Merritt names Harrison chief deputy
Groves native will take office in January
Sgt. Rodney Harrison has had many titles, from Eagle Scout to SWAT commander.
Heading into the new year, he prepares for another.
Orange County Sheriff-elect Keith Merritt says one reason he chose Harrison as his chief deputy is that he’s “an excellent communicator.”
“I picked him because I know his background,” Merritt says. “I know what his qualifications are. He’s a lot of things that I was looking for in a chief. He’s a people person … has a pretty extensive background in law enforcement and I think we share a lot of common goals on what we want to see in law enforcement; and what we want to accomplish in the months and the years to come.”
As Harrison ends many years with the Port Arthur police, the 41-year-old says he considers the appointment an honor and a challenge.
“I love challenges,” he says. “Going in fresh with Keith, we share the same values as far as integrity of the job. We want to see the [deputies] do a good job and be professional. This allows me the chance to come into an organization and mold it in the direction the sheriff and I think it should go. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have this opportunity, and I’m very grateful to be the person who was chosen to come in and be a steering force.”
Merritt believes he first met Harrison in 2002 after the murder of Dannarriah Finley, which covered several jurisdictions, including Port Arthur and Orange police and the FBI.
“I don’t think I really knew him or that he really knew me,” Merritt says. “But I did remember the name.”
The case somewhat rocked Orange’s sleepy-town image and no suspect has ever been charged.
Finley’s 4-year-old body was found after being exposed several days in Pleasure Island marshlands. Harrison says there are still peace officers working daily on the case and he’s confident there will be a break.
“Through the elements and environment, a lot of crucial evidence was lost that would have helped us identify [someone],” he says.
“There’s still a person of interest out there and we’re kind of at a ‘Catch 22’ on it. I hope that one day before the end of my career, we’ll see that person being tried right here in Orange County for the death of that little girl. I don’t think that as of right now, the case is to the point where it could lead to a grand jury indictment, but that could change overnight. There are so many advances in technology and things like that in place; I think it’s just a matter of time. People get caught all the time for 20-year-old cases. Not that I hope this one takes 20 years.”
The new chief’s position will not be Harrison’s first in administration.
He has overseen the Port Arthur police’s investigation and field divisions, and from 1997-2002 served as a detective working on assaults, robberies, sex crimes and auto thefts.
He is a member of the Jefferson County Peace Officers Association, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas and Homicide Investigators of Texas, among others. In 2005, he served as a supervisor on the Hurricane Katrina Response Team in New Orleans, and in 2006 was appointed a SWAT commander.
Harrison made Eagle Scout in 1985, the same year he graduated from Port Neches-Groves High School. “I was looking for a profession that kept the ideas of the Boy Scouts, of a lifestyle of helping people,” he says. “And I thought law enforcement was a good way to do that.”
Harrison also credits his friend Robert Hobbs, now a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, in helping him decide on law enforcement. Harrison went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Lamar University and graduated from the Lamar Regional Police Academy.
Merritt, whose longtime constable’s office at the Orange County Courthouse finds him constantly around deputies and bailiffs, says he’s been unofficially polling employees about their opinions; specifically on the needs of the department.
“[Harrison and I] have a plan and we know what we want to do, and there will be no lapse in leadership come Jan. 1,” he says. “I know when new people come in, there’s always nervousness, but I’ve met with a lot [of deputies] and I think they want a change and a new direction also.”
(Change was one of Merritt’s campaign platforms).
“By talking and running across people and getting their feelings;
one of the things we did was just ask them straight out, ‘What do want to see? What are the things you think should happen? What is your vision in the long term and what do you see wrong now?’”
Harrison’s wife, Janice Marshall Harrison, is employed with the city of Port Arthur.
The couple have three children.