Joe Filyaw reflects on his years in law enforcement, from a young deputy sheriff to Jasper’s Chief of Police
Words by Terrell Manasco | Image by Al Blanton
He was 23 years old the first time he strapped on a gun and badge. From his early days as a sheriff’s deputy to his later years as a chief of police, Joe Filyaw exemplified a rugged professionalism and an unrelenting, old-school doggedness to get the job done, regardless.
Born in 1934 in Dora, Alabama, Joe was a young boy when his father was killed in a mining accident in DeBardelaben coal mines in Empire. After his mother remarried, the family moved to the Goodsprings area, where Joe attended T.W. Martin High School.
In the 1950s, Howard Turner kept the peace as Walker County Sheriff. He had only four deputies: D.C. Waldrop, Leo Murray, Jasper Stephenson, and Claude Reed. In 1957, Turner hired a fifth—Joe Filyaw. “Back then, there wasn’t any civil service. The sheriff appointed you and that was it,” Joe recalls. “It was all day and night until the job got done. You went home, tried to sleep, then you’d answer calls.”
Moonshining was a booming business back in the day. Many of those calls led to law officers raiding stills. “On a good weekend, we’d have about 55 prisoners,” Joe says. “Most of them were good folks who just made liquor to feed their families.”
When Turner left office, Joe worked as a Parrish police officer on nightshift, then as a deputy for Sheriff Brunner Nix. One day he got a call from Cordova mayor Bo Richardson, offering him a job. “I went to work as chief of police in ’61, I believe,” Joe says. “That’s where I met my wife, Rosemary.”
After a couple of years as police chief, Joe was hired as Sheriff Blanton Bennett’s chief deputy, which reunited him with his friend Leo Murray. When Bennett’s term was up, both had to find other jobs. “Leo went to work for the city (Jasper Police Department) first, then he got me to come over around ’67,” Joe says.
At that time, there weren’t as many officers on the force, and communication technology was less sophisticated than it is today. “I think they had ten officers and two meter-maids downtown,” Joe says. “We didn’t have walkie-talkies. We had one radio communication system and it was tied in with the state. The police cars had one light on top and a spotlight on the side.”
During his career with the Jasper Police Department, Joe consistently proved his skills as a leader and received numerous rank promotions. When Leo Murray died of cancer in 1976, Joe was appointed chief of police, an office he held for 20 years.
From the moment he first donned a patrolman’s uniform until the day he retired as chief in 1996, Joe watched the city of Jasper go through numerous changes. Technology improved and highways were completed, adding more through traffic and bringing new businesses to the area.
“It was a growing time. I enjoyed it. We got to help a lot of people,” he says simply, with no hint of braggadocio in his voice. For Joe Filyaw, summa cum laude graduate of the Old School, it was never about recognition or power or respect.
It was about going out there and doing it over and over, every day, until the job gets done. 78