FARMINGTON — A career investigating why people die is not one Davis County Sheriff’s Capt. Kenny Payne sought after he returned from a mission in the 1960s.
“I had worked as a disc jockey before I left and thought that’s what I’d do when I got back,” said Payne, who is putting away the gold badge and his department-issued HK .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun on March 15 after 45 years working in law enforcement.
Payne, 67, has worked for the sheriff’s department full time and also worked the past 37 years part time as a medical examiner investigator.
Payne has worked in every division of the sheriff’s office, including the jail, detective, patrol, emergency services, dispatch, crime lab, ambulance service and as a chief deputy.
“I lead a very boring, sheltered, noneventful life,” said Payne, who has helped investigate many of the murders, suicides and accidental and unattended deaths in Davis and Weber counties.
Payne, a lifelong resident of Syracuse, said he hadn’t planned to work with the medical examiner’s office, but just like his job with the sheriff’s office, the door opened and he walked through.
That door for the medical examiner’s office opened in 1976, when a man was found dead inside his car near the gravel pits in South Weber. It turned out to be a homicide that was committed on Hill Air Force Base. The day after the body was found, the state medical examiner asked Payne, who was a deputy sheriff, if he wanted to be a medical examiner investigator.
But death never gets easy to deal with, and many holidays, birthdays, family events, weekends and middle of the nights have been interrupted.
It’s the children who have died who haunt him.
Payne remembers each child by name and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, whether it was a toddler getting run over by a tractor or a child beaten by an adult.
Payne was one of the officers who recovered the battered body of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy on May 11, 2010. The boy’s mother, Stephanie Sloop, and her husband, Nathan Sloop, have been charged with aggravated murder. Their cases are pending in 2nd District Court in Farmington.
Payne pushed to get the basic 911 system brought to Davis County after a little girl in Fruit Heights accidently swallowed a balloon and died in 1987.
The basic system just allowed a caller to call dispatch. The callers had to provide the name, address and phone number they were calling from, which added precious seconds before help would arrive.
Payne then pushed to upgrade to an advanced 911 system.
The enhanced system immediately let dispatch know where the call was coming from, Payne said.
Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson said Payne’s retirement is going to leave a hole in the department that will be hard to fill.
“He has been the backbone of the sheriff’s office for years,” Richardson said.
Richardson first met Payne in 1996 at an unattended death that was later ruled a suicide.
“In his witty way, he had me pulling evidence and was educating me on how to look at a scene,” Richardson said.
Payne said the rule when going to a crime scene is to say, “For every action, there must be a reason.”
But investigating the scene is not the only part of his duties. He talks to the victim’s family and friends to find out more about the circumstances surrounding the death. And those people are usually in the middle of grieving.
“Sometimes they don’t want to talk, other times they need someone to listen to them,” Payne said. “There is nothing in the book that tells you how to deal with those situations.”
It was the sheriff in 1968 who persuaded Payne to enter law enforcement after he returned from serving a mission in France for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Payne said before he left Europe at the end of 1967, he and his mother traveled to England to celebrate Christmas with his older brother who was in the Air Force. While they were there, Davis County Sheriff Ken Hammon cared for the Paynes’ three horses.
Payne went to get his horses after they returned and Hammon asked Payne if he wanted a job as a cop.
Payne said “No.” But Hammon wouldn’t take no for an answer and asked Payne to come to the sheriff’s office to see what a dispatcher does.
At that time, the dispatch radio had only one station with one channel used by the Utah Highway Patrol offices in Salt Lake City, Farmington, Roy, Hot Springs and Montpelier.
Payne spent four hours the first day watching and listening. He returned a second day for four more hours, but then got the impression the sheriff’s office was not going to hire him.
On Jan. 20, 1968, at 11:30 p.m. in the middle of a blizzard, the sheriff’s office called him to work the graveyard shift.
“And they left me with the jail keys and the radio,” Payne said about his first night.
Soon, Payne was one of the deputies, bringing the total sheriff’s staff up to 16. He had to buy his own Smith and Wesson .38-caliber handgun, which he still has today.