60 Seconds With Mike Yeager
by Clay Neely
Is there a personal philosophy that has led you to where you are today?
One thing I learned growing up was to always treat other people in the way that you would want to be treated and I follow that to this day. Over here, you have people coming through our doors, under arrest or have family members who may have violated the law. You still want to treat them with respect. Many years ago as an investigator, I was called out for a shooting one night and we came to find out it was her ex-husband who had shot her and he had always told her “I will kill you.” She lived alone and worked second shift. She came back from work and he was hiding in the bushes. He comes out on her, she screams and he shoots her and kills her instantly. Just senseless. They’d been divorced for a number of years. We found him at a relative’s house and then we got the murder weapon and he was very cooperative with me. I said “come on, lets go” and we went out to my car where he starts to get in the back and I said, “No, just get in the front.” We talked all the way back to the station. We came in the office, talked some more, I got his statement, took him downstairs and turned him over to the jail, for the charge of murder. When I turned to go he said “thank you.” I said “for what?” He says “for being nice.” You know, “I’m just doing my job.”
The jail officers said “wow, you’re really calm” but I said “nah, I’d like to tear him limb from limb for such a senseless murder but what’s done is done.” By just being calm, the guy gave me a complete statement and plead out. I remember going home to my wife so agitated over a senseless murder. But if there’s any kind of philosophy, it’s that you get a lot further by being kind. I try to instill that in our own people here. It seems to make the water so much easier to sail in.
In your life, who would you say has made a significant impact on you?
Many people. I’ve had so many positive influences from in my life. My family is very big to me. As far as my job goes, there are a number of people who have guided me along my way. Even down to my first lieutenant from when I first started with the police department. My first lieutenant was Lieutenant Edgeworth and a lot of people might have said he was a crusty old bird but he gave me a lot of life lessons. He followed the same path of “treating others the way you want to be treated,” never spun yarns and was a very direct person. Growing up, my family knew Sheriff Massey and he was a friend of the family. When I chose to run for sheriff, Sheriff Massey lived close to the high school and he would be out walking in the evening. One evening, I asked him if I could join him. We would spend hours walking and talking, getting his philosophies on policing and that was a big factor with me. He was a real people person.
What would you consider to be your greatest success in your career?
To be elected as sheriff. That’s something. Back when I was a kid, I would have never dreamed I would be where I am today. I knew when I first got into law enforcement, I knew I wanted to do more. I worked with the city police for only a few years before I took a job with the Probation Department. Intensive Probation Supervision. I worked closely with Bill Larkin as a team and I was able to see the opposite side of the fence. In law enforcement, you're trying to put them in jail. In probation, you’re trying to keep them out. I did that for five years and the reality of it was that I saw there wasn’t a lot of change in some folks. Now, people can change, don’t get me wrong but I just had the desire to get back into law enforcement. The opportunity came for me that allowed me to get back into investigation and I rose to a captain before running for sheriff in 1992. I get people asking me about running for Congress or Senate; is this your last term? Many years ago, I made the mistake of saying that one day when I retire, I would like to look at doing something on another level like the State House or State Senate — going to Atlanta. But now, doing something on that level as the years have gone by? No. It’s a whole different ballgame than it was years ago.
I like what I’m doing here. I had a college professor from years ago tell me when I left the city to work for probation, “You’re not going to be happy.” I said, “What do you mean? This is a great opportunity for me.” He said, “You’re better geared for the work that you like to do,” and he was right. After five years of working for the state, I was more geared toward the investigations and police work. If you’re not happy doing with what you’re doing, it's time to go find something that makes you happy. I tell people, “I’m happy. I enjoy what I do. I look forward coming to work.” My wife is on me to take time off but I enjoy the people I work with and its still fun and as long as it continues to be fun, I will keep working.
I always tell people that “you can learn something new every day.” It can be from a book, the news, the internet or just from someone you talk to. You can always learn something new. On that last day I when leave my job and retire, on the last day that I shut this office door, I can say that I learned something today. You’ve got to keep that mind open.
What would you say is your greatest passion?
My family. I’m married to a sweetheart who just retired and our two kids. We have a daughter who graduated from Auburn and now lives in Birmingham and our son just started his second year at Auburn. I still can’t figure out how they both wound up there since we both went to school in Georgia (laughs) but we’re very happy with Auburn. It’s far away enough for them to feel independent but close enough to go down there and get my hands on them if I need to. They’re what drive me.