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1949 badge finally turned in

O.C.'s first female sheriff's deputy also gives up her handgun -- to the county's first female sheriff.

June 20, 2008|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

For decades, the aging gun and badge lay forgotten in a trunk.

But on Thursday, Orange County's first female sheriff's deputy turned them in to its first female sheriff -- nearly 60 years late.

"No one ever asked," Alice Chandler said after the emotional ceremony with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens at the Orange County Sheriff's Department headquarters on the day Chandler turned 80. "I didn't know I was supposed to give them back."

Chandler's improbable career in law enforcement began in 1949 when then-Sheriff James A. Musick asked her to keep trespassers away from Peter's Lake in Orange, then owned by the Irvine Co. and considered James Irvine's personal domain.

She was 21, lived nearby with her mother and sisters, and had no experience or training.

But Musick gave Chandler a brass badge and a card bearing his signature that granted her full authority as a sheriff's deputy.

The handgun was a .32-caliber Smith & Wesson that she bought herself. And for the next three years, the young woman patrolled the area on horseback as an unpaid volunteer.

"It really wasn't too hard," said Chandler, a distant relative of the Chandlers of Los Angeles who once owned The Times. "I never had to shoot my gun, just yell and chase people off."

Eventually her family moved away. It operated a horse ranch for children for several years. Later, Chandler worked part time as a ranch hand, took care of her ailing mother and, until a year ago, provided full-time care for an elderly man.

She didn't think of the gun and badge again until Saturday, when she caught a man illegally parking his Hummer in a handicap zone in Aliso Viejo.

"I told him he couldn't park there," Chandler recalled, "and he said I was harassing him and he would call the cops. I pulled out my cellphone and said, 'No, I'm gonna call the cops on you.' "

Three sheriff's deputies arrived and promptly issued the man a $425 citation. But the reaction of one of them, Chandler said, gave her pause. "It was the expression on his face when I told him that I still had my badge and gun," she said. "I thought, hmm, maybe I should do something about that."

In the letter she wrote to the newly appointed Hutchens two days later, the erstwhile sheriff's deputy explained: "I was never, ever, contacted to turn in my badge. I do not believe it was done in those days, but I hear that now you have to turn it in."

County officials said they plan to put the badge and gun on display. Records show that Chandler was indeed sent a letter in 1975 regarding the matter, but that it was returned undelivered. And though he couldn't confirm that Chandler was the county's first female deputy, department spokesman John McDonald said officials knew of no other contenders.

Chandler said she felt especially comfortable turning her badge and gun over to Orange County's first female sheriff. "It's pretty darn exciting," she said. "I'm proud that men and women are working together."

Hutchens had been quietly sworn in as sheriff earlier in the day during a small, private ceremony. A public swearing-in ceremony is planned for next week.

At Thursday's gun and badge ceremony, where more than 20 division commanders and assistant sheriffs sang "Happy Birthday" to Chandler and gave her a cake, the former deputy shook Hutchens' hand. "I think it's pretty remarkable," the new sheriff said. "This is a piece of our history; she'll always be part of the department."

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david.haldane@latimes.com

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