Badge recalls OPD history

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Posted March 29, 2021 | Ocala Gazette Staff

Some members of the Ocala Police Department are sporting a new, temporary badge to commemorate 140 years since Burrell Dawkins, Ocala’s first town marshal, was killed in the line of duty.

OPD approved the commemorative badge as a temporary addition for uniformed officers. Officers had to purchase the badge, which can be worn with their daily uniform.

The center of the badge features a copy of the star Dawkins wore on March 1, 1881, when he was shot. Dawkins’ badge is shown in relief on the OPD shield. The left point of the star is missing where the bullet struck Dawkins’ original badge 140 years ago.

The original is on display at the OPD lobby.

Marshal Dawkins, who was Black, was elected to his position by city council in 1869 during Reconstruction after the Civil War. At the time, newly freed black residents outnumbered whites in Ocala and were often elected to public office.

Dawkins was attempting to arrest Richard R. Russell, a white man, when he was killed. Russell, of Hernando County, tried to ride his horse into the lobby of the Ocala House hotel on the downtown square, according to an account in the book “Ocali Country, Kingdom of the Sun: A History of Marion County, Florida,” by Eloise Robinson Ott and Louis Hickman Chazal.

An intoxicated Russell did not resist, but later drew a pistol and fired at the marshal, striking the badge, knocking off the star’s point and mortally wounding Dawkins, according to research conducted by Ocala Police Investigator Steve Thibodeau more than 100 years after Dawkins’ death.

The badge was discovered decades later in the effects of a past member of the city’s police force and eventually returned to OPD, where it remains.

In the 1990s, Thibodeau scoured city records to find information on Dawkins death to have the marshal’s name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

His search was difficult because many city records, along with much of the downtown was destroyed in the 1883 Thanksgiving fire. That incident spurred the formation of the city’s fire department and lead many to rebuild in brick, giving the area its “Brick City” moniker.

Based on Thibodeau’s research, Dawkins was 36 when he died and earned $30 a month as marshal.

He spent 10 years as town marshal and his duties included lighting the city’s street lamps and keeping the city clear of drunks and those using profane language, according to Thibodeau’s research.

Dawkin’s killer was charged with murder, but historic trial records show he was convicted of “justifiable homicide.” It wasn’t clear if Russell served a jail sentence.

In 1995, Dawkins’ was added to the national memorial in Washington D.C.

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