Trading in his badge and uniform
A veteran lawman who recently retired from the Nevada Highway Patrol traded in his badge and uniform for … another badge and uniform.
Yerington native Mike Matheson spent more than 20 years — most of the time in Fallon — cruising Nevada’s highways as a trooper for the NHP in what he called his “dream job.” When Matheson retired from the agency, he didn’t waste too many days in retirement; instead, Matheson accepted a captain’s position with the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office. For Matheson, it was more than trading in the Nevada blue uniform for the Churchill County green. He received a strong taste of supervisory duties when serving in the NHP, and he had an opportunity to step into a manager’s role with the CCSO.
“After doing the acting sergeant’s role a few times, it wasn’t enough anymore,” Matheson said. “I heard of the opportunity here at the sheriff’s office and applied, and the sheriff (Ben Trotter) graciously gave me the opportunity to come to work over here.”
The transition went smoothly for Matheson, who was sworn in last month. He said the CCSO and the NHP work closely together, and when the retired trooper responded to a call for the NHP, Matheson considered the deputies who also responded as “his partners.”
“There is great teamwork,” Matheson said. “This is a small community, and all law enforcement officers know each other.”
Trotter also realized the experience this longtime trooper could bring to the CCSO.
“He is a well-rounded, contemplative and level-headed man with high moral and ethical standards and a dedication to making our jobs and, subsequently, our community better,” Trotter said. “I was extremely pleased and fortunate that Capt. Matheson agreed to join our team at the sheriff’s office. He is well-respected throughout the community, throughout law enforcement and within our agency and has seamlessly vested himself in the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office’s mission and goals.”
Although he never served in the armed forces, Matheson keeps a strack military appearance and is precise in his daily routine. As far as Trotter is concerned, the NHP did a solid job of nurturing Matheson’s thirst for becoming a leader. Matheson said his sergeants placed their trust in him to make critical decisions during his 20-year career in Fallon.
“One of the biggest things that I learned was that I had the ability to make my own decisions,” Matheson said of his sergeants. “They trusted me to make the right decision when we were out and to be your own boss. They were always there to support the decisions you made.”
As time passed, Matheson said he had a goal to become a sergeant; yet, he was happy to be on the road, traveling thousands of miles annually.
“I always enjoyed doing my job as a trooper … the day-to-day aspects always appealed to me,” he added.
Becoming an officer
Matheson, though, said the desire to become a police officer first took hold when he attended Yerington High School. After graduating in 1984, he attended Southern Utah University in Cedar City before transferring to the University of Nevada, Reno, and majoring in criminal justice. Afterward, Matheson returned to Yerington, where he became a reserve officer for the police department, and later he was hired full time. Matheson stayed with the Yerington Police Department for four years until the NHP accepted his application in April 1991.
Once Matheson completed his coursework at the academy, he moved to Elko for his first assignment, working a graveyard shift with another rookie trooper. Another big change occurred after Matheson arrived in northeastern Nevada to begin his career: Troopers transitioned from their service revolvers to semi-automatic handguns.
After a few years in Elko, Matheson, however, wanted to return to western Nevada to be closer to family. His next assignment … and his last, took him to Fallon.
“The memories I have here are with the people with whom I worked … I had great partners.” Matheson said, adding that he also worked for “great” sergeants beginning with Don Tuohy and finishing with Dave Cox, who assumed command of the Fallon District Office last summer for Tom Ames, now a lieutenant in Winnemucca.
“Mike brought a lot of camaraderie to us, and he was active in the community,” Ames recollected. “He was ‘spot on’ to his work ethic and was very fair to the community. He became a natural leader with the troopers and with the community.”
The supervisory bug
During the past three years, Matheson became an acting sergeant whenever Ames attended courses or meetings or took vacation. Soon, the supervisory bug hooked Matheson like a tenacious fisherman snaring the biggest fish out of Lahontan Reservoir. Matheson enjoyed the challenge.
