Rogers’ impact goes on: One year later, friends reflect on fallen officer
To many, she was Master Cpl. Sandra Rogers, of the Aiken Department of Public Safety. To others, she was simply “Sandy.”
Today, the City of Aiken is remembering Rogers, a 27-year veteran of the Department of Public Safety who was shot and killed a year ago at the age of 48. Her final call of duty was responding to a resident’s concerns about a suspicious vehicle in Eustis Park on the morning of Jan. 28, 2012.
Joshua T. Jones, 27, of North Augusta, has been charged with her murder and remains incarcerated in the Aiken County detention center.
Rogers was reportedly the first female law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in the state. Her death gained particular attention because she was the second Aiken Public Safety officer killed in the line of duty in less than two months. Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson died on Dec. 21, 2011, after being shot during a traffic stop one day earlier.
‘The strict mother’
A lifelong resident of Aiken, Rogers began her career with Aiken Public Safety in 1984 and worked as a field training officer and a speed measuring device instructor. A mentor to some and a mother to others, Rogers was known for her dedication to her job as well as her ability to have fun.
“She was the strict mother,” said Sgt. Chris Chavous of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. “She was fun to be around, but she kept you in line and she taught you well.”
Chavous was hired as a dispatcher at Aiken Public Safety while in college when he first met Rogers. He recalled that she never passed on an opportunity to teach someone something.
“She taught any new officer or any fellow officers,” he said. “If she had an opportunity to teach them something, she did.”
Sgt. Jake Mahoney of Aiken Public Safety, who knew Rogers since January 1995, remembered her as a dedicated officer who took pride in her job.
“She was a thorough, professional and extremely competent police officer,” he said. “Sandy trained a majority of our patrol force at one point or another, whether it was in the patrol function or in the firefighting.”
Mahoney said Rogers stressed attention to detail and delving deeper into investigations, and he recalled one particular case in which that attention to detail helped bust the bad guys.
During an investigation into multiple larcenies, Rogers took note of a suspicious vehicle.
“It didn’t seem to fit. Instead of just blowing it off, she took note of the vehicle … and followed it for a while,” Mahoney said. “There was no probable cause to stop the vehicle. A couple of shifts later, she saw that same vehicle shortly after a crime was reported. Although that particular crime was in the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction, she immediately recalled, ‘I saw this vehicle. I’ve got the tag number.’ By paying attention to details, we were able to identify and locate that vehicle, and through the investigation determined they were part of the crime.
“Don’t just take what you see – you’ve got to look deeper into the story,” he said. “She was not one to take the easy way out.”
Rogers loved sports and was very athletic, Mahoney said, recalling a division function at their patrol captain’s home.
“I remember seeing Sandy on a jet ski, and she was laughing, enjoying herself,” he said. “She was picking fun at the guys who were falling off. That sticks in my head, just seeing the enjoyment that she got out of that.”
Catherine Nance went to St. John’s United Methodist Church, where Rogers was a member along with her family.
“If she noticed a teenager of a church member driving too fast, she would go to that person and let them know and offer to talk to the teen about the importance of safe driving,” Nance said.
Nance’s favorite memory of Rogers was when she worked security for basketball games at Aiken High School, where Rogers herself played high school basketball.
“My daughter, Sophie, joined the varsity team last year, and Sandy was always at those games,” Nance said. “She was on-duty, in uniform, standing by to help but obviously enjoying watching the games.”
Nance saw Rogers for the last time about a week before she died. She was working security at a basketball game.
“As usual, I stopped and chatted with her for a few minutes, never imagining what would happen the next week,” she said. “We laughed and teased, as always. Just last night, as I sat at the game, I looked over at the door half expecting to see Sandy standing there, and I remembered.”
‘Aunt Sandy and Aunt Frances’
Jamie Turner was a store manager for Sunglass Hut in Aiken Mall 12 years ago when a panicked Rogers ran up to her and asked for help in shopping for a birthday present for Frances Williams, Rogers’ life partner of 27 years.
“Frances had stepped out and it was about time for Frances’ birthday,” Turner recalled. “Sandy comes rushing in and goes, ‘I need your help! You’ve got to keep (Frances) away from me!’ I didn’t know who she was and had never met her before.”
Turner kept Williams occupied while Rogers did her shopping. After that, they were “instant friends,” she said.
Rogers and Williams invited Turner and her husband to their home frequently to cook dinner.
