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Black Diamond commander has seen it all

Chris Hurst -
Chris Hurst
— image credit:

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

During a quarter-century of police service, Christopher Hurst has pounded the pavement as a patrol officer, seen how drugs and alcohol can ravage a small native community and, in recent years, gone eyeball-to-eyeball with known killers.

Now, it's time to take off the badge, put away the gun and ease into a life of retirement. Not one to settle for a rocking chair, however, Hurst sees his departure from law enforcement as the opportunity to launch a new career. At the relatively young age of 51, Hurst figures he has another quarter-century of service to give.

On a recent Friday, Hurst spent his final shift as commander of the Black Diamond Police Department. Serving as the No. 2 person in Chief Rick Luther's crew, Hurst has been a visible presence in some of the Plateau's most shocking crimes in recent years.

But things didn't start that way.

Raised in what is now known as Covington, Hurst recalls Enumclaw's earlier days fondly. “This was a logging and dairy town,” he said. So, after graduating from Kent-Meridian High School in 1973, Hurst followed the path of many young men - a path that led directly into the region's thick forest.

“I did pretty much every job there was in the woods,” he said. By the time he was in his early 20s, Hurst had started his own operation, the Wind River Logging Co., and ran with a crew of 10 employees.

Three factors would forever alter his career path. “Times were starting to change in the logging industry,” Hurst said, and he could envision days when hauling logs from nearby mountains would be more problematic. Second, life as a logger has always been physically demanding, and Hurst soon counted four knee operations to show for his line of work.

And finally, Hurst had always had an interest in law enforcement. He spent time as a reserve officer both in Black Diamond and the Seattle suburb of Normandy Park before landing a full-time job as a patrol officer with Black Diamond.

Perhaps experiencing a bit of wanderlust, Hurst and his wife, April, had shared a desire to see the Great White North, to spend some time in Alaska. He requested, and was granted, a one-year leave of absence to take a position on Alaska's North Slope, a job with a police bureau that served nine communities.

For Chris and April Hurst, “it was kind of a great adventure,” he said.

Hurst spent seven months in Barrow and four months in the smaller village of Kaktobic. “It was there that I learned about violent crime,” Hurst said. Abuse of drugs and alcohol by the native population meant things often turned ugly. “There were an astounding number of shootings,” Hurst said. “Literally, it was like the Wild West.”

Returning home, he spent another year with the Black Diamond force, then jumped to Tukwila, where he spent more than five years and made the transition from patrol officer to investigations. “My interest always was in investigation work,” Hurst said.

Those were exciting times, Hurst recalls, primarily because he was tabbed for a position on the South King County Task Force. That job would take him all over the country working drug cases. Along the way, Hurst had received an associate's degree in aviation and picked up a pilot's license, which allowed him to go undercover and, eventually, serve as a pilot for drug runners, putting him front and center in efforts to smash their illicit operations.

It was a job, he said, “that will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

The adrenalin rush and professional satisfaction came with a down side, too. “I was gone all the time,” Hurst said. “It was time to get closer to home.”

So, when Luther came calling, offering the chance to return to the Black Diamond force, Hurst jumped. Eventually, he was promoted to commander, meaning Hurst was in charge of investigations for the small town.

That came at a time when Black Diamond's crime scene was changing. “We started getting more violent crimes,” Hurst said, “then we started getting those on a more frequent basis.”

As his job became more complex, Hurst found himself spending big chunks of time away from the office. In the fall of 1998, he was elected to a seat in the state House of Representatives, an obligation that required him to take an unpaid leave of absence for at least a couple of months every year. He was re-elected in 2000, but decided against running for a third term.

“I took stock of it one day and figured it wasn't going to work,” Hurst said. With a son entering the military and a daughter heading into high school, he knew his priorities sat closer to home.

The timing proved beneficial from a career standpoint, as Hurst would soon be handling “some extraordinarily difficult cases.”

Mulling over his recent years, Hurst quickly points to a few landmark cases that rocked Black Diamond. There was the arrest and conviction of Randy Palmer, who was put away for kidnapping, rape and solicitation of murder. Hurst recalls Palmer as particularly menacing, to the point where Hurst demanded Palmer remained shackled during an interview.

“He was so large and had such a rage about him,” Hurst said.

He'll never forget David Clark, who stabbed his wife to death, or those involved in major sexual assault cases involving children. Or the case not too long ago where a drug deal went bad and turned into a triple shooting.

“In the last four years, we've had enough to keep everyone busy,” he said.

Such cases take their toll and, eventually, Hurst came to a crossroads. “I wanted to leave law enforcement on a high note,' he said. “Some stay at it too long.

“Going out and arresting bad guys, I've had my fill of that. And it's been a great run.”

Now Hurst is ready to tackle chapter two in his life.

Dominating his future is a desire to continue serving the public. “The driving force in my life right now is public service,” he said.

That desire could take many forms, but Hurst's first goal is to return to Olympia by regaining his 31st Legislative District seat in the state House of Representatives. He's already hot on the campaign trail but faces a stiff challenge. Republican Jan Shabro took the seat when Hurst departed and has had an easy time in two elections.

Beyond politics, Hurst is excited by the opportunity to perhaps serve on mission trips through his church (Calvary Presbyterian) and he retains an interest in working with those who set sentencing guidelines for convicted criminals.

One certainty is retirement won't see Hurst puttering around his family's Greenwater home. “I'll never be like that,” he said. “I'll stay as busy as ever, just with some different types of things.”

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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