Law enforcement is in Stewart Handte’s blood. The son of a U.S. Navy SEAL turned Washoe County Sheriff Deputy and a nurse; Handte said he grew up with the military and paramilitary discipline common to law enforcement families.
“Pretty much from when I was a little boy, from memory, all of my dad’s friends were cops,” Handte said in a phone interview. “I grew up around pretty much cops.”
While he was young, Handte heard his father and his father’s friends talk about how they could make a difference in the community and catch the bad guys.
“The more I heard that from when I was a little boy all the way up through high school and into college, the more I thought about how law enforcement was probably the chosen path for me,” he said.
Handte said he moved to Reno with his family in 1974, where he attended Wooster High School and took the first steps in a career that may culminate with a stint as the sheriff of Mineral County.
The 53-year-old graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno was offered the job as Mineral County Sheriff at a meeting of the Mineral County Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 20. If Handte passes a background check, he will be appointed to the position in the coming weeks.
When he graduated high school, Handte knew he wanted to work with the law, but at first a suit seemed preferable to a uniform.
“I was actually looking initially to go into law school, but it seemed back then, during the early [1980’s] that everybody and their brother was going to law school,” Handte said. “And I thought ‘well, let’s look at a different venue. Let’s look at the law enforcement profession itself.”
After graduating from UNR with a degree in Criminal Science, Handte was hired as a Nevada State Trooper. He graduated from the academy in June 1984 and entered the force.
During his time with the highway patrol he was stationed in Tonopah, Las Vegas and Reno.
During his posting to Reno in 1989, Handte found himself involved in a high-speed chase across the highways and surface streets of Reno.
“It was the early part of the day, really quiet, nothing going on,” Handte remembered of the day of the chase. “It was really kind of an eerily quiet day.”
The suspect in the case had just gotten out of jail and was on “enough methamphetamine to kill an elephant” when he was spotted casing houses in Sun Valley, a suburb of Reno, Handte said.
A Washoe County Sheriff Deputy responded and pulled the suspect over. As the deputy was walking to the car, the suspect pulled away, and the chase was on.
A second deputy tried to intercept the fleeing suspect.
They approached one another head-on and, as they both slowed, the suspect drew a revolver and shot at the deputy. The bullet struck the door of the deputy’s patrol car, and fragments of the door lodged in the deputy’s leg, Handte said.
After the deputy was injured, she reported she was shot, and then dispatchers lost radio contact with her, Handte said.
That was when Handte went into action.
Handte took over the pursuit because his was the only car around that could keep up with the suspects “souped-up old Monte Carlo,” he said.
Handte chased the suspect down U.S. Highway 395 at speeds reaching 125 miles per hour, and tore through surface streets as fast as 80 miles per hour.
“Of course he leveled the gun at me quite a few times during the pursuit,” Handte said.
He chased the suspect down Sun Valley Boulevard at over 100 miles per hour.
“There was a guy that was working on the signal light at 4th [Street] and Sun Valley [Boulevard], and the suspect drove right at him and shattered his ladder,” Handte said. “And for the grace of God, if he hadn’t heard the sirens and looked over his shoulder, he probably would have been killed.”
Shortly afterwards, the chase ended near where it began when the suspect took his own life, Handte said.
One of the things that drives Handte to continue his career is his passion for helping people.
“I enjoy going out and interacting with the public,” Handte said. “I enjoy going out there and doing the best that I can do in whatever position that may be and trying to make a difference in people’s lives.”
He also sits on the Northern Nevada DUI Task Force and speaks at the DUI Victims’ Impact Panel each month, he said.
Handte said he speaks at the panel because of the death of D.J. Bernardus, an 18-year-old Nevadan who was killed by a drunk driver.
Bernardus was “pretty much the all-American kid, he had everything in the world to live for,” Handte said.
“He was the best kid you could imagine and everybody loved him,” Handte said.
On his way home to celebrate his acceptance into the University of Notre Dame, where he was set to receive a full ride scholarship, a drunk driver slammed into the back of Bernardus’ car, killing him.
“I handled his accident, and I dealt with the two trials and the aftermath of those trials,” Handte said.
Bernardus’ death fueled Handte’s passion, and he was later invited to speak at the monthly victims impact panels.
Now Handte said he’s going to turn his passion to securing the streets of Hawthorne.
“I want to restore […] the fractured ties that exist within the community,” Handte said. “I want to get out there and make myself know. I want the community to know who I am, and vice-versa.”
Handte said he prefers proactive policing, and said he doesn’t like to sit behind his desk.
“I think it’s vitally important to go out and reestablish the position of sheriff in Mineral County.
Handte said his first order of business is to get the department on the same page. Then, he wants to make himself visible and speak with the various communities in the area.
“I want people to know who I am, and I want people to feel safe in the community,” Handte said. “If people don’t feel safe than obviously people aren’t doing their jobs. And I’m going to go to the community members and ask what they expect of the sheriff, too. I need public feedback. I need interaction between the community members and the Sheriff’s Department.”
Next he wants to build ties with “civic organizations” in the county, and then with other area law enforcement agencies, Handte said.
Handte said the main goal of policing is public safety, and called interacting with students at schools “vital.”
One of the more visible changes Handte plans to make is to spend time walking the community, and ask his deputies to do the same, to help build ties to the community.
“I don’t believe that by driving around in a squad car, I can be efficient in that aspect,” he said.
He also said he plans to walk the streets of Walker Lake, Schurz, Mina and Luning.
“That’s what I intend to do,” he said. “And I’m going to do it.”
Handte also said he wants the department to be well equipped and well trained; and that he hopes to foster a spirit of cooperation between deputies and management.
“You want your officers to be trained, prepared, disciplined, and working with the community members,” Handte said. “And that all can be accomplished by interacting together.
“I’m not going to stand here today and tell you that I’ve got all the answers to all the questions, but I’m going to tell you today that I’m going to go out there and to my best to make it a great place to work and live.”