“In the sergeant’s position, I would plan for the day, but all it takes is for one phone call and your entire plan for the day is shot and you’re reacting,” Matheson explained.
For the most part, though, Matheson said his career with the NHP was rewarding and every day was a “high point.” He never wanted to do anything else.
No one, though was both enthusiastic and sad for Matheson’s change of career. Cox, a Reno native who arrived in Fallon in August, had learned of Matheson’s interest in the captain’s position, which was opening because of Jon Haugen’s impending retirement. Cox remembers the first few days on the job on a hot August day.
“Mike greeted me and showed me the ropes on how Fallon worked,” Cox said. “I was new to the small-town personality. He made the transition from the city to a rural community completely painless.”
While he was happy for Matheson’s future, Cox said he dreaded his trooper’s departure.
“To be honest with you, I did not want to lose him or share him,” Cox said. “He is that invaluable to the organization. I am happy for him, though. We still know where to find him, and we’ll see him all the time. We have a great relationship with the sheriff’s department, and it will be even better with him there now.”
Close friend Trent Barnes and Matheson spent 19 years together as troopers. Barnes said Matheson’s experience will benefit the sheriff’s office.
“He’s a fair, personable guy, tremendously levelheaded, a voice of reason,” Barnes said. “When he would show up to an accident scene, he knew exactly what needed to be done.”
Barnes also revealed Matheson’s passion for the San Francisco Giants baseball team and his dedication to his family. The married father of two has a daughter still in high school and a son attending college.
“I think he would rather sit back and watch a Giants’ game,” Barnes said with a smile.
A natural leader
Sgt. Joe Winchester spent 17 years with Matheson before transferring to the Winnemucca district.
“He was a peer leader in the office,” Winchester said. We’d go to him if we had a problem and sit with him. We know it wouldn’t go anywhere. He was smart and had good common sense.”
Winchester said he was always impressed with Matheson’s ability to keep situations under control and to do the right thing at the right time.
Trooper Chuck Allen, spokesman for the NHP in the Northern Command-West, dealt with Matheson on a regular basis, especially when tragedies occurred.
“I frequently had the opportunity to work with Mike as one of the Fallon-based troopers, especially when I needed information about a terrible automobile crash or a significant arrest,” Allen recounted. “He has always been a very professional, approachable, and open-minded person and these qualities or traits are something I have always regarded with those who possess great leaderships skills.”
Allen said he is confident Matheson will continue to lead, mentor and motivate the deputies under his command at the CCSO in order to bring out their full potential talents.
Ames said Matheson’s leadership comes natural to him, and because of his experience in patrol and operations, the former trooper should do well in his new position. Ames said he was also a reference for Matheson when Trotter called.
“I said Mike was your go-to guy,” Ames said.
Furthermore, Ames said his longtime friend and colleague’s command will continue but has now expanded to the sheriff’s office.
Likewise, Lt. Andy McAfee said Matheson had been instrumental in helping Cox with the institutional supervision of the Fallon office, and he brings a solid presence to build an even stronger bond between the NHP and CCSO. Matheson also brings all that history and a good knowledge base (to the CCSO) added Capt. Susan Aller-Schilling, who oversees rural patrol operations, administration and dispatch for NHP Northern Command West.
“He is very calm and collected on any scene, and it doesn’t matter how chaotic,” she said. “He is a super nice person. His intentions are always good, and he has a good sense of humor.”
As he looks forward to his new duties, Matheson said he is now a student to a new system.
“There’s a lot to learn here, a lot of technology involved,” Matheson said. “There’s a lot of financial management in the position, and I am probably most comfortable with the personnel aspect. That is my strongest point.”
When he began his “new” career in local law enforcement, Matheson said he felt strange walking into the office in another person’s uniform.
“After 22 years, I go from blue to green uniforms. Even Yerington was blue,” he said, laughing.