Photo by Steve Shay
SeaTac Police Chief James Graddon has chosen to retire this April. A Burien resident, he was a key figure in the investigation and arrest of serial killer Gary Ridgway.

SeaTac Police Chief Graddon retires April; Has heavy heart for Green River Killer's victims, families

After working 39 years in law enforcement, lifelong Seahurst/Burien resident James G. Graddon, SeaTac Chief of Police, has chosen to retire this April. He began his career in law enforcement just three months after graduating Kennedy High School, in 1973, as a police dispatcher, which he said has come in handy over the years. He is popular in the community, and may be best known for his key role in the investigation and arrest of Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer.

A mere 57, Graddon explains why he feels his timing is just right in an interview with the Highline Times.

"We're at a very stable spot at the department, with programs in place, and a team of officers who serve here for the right reasons, because they want to be here, and they want to help protect the community. And with (Police Captain) Annette Louie here we will have continuity.

"The process for rehiring includes the City of SeaTac. The pool of candidates include captains and majors serving the King County Sheriffs office. I'll have input officially, or unofficially. Chief Urquart has a major role. He knows our agency, and brought on (former Spokane Police Chief) Anne Kirkpatrick as Chief Deputy. He wants to change directions on certain things which I respect.

"Law enforcement as a profession takes a little more of a toll over time than maybe other professions. When you wake up every day and put on a bullet proof vest and a badge on, it is a different kind of challenge."

He often puts in 12-hour days. While stressful, he said he has no complaints, no regrets. And, unlike the grumpy old men we see in the movies and on TV police dramas ready to grab their fishing poles and forget the past, Graddon savors his accomplishments, colleagues and adventures.

"I just am a positive person in general. I am a person of faith. I believe there is something that guides us in life. I am living out my dream. Who else gets to come from an area, serve the area, then retire as the chief of police in that area? There is a lot of cool stuff about that. Also, I have had the pleasure of working with people here who worked with my father, especially when I first started. From what I can tell my dad was pretty respected. He was a good man."

His father, Lawrence James Graddon, spent 20 years with the King County Sheriff Department, beginning about 1950, and retired as a lieutenant. His mother, Marie Clare Graddon, was a nurse at Burien General Hospital, and long-time assistant nursing director there.

His wife, Linda, is senior pharmacist at Highline Medical Group, and started at Riverton. He will relax, but will not rule out a new career move.

"There are several months of to-do chores, my house, and other family members' houses. Pretty much all my family lives right here. I want to reconnect with them. I'm not shutting out other ideas. I have a breadth of experience that may be of service to someone along the way, but I am not interested so much in politics."

The Green River Killer's victims, and indirect victims, their loved ones, will remain in his thoughts. While it is confirmed that the killer, Gary Ridgway, claimed the lives of 49 young women from 1982 to 2001, he probably killed many more,

"I was the Green River Task Force Commander in its final stage. Little did I know when I was a kid and my family shopped where Gary Ridgway worked, at the Gov Mart Bazar grocery store in Burien, that I would later be arresting him for murder.

'We made the arrest Nov. 30, 2001. I was a sergeant then. I was promoted to captain and moved away from the case, then moved back into it in 2003. Then we had the plea deal that summer. We broke his defense team's back with the microscopic paint (spheres) found on clothing from two disparate victims from the '80's that tied him into other cases originating from his work at the Kenwood Truck Company.

"Norm Maleng, who the Regional Justice Center is named for, was an astounding man, a legend in this area, and rightfully so. As King County Prosecutor, he decided to forgo the death penalty involving the worst serial killer case in American history. He believed the right thing to do was learn more about Gary (Ridgway) and locate more victims."

In the plea bargain, Ridgway's life was spared, and in return he agreed to cooperate and lead investigators to the remains of his victims which Maleng believed would give some resolution to the lives of the victims' families.

"We 'lived' with Gary in our offices for six months, our 'bunker' (in 2003.). It was on the west side of Boeing Field, just outside the fence. Our task force was housed there. (The then King County Sheriff) Dave Reichart was enabling all this from his office. He was the original person assigned to these cases and his heart and his soul was in this, and still is.

"Gary had been in the King County Jail. We wanted unfettered access to him, and to control all the circumstances surrounding him. We decided there was only one way to do that, to bring him to us, where we had access to our files, and where our team was stationed. We took him out of jail June, Friday the 13th, 2003. I'll never forget that date. We converted a small interior office that had been our temporary evidence room to Gary's bedroom. Investigator Jim Doyon donated a mattress and box spring. I donated our exercycle from home which was the extent of his physical activity. This was all secret. Our wives were not told.

"We did 12-hour security shifts. We took the door off because we wanted to access him in case he wanted to do something stupid. It was blocked with a table. We put day and nighttime cameras in his room. He used our common bathroom. We allowed him to shower there. We'd put up a camp shower. SWAT and intelligence detectives were sitting within one second reach of him. We would put him in his chains any time he went the bathroom, or on 'field trips' when he helped us find bodies, a couple of dozen times. Nothing happened without the agreement of the defense team.

"I watched about 80 percent of the interviews on live feed from a room next to his. He was very quiet, almost an 'odd' quiet. Gary would sit for unbelievable lengths of time just staring, or picking lint pieces off the floor. He was remarkably compliant. We just went with that."

Graddon said he is aware the bad guys often get the most media attention, and the stories of the victims and their families can get lost in the background. But their suffering is a presence in his mind, he said.

"We brought many victim families to meet one-on-one with Reichart and Maleng to explain what was going on with the investigation, and the plea deal. It was a couple of emotional days. We'd see the range of very appropriate emotions. Some, pure anger, with family members asking, 'How can you think this person shouldn't have a needle in his arm, or be hung. Others thanked us."

Ridgway serves his sentence, 48 consecutive prison sentences, at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and has no hope of parole.

"Some of these people had lived with the loss for 20 years. The family of victims and the police officers are the ones who don't ever forget."

Most victims were prostitutes, some as young as 15, working along what is now International Blvd. in SeaTac.

"We're still evolving on human trafficking but we're coming along. We have more understanding, more empathy, and we take more action."

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