30 years and counting: A life of service to Carter County

Published 8:45 am Monday, June 24, 2019

When Lieutenant Michael Fraley stood before the Carter County Commission to receive recognition, he said it was an honor, but if you asked child Fraley what he wanted to be when he grew up, police officer was not even on the list.

“My dad was an officer for 36 years,” Fraley said. “I wanted to be an architect.”

An architect’s career is what he pursued throughout his education, eventually moving away from Elizabethton to a town in North Carolina in order to do so, which is where he made friends with local officers.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

These officers often had stories to tell about their days on the force, and as those relationships continued, Fraley said he changed his mind about his career choice.

“I was a restaurant manager at the time, and friends would come in several days a week,” he said. “The more I listened, the more I wanted to give it a shot.”

He then moved back to Elizabethton, signing on with the Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff at the time, William Crumley, had worked with Fraley’s father in the past.

Three decades later, Fraley works as a training officer, sharing his experiences with new recruits and making sure everyone has both the supplies and required training hours they need to stay on the force.

“The law requires 40 hours of training a year,” he said. “I also handle all the equipment everyone needs.”

He said no two days are the same in this line of work, and the job is always changing as technology and new standards continually enter the picture.

“I started in 1989, and there were about 20 employees,” Fraley said. “Now there are over a hundred.”

Fortunately, Fraley is not alone in handling over 100 employees by himself. He said he has several supervisors who help him out, meaning he really manages about six employees at a time most days, but he said even the times he works with the young officers directly are enjoyable.

“I enjoy working with younger officers,” Fraley said. “I can pass along my knowledge to them.”

This knowledge comes from roughly three decades of experience in the force, experience he said is filled with examples of mistakes to avoid, whether it be minor mistakes that turn into an inconvenience or major ones that can get you killed.

He said he had a brush with the latter five years into his career.

He said he had just come back from vacation, and one of the first shifts since coming back to work was a call to Hampton about an “irate individual.”

“I had the mentality of ‘he will be gone by the time I get there,’” Fraley said.

Fraley was mistaken, and the trouble started as soon as he exited the vehicle.

“As soon as I shut the car door, he began firing,” he said.

Fraley said because he thought this was not going to be serious, he was not wearing body armor. The first shot went into his right arm, then the chest and then the stomach.

He said the individual died in a gunfight 20 to 25 minutes later, and Fraley made a full recovery, but he said he had learned his lesson.

“You have to prepare for when something will happen, not if it will happen,” Fraley said. “I probably did a lot of things wrong, but the good Lord looked after me.”

In addition, he said he teaches other officers to think situations through before they even arrive on the scene, so they are better prepared for what they might need to do once that situation occurs.

“It is a mindset,” Fraley said. “You prepare yourself mentally every day.”

He said at the end of the day, the goal is to come home to their families alive and well.

That 30 years of service and experience was what the Sheriff’s Department showcased when the county commission passed a resolution to honor him for his service.

“It was a great surprise and a great honor,” Fraley said.