Ed McGowan is a kid person. Given half a chance, he’ll beam with pride in his own four sons and two grandchildren, or his time coaching Little League or helping out as a Montesano High School Football Booster.
He’s less inclined to talk about his work helping countless children as a Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office detective specializing in child sex crimes.
“There was nobody better in the field he specialized in, working with abused victims, juvenile victims,” Undersheriff Dave Pimentel said. “There was no one better statewide. He’s just a caring, compassionate person that really loves kids. He was an advocate for children in Grays Harbor County whether it was on the job or off.”
But with the retirement of courthouse security director Dave Haller, McGowan has moved next door, taking over security at the Grays Harbor County Courthouse. He just finished his first week on the job.
“(After) 35.9 years over at the Sheriff’s Office — 29 years doing the exact same thing — it was kind of time for a change,” McGowan said.
“It’s a great fit for Ed because he’s such a people-oriented person, and he will be able to satisfy the needs of the judges and the elected officials and, most importantly, the public going to the courthouse on a daily basis,” Pimentel said. “I couldn’t think of a better person to replace Dave Haller than Ed McGowan because he’s such a people person. And also he’s a hundred feet away and he’s a great resource for us to draw upon in the event of a child victim case we need advisement on.”
Long tenure as detective
McGowan was a full-time student at Grays Harbor College working at Denny’s when he first thought of a law enforcement career. Officers with the Montesano Police Department Reserves would often come in to the restaurant.
“I’d cook them breakfast and we’d chit chat, and they talked me into joining the reserve,” he recalled.
He started with the Sheriff’s Office in 1978 and spent several years serving a rotation in the Grays Harbor County Drug Task Force, meth lab teams and other specialty teams. When the opportunity came up to do detective work, he found his niche.
“You can take the next two best officers in Grays Harbor County, and put them together with the number of felons they sent to prison, and McGowan sent more,” Pimentel said. “He sent more people to prison than any law enforcement officer in probably Grays Harbor County history. And in doing so, he made our community a much better and safer place to live because he was sending the sexual predators to prison where they belong. He truly was putting the tax dollars to good use by making our community a much better and safer place.”
Officers can rotate through for shorter periods, but the Sheriff’s Office has two permanent detective positions.
“When you have a constant rotation, sometimes, depending on where you’re at in your rotations, you might have a couple detectives have a major crime come down, and pretty much everybody’s new,” McGowan said. “We worked together so often when we did have a major homicide or something, we didn’t really have to say, ‘Go do this,’ or ‘Go do that.’ We just did it.”
Darren Wallace has taken over McGowan’s role as detective.
“He’s filling huge shoes,” Pimentel said.
Chief Criminal Deputy Steve Shumate had high praise for McGowan. A neighbor and friend, Shumate also supervised McGowan for about a decade as detective sergeant.
“I can’t say enough about how caring of an individual he is,” Shumate said. “It’s the reason he’s done so well at the child interviews that he’s had to deal with over the years. I have not met someone that is better than him, he’s just able to get down to the level of the victim kids.”
“He just had that ability as well to speak with those individuals who offended, and he made them feel at ease,” he continued. “It would be fair to say what some of these individuals did was reprehensible, but Ed was able to make them feel like they were still human beings. And because of that a lot of them confessed to what they did, and in a lot of situations, we didn’t have to go to trial and traumatize that child again. He is not a person that we as an agency are going to be able to replace.”
Securing the future
McGowan has been part of virtually every major case on Grays Harbor in the past quarter-century, from the Brian Bassett murders to the abduction of Lindsey Baum.
“Most of the ones that stand out are the gruesome ones or the kids ones, and I try to think of more positive things,” he said.
His pursuit of positivity is part of what kept him in detective work. His sons, Adam, now 36, Kelly, 34, Chaise, 32, and Jake, 30, were getting older and active in numerous sports. The relative regularity of a detective’s schedule allowed him to be there for them.
His dedication as a father may have helped him in a mentally and emotionally tough career.
“The state recommends nobody spend more than three years doing those type of crimes because of the nature of the crimes, and Ed spent 26, 27 years doing it,” Pimentel said.
“He was just so good at it, it was hard to try to pull him away from it,” Shumate said.
All four sons graduated college, McGowan notes with pride.
“Quite an accomplishment in a one-income family,” Pimentel added. “Ed was the type of guy that always went without so that his boys could have.”
“If you were stranded in Pocatello, Idaho, and you had one quarter in your pocket, he’s the guy you’d call for help,” Pimentel added. “You’re not going to meet a nicer person.”
Now he’s bringing his dedication and energy to the courthouse.
“It’s been interesting, it’s definitely a change of pace,” he said. “There are a different set of things that I have to do.”
On his first day, McGowan set about installing cameras that now monitor the main areas of the courthouse. He hopes to install more soon, as well as some outside the jail building.
“One of the issues we have is this is a historical building, so you’re not really supposed to be drilling holes and running power except in specfic areas,” McGowan said.
He tweaked the weapons policy as well. They’ve always been prohibited in the courthouse, and after the security checkpoint was set up in 2011, officers could store pocket knives and miscellaneous items people might forget they had in their pockets.
“For some reason people are more upset when they’re leaving than when they’re getting here, and then you’re handing a knife to a person who’s upset,” he observed.
Now, officers will ask people to take any prohibited items back to their cars before entering the building.
Perhaps the most important addition will be the adoption of security protocols.
“It’s a slow process. We’re not trying to be real intruisive or anything else, we’re trying to make it so it’s the safest environment possible, and hopefully we’re going to prevent a future incident,” McGowan explained.
Outside of work, he and his wife of 37 years, Sue, are looking forward to major upgrades to their Brady-area home. With the help of Shumate, a former contractor, McGowan recently finished the construction of a shop.
The McGowans also enjoy Skyping with their children and grandchildren, visiting when they can, and taking their dog, Sandy, to the beach.