By Nancy Zoellner-Hogland
Miller County Sheriff Louis Gregoire said he wished he had a better story to tell but admitted that his is like many others: While growing up, all he ever wanted to be was a cop.
“It’s an old cliché, I know, but it’s the truth. My grandpa was a cop in Independence and my uncle was a deputy in Osage County so I got to hear plenty of stories growing up! I was just 10 when my grandpa died so they weren’t ‘good’ stories,” the sheriff laughed, “But they were exciting and I dreamed of the day I’d be grown up and be able to do the same things.”
He finally got his opportunity August 1, 1998 when he was hired as a jailer for Miller County.
It was a dream come true! And it confirmed that this was what I was meant to do, so after working there a couple years, I attended the academy, graduated in March 2001 and went on the road two weeks later,” he said.
He held that position until 2006, when he left to take a job as patrol officer with the Eldon Police Department. In 2009, he returned to Miller County as the night shift supervisor over the road. In 2013, when the chief deputy position opened up, he tested for it and was chosen. Then when Sheriff Bill Abbott decided to retire, he decided to throw his hat in the ring.
“It just felt like the right thing to do.” he said, adding that because he’s been in law enforcement for so long, his wife Jodi and their two children were used to him missing holidays and other family functions when duty called. “They don’t always like it but they understand it — and they fully support me serving as sheriff.”
His race was a short one. He beat out four others in the primary and had no opposition in the general election.
Because he worked as chief deputy for three years, Sheriff Gregoire said he was met with few surprises after taking office. He knew he wanted to update the jail and, over the past year and a half, that’s what he’s done — replacing 20-year-old carpeting, painting walls and adding much-needed technology. In May, he added commissary kiosks and switched from face-to-face visitation to video visitation through ICSolutions. The equipment was provided at no cost to the county. However, there is a user charge for offsite visits. A portion of the proceeds from the commissary kiosks comes back to sheriff’s office and goes into the inmate security fund, which is used to purchase supplies.
Those who want to visit with an inmate go online — either at home on in the lobby — to schedule an appointment. After it gets approved, they can log in to the visitation website at that scheduled time and a video console will ring in the pod until the inmate picks it up and enters his or her pin number. Then the inmate can have up to a 20-minute conversation, the sheriff said.
In addition to allowing inmates to text and email friends and loved ones, the system provides a more appropriate way for inmates to keep in touch with their children.
“Kids shouldn’t be in jails. It’s not a good environment and it’s hard on them. Now the whole family can sit in front of the computer and talk to Mom or Dad,” he said. And because inmates can receive an unlimited amount of offsite visits, they can speak to their children daily.
The sheriff said they’ve also been busy remodeling the control tower, moving camera consoles and replacing some of the outdated equipment. “I have a few other projects I’d like to tackle but we’ll just have to see how our funds stand at the end of the year,” he said.
Sheriff Gregoire said although he feels like he’s been preparing all his life to hold this office, nothing prepared him for the shock and sadness that not only he, but his entire agency experienced last April when Casey Shoemate, one of his deputies, was killed in a crash while responding to a 911 call.
“Although he hadn’t worked with us that long, he was with the Eldon P.D. before he came here so everybody knew him — and several of our people had even gone to school with Casey. It was very tough,” he said, adding that while the loss of a deputy was definitely the most difficult issue he’s had to face as sheriff, the most rewarding aspect of the job is simply the job.
“I hate to call it a ‘job’ because it’s so much more. It’s really a way of life and I honestly can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I love that, as sheriff, I can be more involved in the community. I attend as many events as possible, especially if they involve kids. In fact, I’m looking at adding a junior deputy program next year. I’ll be going to another county this fall to job shadow so I can make sure that it’s something we want to do, but I think it would be a great addition. When I attend school events, kids will sometimes come up to me and say ‘Hey — I know you. You came to my house.’ I’d like to be able to have a positive impact on those kids because they’ve seen us in a very negative light. And who knows — maybe we can influence some of them to choose this as their profession.”