One night not so long ago, Sgt. Chris Garden came upon a group of people drinking around a bonfire on a North Whidbey beach.
He made a deal with the group of young people: If they cooperated and left, he wouldn’t cite them for drinking in public. But a young man, who was wanted on a warrant, suddenly bolted down the beach.
Instead of running after him — and likely not catching up — Garden turned to the others in the group. He explained that the man had broken their agreement and he was going to cite them all unless they could convince their friend to give himself up.
So they hoofed it down the beach and returned about 20 minutes later with the wanted man, who apologized and gave himself up.
It’s a typical Garden story. The 28-year employee of the Island County Sheriff’s Office is a good-natured, even-tempered problem solver and an expert storyteller.
Garden is also a jack of all trades when it comes to the world of first responders. He’s held just about every conceivable position in the sheriff’s office that a commissioned officer can. He’s a captain with the Oak Harbor Fire Department, where he’s worked for 30 years, and an EMT with the hospital.
Garden’s newest challenge is patrolling the mean streets of Coupeville as the new town marshal. He started in September.
“It’s an opportunity to be a community officer,” he said. “You kind of lose that when you have to cover a larger area as a deputy on the road.”
Rick Norrie, the former marshal, notified Sheriff Mark Brown earlier this year that he was headed toward retirement and wanted the give up the marshaling gig. Brown quickly turned to Garden, who he describes as his “go-to guy administratively.”
The town of Coupeville contracts with the sheriff’s office to provide law enforcement. The marshal is an employee of the sheriff’s office but, under the contract, works with the mayor.
Mayor Molly Hughes said she and Garden set the priorities for the marshal’s office together. Their first priority was for the new marshal to be visible in town and meet the merchants and school district leaders, which Garden has done.
She points out that Coupeville is unique in that it’s a small town but has a hospital, the county campus and the school distict all within town limits. Coupeville is responsible for providing law enforcement for those entities.
Hughes said the town is lucky to have a marshal who has a long history on the island and experience with other agencies.
“We really get to reap the benefits of the relationships he has in the community,” she said.
The sheriff turned to Garden last year after the death of Keaton Farris in the county jail. The jail was in confusion after a series of employees were fired or quit and people were questioning how things were being done.
Garden dived and took over as acting chief, learning everything he could about best practices and offering a new perspective.
“He did a fabulous job rebuilding the jail culture,” Brown said.
Garden wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, which literally meant scrubbing excrement-covered cell walls. He became especially engrossed — and frustrated — with the issue of how jails and law enforcement are forced to deal with the mentally ill because more appropriate safety nets don’t exist.
It’s not something he’s left behind. He’s on the advisory board for the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization. He said dealing with the mentally ill is probably the biggest challenge for the marshal’s office since the jurisdiction covers WhidbeyHealth Medical Center.
Garden doesn’t have a typical cop background. He grew up overseas, he said, and learned a lot of the world and cultures beyond the states. His graduating class had 29 different countries represented.
His mother was a Whidbey Island native; she grew up on Zylstra Road and graduated from Coupeville High School.
In the sheriff’s office, Garden has held the position of training officer, head of the marine safety unit, reserve coordinator, internal and background investigator, acting chief for patrol, inspector, deputy and a few other things here and there.
The marshal has one deputy marshal. Deputies with the sheriff’s office cover the town when no one from the marshal’s office is on duty.
Garden’s colleagues in law enforcement say they have plenty of funny stories about him, but nothing that’s appropriate for a family newspaper. No matter, Garden has collected plenty of his own stories over nearly three decades of law enforcement.
Just ask him about the time he spent with actors Michael Douglas or Danny Devito during the filming of “War of the Roses” in Coupeville. Or his encounter with Carl Weathers in a ferry restroom.