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End of an era in Huron County

Cary Ashby • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:04 PM

Huron County is losing one of its greatest advocates for juveniles today. Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Sommers is retiring after 31 years in law enforcement.

The 54-year-old investigator has been overseeing investigations involving juveniles since 1983. Sommers also has specialized in sex offenses.

Former Sheriff John Borgia hired Sommers in 1976 as a road deputy. Sommers maintained his status as a special deputy while working for the New London Police Department from 1980 until 1983.

He returned to the sheriff’s office in 1983 as the juvenile officer. Seven years later, Sommers was promoted to lieutenant.

Sheriff Richard Sutherland will miss Sommers’ expertise and humor. He added that his lieutenant “always steps up to the plate,” when it comes to Huron County children.

“Randy has done a wonderful job as the juvenile officer,” Sutherland said. “He’s done more for the juveniles (in Huron County) than anyone I can think of.”

When asked why Sommers chose law enforcement as a career, the Wakeman resident said: “Actually, law enforcement chose me.”

After attending Utah State University for two years in the mid-1970s, Sommers came back to Ohio and was working for Fishman Co., a New York-based security firm. His emphasis was on loss prevention. Sommers did audits and theft prevention services for Northern Ohio retail stores.

“I had a lot of cases locally. That’s when Borgia noticed (me),” Sommers explained.

“He noticed the work I was doing in the private sector and offered me a job,” he said. “From there, it was into full-time law enforcement.”

Borgia, the sheriff from 1961 until 1985, went to school with Sommers’ father since the second grade. The pair worked together in law enforcement when Borgia was a deputy and the elder Sommers worked for the Norwalk Police Department in the 1950s and 1960s.

“In those days, there were only a few deputies and they depended on Norwalk for back-up and assistance,” the younger Sommers said.

Borgia said he needed additional deputies when he hired Sommers. The former sheriff called Sommers brilliant, adding that his work as a juvenile officer has been superb.

“His investigative process is very good,” Borgia explained. “He’s a very professional person. … He was a serious person and took the job seriously.”

n Sommers’ legacy

Sutherland praised Sommers’ work as the lead investigator in the “caged children case.”

Michael and Sharen Gravelle, of Clarksfield Township, were sentenced Feb. 15 to two years in prison for using cage-like structures built around bunk beds for punishment and sleeping quarters for some of their 11 adopted children.

The Gravelles are free on bond while the criminal case is being appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear the appeal on the custody case, meaning the children can be placed for adoption. The youngsters have been in several foster homes since Sommers and a social worker removed them from the Gravelles’ home in September 2005.

“Randy had the insight to take this case and work long and hard. The outcome is what we wanted and he should be commended for the job he has done,” Sutherland said.

Sommers had little to say about the case, except to call it “nerve wracking” because of its complexity, the media attention and having “11 lives (and) 11 outcomes.”

When asked about his proudest career achievement, Sommers mentioned the investigation of many child abuse cases in the early 1980s. He said child abuse became a national focus for law enforcement and social workers at the time.

The investigator also mentioned the indictments of Tom Cochran, the Norwalk mayor in the early 1990s, and city finance director Vernice George. Cochran served about a year in prison for misappropriating revolving loan funds available to local businesses.

Sommers said the mayor illegally moved money back and forth from various accounts and to various people. The investigator said it was one of his most difficult cases because the amount and type of people involved as well as the “sheer volume of documentation.”

Bob McDowell, the investigator for Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler’s office, worked the case with Sommers.

“Bob and I traveled all over the United States pursuing that investigation,” Sommers recalled. “(There was) well over 10,000 pages of documentation.”

Sommers, who married social worker Marla White in September, is keeping his options open after he retires.

“I want to experience the life of leisure for a while,” he said. “And I have a Randy-do list that’s pretty long.”

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