Today is a special day for many people, especially in Ireland, where St. Patrick’s Day is annually celebrated as both a cultural and religious holiday. For the Irish, it marks the anniversary of Saint Patrick’s death in the fifth century and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.
Celebrations today are conducted all across the world with parades in places like New York, Boston, Chicago, and even Moscow, Russia. I don’t know what role COVID-19 may play in today’s celebrations, but in recent years, as many as 300,000 marchers and millions more spectators have practically shut New York City down, while cities like Boston and Chicago even dye rivers there green — the color most associated with the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day. Green-colored beer is even available for celebrations in many localities across the nation.
As fate would have it, some 42 years ago today — just a few days before spring was to arrive — the color of “green” was a factor in that day’s local events. And, although there was no green vegetation yet appearing in our local hillsides, the “green” uniform of a young West Virginia state policeman would suddenly become a target for a former Boy Scouts leader. The result would be a bullet that penetrated the stomach of Paul David Clemens — a guy better known today simply as Logan County Sheriff P.D. Clemens.
Sheriff Clemens doesn’t exactly celebrate the 17th day of March annually like some people do, but it is an anniversary date that he will never forget. After all, he could have lost his life while in the line of duty as a West Virginia state trooper working at the Logan detachment.
For some people, a bullet to the gut likely would have ended their law enforcement careers. After 13 days spent recovering in a Charleston hospital, Clemens made it clear he had no regrets about becoming a member of the West Virginia Department of Public Safety.
Upon his arrival by helicopter to the Logan High School football field following his discharge from Charleston Memorial Hospital, he was welcomed home by Sgt. L.C. Yost, head of the Logan and Williamson detachments, and state troopers C.W. Mitchem and Glen Ables. As a young newspaper reporter, I was there to snap the photo of Clemens’ homecoming.
Two other troopers, S.M. Pinion and Robert McComas, also had been released from a hospital following brief stays and were expected to return to work in about two weeks. Clemens was slated to return to duty in approximately two months. One might say that Clemens has sort of been on police duty ever since.
In an interview in 1979, Clemens explained what happened to him when he and other officers were attempting to flush Troy Canterbury out of a hiding place on a mountainside in Mingo County, not far from the Logan County line. “I heard his first shot,” Clemens said. “He got me, and I went down. After that, all I can remember is everybody shooting back at him.”
Canterbury was killed in the gunfight amidst a hail of guns firing. As to which officer actually fired the fatal bullet that ended the shooting affair, well, that’s been pretty much a secret for all of these years, although Clemens witnessed Canterbury being shot first in the neck and then in the face.
“I figured that I eventually would run into a situation like that, but as far as getting shot, I didn’t think it would be this early in my career.” Clemens said.
Doctors told Clemens that it would be about nine months before his stomach injury would be fully healed. At the time, Clemens was living at Sunbeam near Ethel in a mobile home, while law enforcement partner Trooper Ables was residing a short distance away at what formerly was called the Wanda softball field. Both Clemens and Ables, as well as several state troopers and other police officers at that time participated in nearly all local sports leagues, which included softball, independent league basketball, and even the Logan County Flag Football League when that league existed for a few years.
Clemens recently recalled the incident in which Mingo County deputies had located a vehicle that was the subject of investigations in Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming counties. In attempting to serve warrants on Canterbury, who had fled along with his girlfriend, one deputy was shot, prompting a radio call for backup. State police and some Logan County deputies responded quickly to the scene that would soon turn into a shootout.
Although Canterbury was from Logan County, the incident occurred in Mingo County on the hillside hollow at what is now named Twin Branch, a site which a few years ago was designated by Mingo and Logan officials to become an automobile racetrack.
The girl with Canterbury was the daughter of a former Logan County deputy, Bill Davis, whose wife was a postmaster at Switzer In Logan County. She played no particular role in the shooting incident.
“We had gone as far as we could along a road where the regional jail at Holden is now located,” Clemens explained. “We then went on foot and were on top of a ridge and could see all of the flashing police car lights below us, so we knew he was somewhere between us.
“Me and troopers Sam Pinion and Bob McComas started down the hill when I got hit first, then they were shot, too. It was starting to get dark, but as I rolled on the ground, I could see the man in the twilight. I saw him take both shots that took his life.
Having been shot with a .22 caliber rifle, Clemens thought he had been hit three times because the bullet ricocheted inside his body, damaging his liver, spleen and a lung. When senior trooper Dave Hamblin asked his men if anyone had been hit, Clemens reportedly calmly answered I think I’ve been hit three times. “This is no time to be joking, P.D.,” said Hamblin, not realizing that he wasn’t joking.
“There was just a small hole in my stomach and there was no visible bleeding,” Clemens recalled. “They tried carrying me out of the hills, but I made them let me walk because it actually was less painful that way.
“They got me down to a pickup truck, took me to Logan General Hospital and there I received X-rays, and then was transported by state police helicopter to Charleston, where they operated on me.“
The helicopter that carried Clemens to Charleston was also one that had been utilized at the site of the shooting. According to the doctor who performed the operation on Clemens, had P.D. been transported by ambulance, he likely would have bled to death internally before arriving in Kanawha County.
Four months later, after monthly trips to Charleston for testing on his spleen, the bullet finally worked its way to the skin of Clemens. Doctors easily removed it and it was made a part of the evidence in the shooting incident.
A faint smile visible even with his COVID-19 mask on, Clemens said that upon his graduation from the State Police Academy, his mother and father, along with a sister, purchased him a bullet proof vest, which he said he had left hanging in his locker on the evening of the shooting affair. “You had to buy your own vests back then,” said Clemens. “I started making sure it was in my cruiser, just in case it was ever needed again.”
Upon graduating from the academy in 1977, the then 20-year-old native of Summersville in Nicholas County was assigned to the Logan detachment in a county he did not even know how to get to. “I stopped on top of Drawdy Mountain in Boone County and asked someone if I was on the right road to Logan,” said the man who has since declared Logan County as his home. “I remember stopping at Jeanuel Browning’s service station (now Logan Exxon on Dingess Street) to ask where the state police barracks were. I was in my uniform and they looked at me like I was crazy.”
So, the man who was sworn in as sheriff less than 90 days ago is now in his 41st year of some type of law enforcement, after completing a long career as a state policeman, retiring as a captain. Clemens’ career also included 10 years of working day and night with fellow trooper Glen Ables in Logan, a stint as Logan City Police Chief and 25 years total service, 20 of which were in Logan County.
Increases in rank and pay raises enticed Clemens to short leadership stints at Welch, Princeton, Jessie and to Richwood in his former home county. “I was so bored there, I asked to be reassigned to Logan. When I got the call from Charleston that my request was being approved, I was told that it was being approved under the condition that I see a psychiatrist,” Clemens explained. “I was told that I had to be crazy to want to go back to work in Logan County.”
Many things have changed in the arena of law enforcement since Clemens joined the ranks, and illegal drug use is the major issue compared to decades ago. “These drugs that are used to today are a lot more lethal than most of that stuff we had to deal with,” Clemens said.
“I’m just glad to have had the privilege to serve people in some capacity for the past 41 years,” Clemens said.
Clemens was given the .22 caliber rifle (which featured a pistol handle) that was used to shoot him when the case was closed, as well as the bullet that was removed from his body. Clemens said he even has the tie and shirt he wore that fateful day — both with bullet holes.
Needless to say, the shirt — after 39 years — doesn’t fit the new sheriff anymore.
The badge, however, seems to fit quiet well.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.