career began to take aim.
“I had been working in law enforcement for some time and my mom said they were advertising for police officer positions out in Walsenburg,” commented Chamberlain. “I mean, I grew up there so I thought, why not go back and be a police officer.”
Chamberlain applied and secured his position with the Walsenburg Police Department.
“I started at the bottom, going from patrolmen to patrol sergeant,” he said.
While Chamberlain rose through the ranks at the Walsenburg Police Department, his Reserve duties took him on three deployments downrange and multiple steps up the chain of command.
“The entire city supports me as a reservist,” he said. “I’ve been deployed three times, all while I was working at the Walsenburg Police Department. They have been very supportive.”
Chamberlain was back from his latest deployment about a year when the city of Walsenburg was going through some budget cuts.
“I had gone in one day for a court case. When I came out, I had a message that the county administrator wanted to speak with me. The whole time I was racking my brain, trying to think of what the county administrator could possibly want to talk to me about.”
All the worrying was for naught, the Walsenburg County Administrator was offering Chamberlain the Chief of Police position that day.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “I had to ask him to give me a minute so I could regroup.”
After talking with his fellow officers and his wife, Chamberlain called the administrator the next day and accepted the position. Chamberlain was interim chief for a short period and was officially appointed permanent Chief of Police Veteran’s Day 2010.
The Dougherty Case
Less than a year after becoming the Walsenburg Chief of Police, one of the biggest events Walsenburg had seen literally rolled through town.
A week before the incident, Chamberlain decided to take a much needed vacation.
“I hadn’t taken any vacation days since I became the chief of police a year before so this week was needed,” he said.
The morning started off with a pretty full honey-to-do list.
“I was going to drop my daughter off with her grandparents so they could spoil her a little, while I put a new radiator in my truck,” he said.
Chamberlain decided to go into the station after dropping his daughter off, to check some email and print some papers. While there, he overheard the radio traffic about a tip that the Doughertys, who were wanted in Florida for holding up a bank and shooting at police officers, were sighted in a town not far from Walsenburg.
“I figured, if they had gotten one of these tips, they were probably getting 100,” he said. “Not even five minutes later, I heard on the radio that a state trooper and a Pueblo County Sheriff officer were in a high-speed pursuit with a car on I-25 passing mile marker 74 doing speeds of more than 125.”
Chamberlain weighed his options heavily while listening to the radio traffic.
“I was sitting there thinking, should I go, should I stay,” he said. “I mean I was in civilian clothes, I didn’t have my bullet proof vest. I had my gun and extra magazines. I know my secretary thought that I was losing my mind because I was pacing back and forth and mumbling. I had a new baby, a wife, and joining this pursuit wasn’t the safest thing to do. While all that stuff is running through my head, I hear on the radio that they are setting up a road block down by mile marker 55 to 52.”
Another officer was about to assist at the road block and Chamberlain decided to do the same.
“I thought I would set up at the road block and join in the pursuit if needed,” he said.
Fate had other plans for Chamberlain that day.
“When I got to mile marker 52 I decided to post up on the southbound ramp and had just pulled up next to the guardrail when I saw a big cloud of smoke and saw the Dougherty’s vehicle hit the guardrail in front of me.”
Once the car came to a complete stop, the three Doughertys jumped out and started running.
“I immediately yelled, ‘Stop police, stop police,’ and they didn’t stop,” he said. “One took off down the hill, the other was moving around by the car and Lee Grace, the female, got out of the car with a MAC-10 and was running away and trying to work the weapon. I yelled ‘stop police, drop the gun.’ She stopped, turned and looked right at me and was raising the gun in a two-handed hold.”
Chamberlain reacted, firing his weapon, hitting Lee Grace in the leg.
All three Doughertys were apprehended that day, with no loss of life or life-threatening injury. What seemed like hours to Chamberlain was actually just a few minutes before the rest of the state patrol and all those in pursuit were there to back him up.
“I truly believe that my military experience was on the forefront during this incident,” said Chamberlain. “My deployments and the training that we got really helped, especially the Simunitions training we get as security forces members. That stuff makes a world of difference when you are in this situation. It helps you keep your cool.”
This experience urged Chamberlain to reflect what got him here and he was pleased with his path.
“I have a great family, a beautiful daughter and a great career,” he said. “I wouldn’t change any of it. A lot of things have happened in my time but I’m certain that it has all happened for a reason. I would not change a thing.”