Jim Harrington, who died June 6, was a tall man – both literally and as a figure in the law enforcement community, town of Bayfield and La Plata County.
“It seemed like at least a good head above me,” said John Ball, a friend of 40 years, about his first impression of Harrington. “He kind of had to roll up and unwind to get out of a patrol car.”
Harrington was the Bayfield town marshal from the mid-1990s to the end of 2009. He also worked as a criminal investigator and officer in California and La Plata County. After retiring from the Bayfield Marshal’s Office at the end of 2009, he went to work as a federal investigator for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Division of Gaming.
“I was always told I had big shoes to fill,” said Joe McIntyre, current Bayfield town marshal. His immediate predecessor, Chris Choate, said the same, calling Harrington a “giant” in law enforcement in the Southwest.
“Anytime you talk about law enforcement in Bayfield, Jim’s name at some point in time would come up,” McIntyre said. “(His death) leaves a huge hole for the community, not just the marshal’s office.”
Harrington was at a social gathering where he was going to officiate a vow renewal ceremony for friends June 6 when a branch fell and hit him because of high winds, said La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith. Many also remembered a near-fatal horseback riding accident in 2013. His head injury in that accident was exacerbated by a medical shunt he received after a previous fall on ice.
After his death, law enforcement and first response agencies posted to social media to mourn Harrington and remember his impact on the community.
“Any law enforcement officer ... has serious life-changing contacts with the public, whether they’re the victim or the guy in the backseat going to jail. The effect you have on their lives is forever,” Ball said.
Ball and Harrington worked together tracking down air smuggling cases, huge marijuana grows and cocaine traffickers. It was an unwritten understanding that Harrington would die for Ball if he had to, and Ball would do the same, he said.
“After the things we’ve been through, and all of the dangerous ‘That could’ve got me’ situations, to get killed by a damn tree – it’s just unbelievable,” Ball said.
Outside of law enforcement, Harrington was a cowboy, fisherman, hunter and active family man. Harrington’s wife, Robin, worked for the Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years, and his son, Luke, is currently employed there. He is also survived by his children, Patrick, John and Savana, their spouses and seven grandchildren.
“I cannot remember ever being in his presence without him making me smile, no matter what the circumstance was. He was the kind of person who just lit up a room,” said Dan Bender, former spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office.
Ball said “outstanding” wasn’t enough to describe him, and McIntyre called him an icon.
“People will never remember what you say to them, but they will never forget how you treated them,” Ball said. “(Jim) walked the walk and lived the talk. That’s the way he was.”