43-Year Career With Sheriff's Office Comes To A Close For Captain Rick Swiney

Monday, January 8, 2018
Capt. Rick Swiney and his wife, Cathy, enjoy a laugh at his retirement reception on Dec. 21 as Sheriff Scott Chitwood reminisces about the 43-year veteran of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Capt. Rick Swiney and his wife, Cathy, enjoy a laugh at his retirement reception on Dec. 21 as Sheriff Scott Chitwood reminisces about the 43-year veteran of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.
- photo by Mitch Talley

The late Bill Swiney served his community at the Dalton Police Department, where he worked his way up to captain during a 25-year career.

On Dec. 21, family, friends and co-workers gathered to honor his son, Captain Rick Swiney, upon his retirement from the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office after a record-setting 43-year career with the department.

“I always knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps if given the opportunity,” Capt. Swiney said of his father. “I grew up in Dalton and wanted to stay in this great community, and was ecstatic when Sheriff (Gerald) Mauldin offered me a job at age 18 in 1974.”

Little did Sheriff Mauldin and the residents of Whitfield County realize it would turn out to be the only job Capt. Swiney would ever have over the next 43 years, during which he survived 11 elections and worked under five sheriffs, including Scott Chitwood.

“You’re not going to find a more respected individual, nobody that’s more dedicated and committed to their job,” Sheriff Chitwood said during Capt. Swiney’s retirement reception held at the Whitfield County Correctional Center. “You know, 43 years is a long time. To my knowledge – and I think I’m right – he’s the longest serving law enforcement officer in North Georgia. I know for sure he is in Dalton PD and Whitfield County. To dedicate that much time – he started the year after graduation and it’s the only job he’s ever worked in his life - that tells you a little bit about him.”

The connection between Sheriff Chitwood and Capt. Swiney goes back way longer than just their time together at the sheriff’s office. The two men were in first grade together in elementary school, (at Morris Street School, then moved to Fort Hill for grades 4-8 and the “old” Dalton High, which is now City Park Elementary, for grades 9-12) and grew up in the same subdivision.

“My parents still live over on Crestview, right off Underwood,” Sheriff Chitwood said. “Swiney grew up on Stillwood, and we used to walk through the neighborhood, cut through to the recreation center and stay up there all day playing basketball on the playground.”

Fellow classmates also included Claude Craig, who worked for years at the sheriff’s office and is now the Emergency Management Agency director; Kay Cope, former magistrate judge; and Haynes Townsend, magistrate judge. “We had a pretty good class,” the sheriff boasted.

As a training room full of well-wishers listened, Chitwood talked about a few of the positive traits listed by Capt. Swiney’s co-workers - descriptions like “an institution,” “he IS the sheriff’s office,” “end of an era,” “a legend,” “one of the most honest people I’ve ever encountered,” “a great leader,” “a man of few words,” “quiet, reserved, and serious,” “meticulous,” “firm but fair,” “great to work for” and “always got your back.”

Three descriptions drew laughter from the crowd – “ninja,” “phantom” and “ghost.”

“He’s like a vapor,” Sheriff Chitwood said. “He just appears out of nowhere. I don’t know how many people said that. Three o’clock in the morning, you’d look up and he’s standing right beside you.”

The sheriff was glad to have Swiney standing right beside him as his partner on one occasion in particular.

“I’ve never fired my weapon in my career, something I’m proud of,” Sheriff Chitwood said, noting that he came close one time, though, while on  patrol with Capt. Swiney.

“We came up beside a mailbox on Dawnville Road, and the mailbox blew up,” the sheriff recalled, thanks to a batch of firecrackers.

Hurriedly, the two lawmen gave chase, past Dawnville School, around Garrison’s Lake there in the curve, where the suspects’ car lost control and went into a ditch backwards. 

“So Swiney goes headlight to headlight with the bad car,” the sheriff said. “He gets out the driver’s side to approach the passenger’s side. I’m getting out on the passenger side approaching the driver’s side. From where I’m standing, the car in the ditch is revving up, can’t get any traction, and the car’s just spinning. I see that. I’m OK – the car’s not gonna run over me. He don’t know this, though. Two girls in the front seat get out screaming. I hear bam, bam! They’ve shot Swiney! I’m hollering at him, are you OK?”

The room erupted into laughter as the sheriff recalled Capt. Swiney, in his best Southern drawl, just answering him,  “Yeah, I just shot the tire out. I thought that’d be the best thing.”

Another time, Sheriff Chitwood was never happier to see “the ghost.”

“We’d answered a drunk call down on Callahan,” the sheriff recalled, “and the guy came out – me and Swiney’s together. I remember the guy having a high-powered rifle, and he stuck it under my throat. Out of nowhere, the ghost appears, took him on the ground! We got things under control immediately, but that was the closest I came to being in danger. But as a good partner should and a good backup should, he was there for me.”

Indeed, Capt. Swiney has been there, too, for thousands of other Whitfield County residents during his career.

“To sum it up, the consistency he had for 43 years…,” Chitwood said. “I have never seen him rattled, I’ve never heard him raise his voice. It’s been the same tempo, same mannerism for 43 years, even when we were back on the road. We came through the ranks together, and even all through that time, I’ve never seen the man rattled. A great role model. Thank you, Swiney, for everything you did with me.”

The admiration is mutual.

“I want to thank you, Sheriff,” Capt. Swiney said during the reception. “You allowed me to hang around for over 20 years and I appreciate it. You’ve been a good sheriff, you’re a good boss, you’re a good friend, thank you.”

One of the descriptions of Capt. Swiney was that he didn’t make snap decisions, he always takes time to think things through.

This writer has seen that first-hand over the past few months. When Capt. Swiney was honored last summer with the naming of the Sheriff’s Office Training Facility in his honor, he asked if he could take a little while to think about what the recognition meant to him before emailing it to me for a news story. True to his word, he followed through with a well-thought-out response the next day.

The same thing happened for this story as Capt. Swiney asked for a little time to reflect on his feelings about his 43-year career. Here’s what he emailed on Christmas Day:

"My Dad {Bill Swiney} was in law enforcement and I always knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps if given the opportunity. I grew up in Dalton and wanted to stay in this great community, and was ecstatic when Sheriff Mauldin offered me a job at age eighteen (in 1974). I have been proud to be a member of the Sheriff’s Office since that time, and have truly enjoyed serving the citizens of this community. As you can imagine there have been tremendous changes in law enforcement since 1974, especially in the areas of training and technology. I believe our agency would rank among the top in Georgia in training and professionalism.  During my career at the Sheriff’s Office, I have investigated just about every type case imaginable. Many of these cases involved a rewarding experience where we could recover property or find a missing loved one for our citizens, but many also involved tragedy involving the death of a friend or loved one.  I have been blessed to have strong family support from my wife Cathy and two sons (Jason and Josh) during my career - it would have been very tough without them. Sheriff Chitwood has done a great job since his administration took office. I wish to thank all my co-workers for their hard work in keeping our community safe. I’m leaving this agency and will miss my many friends and a great group of dedicated officers. My retirement plans are traveling and spending more time with family." 


With friends, family and co-workers listening, Capt. Rick Swiney talks about his career with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office. “I wish to thank all my co-workers for their hard work in keeping our community safe,” he said.
With friends, family and co-workers listening, Capt. Rick Swiney talks about his career with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office. “I wish to thank all my co-workers for their hard work in keeping our community safe,” he said.
- photo by Mitch Talley

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