“Sandy and my husband were grill masters,” she said. “We would sit on the porch with the fans going and just eat and laugh at each other for getting too full. There was an ice cream incident where we got so sick because we put everything we could think of in the ice cream because everything looked good at the time.”
Turner remembers the group going to Atlanta Braves games together and making frequent trips to Charleston. Their daughter, Abigail, now 5, loved spending time with Rogers and Williams, whom she knew as Aunt Sandy and Aunt Frances.
Turner said she’ll remember most how Rogers and Williams were there for her when her father died.
“When we called Frances and Sandy to tell them, they didn’t blink an eye. They just said, ‘Bring us Abigail,’” Turner said, adding that Abigail had her own bed and toys at their home. “Sandy told my husband, ‘Jamie doesn’t need to worry about being a mom, a wife. She needs to worry about being a daughter and mourning her dad.’ I didn’t even have to worry that my daughter was taken care of and happy. She didn’t feel like she was away from Mom and Dad. She was with Aunt Sandy and Aunt Frances playing.”
As an officer, Rogers was “fierce but fair,” Turner said.
“If you talked to a lot of the people that she arrested or written tickets for, she’s no-nonsense,” Turner said. “She told me, ‘If you ever get in trouble, don’t call me. I will not help you. In fact, if you happen to be behind bars, I will stand there, point and laugh and whip your butt when you get out.’”
Rogers may have been fierce as an officer, but Turner said the woman behind the badge was fun and laid back.
“If there’s a picture in the dictionary by ‘fun,’ Sandy’s picture should have been there,” she said. “People in the community saw Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers. They didn’t see road trips and laying back and complaining because we ate too much ice cream. They didn’t see her and Frances taking my daughter to the fair for the first time.”
Turner said her daughter asked her shortly after Rogers’ death if she was sad “because of Aunt Sandy.”
“She asked me the same question yesterday,” Turner said during an interview last week. “We’ve talked to her about God and heaven and angels, and I said, ‘You have the best, most qualified guardian angel there could ever be with Aunt Sandy in heaven watching out for you.’”
‘We go on…’
Just weeks before she was killed, Rogers was in attendance at the funeral of her fellow officer, Scotty Richardson.
At Rogers’ funeral, Sgt. Daymon Spann recalled something he heard Rogers say to another officer when Richardson was laid to rest.
When asked, “What do we do now?” Rogers replied simply, “We go on.”
Chavous, who was friends with Rogers and Richardson, mourned the loss of another fellow officer in 2006, when sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Sheppard died after being struck by a vehicle while directing traffic at a fire scene.
Chavous has started a nonprofit organization called Support 1 that provides support to first responders with organized crisis training and additional funding before, during and after critical incidents. The organization’s focus is in the CSRA, according to Chavous, but it has reached first responders as far away as Texas.
Chavous said those three words spoken by Rogers have extra meaning to him: He was working security during Richardson’s service and processional, and saw Rogers say the now-famous words to her fellow officer.
“I watched her walk by (Public Safety) headquarters when she talked about that,” he said. “That was the last time I saw her.
“‘We go on’ just re-emphasizes the fact that it’s an abnormal event that occurred to her, but it affected everybody,” Chavous said. “We can still find the silver lining, bring positive out of it and make something better. It’s a focus for me to keep driving hard and keep doing my job.”
Mahoney said Rogers’ words are reflected in Aiken Public Safety’s determination to provide service to the community.
“We have continued the service and dedication to this community that both those officers had,” he said. “We will go on and continue to provide that service that we know she would expect us to.”
Rogers’ words reverberate not only through the department, but the entire community, Turner said.
“One of the messages that’s important to get across is, crime won’t be tolerated in Aiken,” she said. “The City is working to prevent another tragedy like this, to let the criminal element know that it won’t be tolerated.”
Turner referred to the Safe Communities initiative in which law enforcement agencies and community members work together to reduce crime. The initiative has helped lower crime in High Point, N.C., and is being implemented by the City of Aiken.
“We lost two amazing members of not only our law enforcement, but our community,” Turner said. “It knocked us down, but we’re not gonna stay down. We’re gonna keep going.
“I’m glad there are friends and relatives and loved ones telling stories about Sandy,” she said. “Sandy was an amazing person. She blessed our lives, and we are better because she was in it. That’s the true measure of anybody’s life – that somebody else’s life is better because you were in it.”