Hometown sheriff: Retiring the badge
Sworn in as county sheriff in January 2007
January 19, 2023
Before he served four terms as Mason County sheriff, Casey Salisbury was a hometown boy who played guitar in a rock band, caught passes and returned kicks for the Shelton High School Highclimbers, cruised Evergreen Square in his cherry red 1968 Mustang, and was inspired by Shelton coaches, cops and teachers.
Being the top law enforcement officer in a community where you grew up is a "yin and yang" experience, says Salisbury, who retired this month after 16 years as sheriff. He recognizes most people when he walks into a room.
"They know everything you did well, and every mistake you ever made," Salisbury said in an interview with the Journal.
"There's a tremendous advantage to growing up here, and an equal disadvantage, because everyone knows your business, and everyone knows your business."
Those connections also made protecting county residents personal, Salisbury said. "You arrive on scene and it's someone you know, or you know their parents."
The youngest of three children, Salisbury was born in Puyallup and his family moved to Bozeman, Montana, when he was 3. Two years later, the family moved to Shelton.
His earliest memories of Shelton are the huge smokestacks looming over the waterfront lumberyard, playing sports and running under the wooden stadium at Loop Field.
Kristy Buck, a Shelton native and Port of Shelton commissioner, met Salisbury at a United Methodist youth group when they were 11 or 12.
"He seems to relate to everyone he comes in contact with," she said. "Everyone knew him at high school. He was a popular kid, a football player."
In his early teens, Salisbury took guitar lessons on West Cota Street and with his friends formed a rock band called Pacific. The quartet performed songs by Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" and The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie." Salisbury remembers performing in the Masonic Lodge near Sanderson Field, when the musicians had to stand outside during breaks because they were underage.
A star at Shelton High School
Entering Shelton High School in the fall of 1977, Salisbury wore number 24 as a running back, tailback, and free safety and returned kickoffs and punts during his four years on the football team. During that time, the rising student population pushed the school from 2A to 3A.
"We had some pretty tough years ... We had to play huge schools along the Columbia River," Salisbury recalled.
During his senior year in October 1980, Salisbury was instrumental in the Highclimbers' first victory over a 3A opponent. In what a Journal reporter called "the play of the game," Shelton quarterback Mike Krumpols in the second quarter took the snap at Columbia River High School's 45-yard line and pitched the ball to halfback Darrell Damon, who unloaded a 30-yard pass.
"There awaiting it, the nearest defender at a dead run in his direction but still 15 yards away, was the Climbers' 5-8, 150-pound scooter, Salisbury," the story reports. "Casey gathered it in at about the 15, wheeled and then outmotored the beaten Chieftain defender to the flag at the near sideline." Final score: Shelton 15, Columbia River 6. Two weeks later in the homecoming game, Salisbury returned three punts and rushed 11 times for 42 yards in a 28-0 victory over Aberdeen.
John Tarrant, who later was Shelton's mayor, was Salisbury's government and economics teacher at Shelton High School. He was also the ASB adviser when Salisbury was senior class president.
"He's one of the people who walks the talk," Tarrant recalled, adding, "He never minces words."
"He's a people person and a kid person," Tarrant said. "He's always looking to help kids ... Casey just really enjoys people."
Salisbury said he was inspired by Mason County Sheriff Deputy Dave Peterson, who was hired to work with youth offenders at Shelton High School. He answered the questions of students and parents, and took Salisbury out on patrol. "That was a tremendous influence on me," Salisbury said.
Shelton High School coach Gene Crater was his role model. "I always said I was going to be a teacher and coach like Gene Crater," he said. Salisbury chose Crater's alma mater, Central Washington University after graduating from high school in the spring of 1981.
"I loved Ellensburg," he said. "I loved the weather. I lived on a cattle ranch."
In 1985, Salisbury earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education, and certification as a public school administrator. He eventually completed a master's degree in education. He stayed in Ellensburg for another year and managed dorms and taught skiing. He returned to Shelton jobless and carrying $4.32.
Salisbury worked as a substitute teacher in the Hood Canal, McCleary and Shelton school districts. "I taught in about every room I attended," he said.
While substitute teaching, Salisbury also signed on with the Mason County Sheriff's Office as a reserve officer. Two years later, he was hired by the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, one of several recruits from Mason County.
During his 15 years with the department, Salisbury worked as a road deputy and with the DARE and anti-gang programs and advanced through the ranks to lieutenant. One of his colleagues was Brad Watkins, a friend since the seventh grade. Now a captain with the Thurston County Sheriff's Field Operations Bureau, Watkins in an email to the Journal said he convinced Salisbury to apply for the department.
"There have been several events I can recall that were serious at first, but then turned somewhat comical, such as the time (Salisbury) and his partner were wrestling with a suspect to get him in custody and his partner sprayed Casey with pepper spray, causing him to temporarily lose his sight," Watkins wrote. "After the suspect was detained, Casey laughed that he thought he was only dealing with one suspect, but then said, 'But I guess my partner is the second suspect.' "
Watkins also recalls Salisbury, then a sergeant, ending up covered in mud from the chest down after chasing a suspect who tried to drive across Mud Bay but got stuck in the muck – as did Salisbury and other pursing officers.
"One of the traits I have witnessed with Casey over all the years I have known him is his ability to teach those around him," Watkins wrote. "Casey wanted to take any circumstance or event and turn it into an opportunity to teach, so that those he worked with would constantly be learning, improving their skill set, and would be knowledgeable for the next call."
One day Salisbury was rankled by Thurston County deputies speaking poorly of their ill-equipped Mason County counterparts. "They had no idea how rough the deputies had it here," Salisbury said.
"I decided then, someday, I'm going to go back ... Someday I'm going to be Mason County sheriff."
In the November 2006 election, Salisbury ran as a Democrat against Republican Shawn Donnelly in their bid to replace the retiring Steve Whybark. Salisbury received 10, 124 votes and Donnelly 4,874. He was sworn in January 2007.
"I had come from an agency that had computers, nice cars and cellphones," Salisbury recalled. In contrast, the Mason County Sheriff's Department "was neglected, as far as I was concerned," he said.
During his tenure, the department bought newer cars, created a uniform allowance, upgraded firearms, and purchased cell phones and added cameras in patrol cars. He started the Sheriffs Breakfasts, and attended the FBI Academy. He hired females to the previously all-male department. An auxiliary office was established in Belfair.
Former Journal office manager Donna Kinnaird remembers watching the sheriff make his downtown rounds.
"My first contact with him was at the Journal when he came to the office in uniform and introduced himself," she wrote in an email to the Journal. "He would wear the uniform and walk around town and talk to people, just letting us all know him. He wanted to know the people whom he served. And that was the key - he felt he was serving us. Casey wanted us to know that he was one of us."
Salisbury likened his job to that of Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll selecting good position coaches. The jail "is a whole community that never stops," he said.
"Our people never falter through anything, and that's a tough job."
Last November, Deputy Sheriff Ryan Spurling ran unopposed in his election to replace Salisbury. "I predict Ryan will be the best sheriff we've ever had," Salisbury said.
Salisbury and wife Chris have two sons who excelled in athletics at Shelton High School. Salisbury plans to work with son Shelby in April at Flying Arrow Ranch near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. He'll also visit his son Chase, a pilot, in Alaska. He plans to resume substitute teaching.
Salisbury still plays the guitar, and he has the Mustang he drove in high school. He said he plans to unwind. "When you're sheriff and your phone rings, generally it's not something good ... When you step away, there's a huge weight that lifts off you."
Salisbury walks away with the gun he purchased in 1985 - a Glock 19 - and the only leather gun belt he has ever owned.