Everyone has a story.
Each week, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal’s Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person — someone
well-known, influential, or successful — and asks, “What’s Your Story?”
By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Services
That’s how many Shreveport women – especially those in the Highland neighborhood – lived their lives for 10 months in 1980 and 1981. A serial rapist, known as the “Highland Rapist,” terrorized the otherwise peaceful area.
Steve Prator, then with the Shreveport Police Department, was the lead detective on the case.
“I would go home and sleep for a few hours at a time. We had different teams that I would have assigned out there. I would actually be working with them …. We had SWEPCO trucks and taxi cabs that we had borrowed. We had detectives and police officers on bicycles, and joggers, in the neighborhood undercover.”
Around 1 a.m. on Sept. 7, 1981, Prator and his team were in the right place at the right time.
“He attempted to rape a woman, and she fought him off. She called us. It was off Dalzell Street, and we were close enough to the area that we surrounded it and started going block by block and alley by alley. We knew we pretty much had him cornered somewhere, then the K-9 flushed him out.”
Prator was one of the first people with whom the suspect came face to face.
“I was fortunate enough not to just investigate all these, but to actually be the one who chased him and laid hands on him as soon as we caught him.”
Forty years later, Prator still remembers the feeling when he “laid hands on him.”
“It’s ecstasy. It’s something you couldn’t explain. It’s more than just, ‘Hey, we caught him.’ It’s a lot more than that because you’re so invested in this thing. It dominates your whole thought process. It dominates everything.”
Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, who chose not to run for re-election and will retire next June, told me this story – part of his story – over a Monday lunch at Po-Boy Express. The sheriff doesn’t go to lunch often, so he asked me to choose the place.
“A lot of times, I’ll get chicken and eat on the tailgate of my truck for lunch, rather than going to a restaurant.”
And therein lies the foundation for Prator’s popularity. He’s a man of the people. When the 72-year-old leaves office, Prator will have been with the sheriff’s department 24 and a half years — all but six months of those as the elected sheriff. That popularity was evident while we were at lunch. Before taking our order, the lady at the counter told the sheriff how disappointed she was that he wasn’t running again, and how much she appreciated his service. While we were walking out of the restaurant, a couple stood up from their table to echo the same feelings.
“I feel like Cher on my farewell tour,” the sheriff told me, with a shy look and a humble voice.
Prator was born in Clarksville, Tenn., but grew up in Shreveport’s North Highlands area. “I loved my mom, too, but I was so close to my dad. He and I were just so close. He instilled all of my value systems and worth ethic.”
That work ethic was taught while Mr. Prator had a water well drilling company.
“I remember when I was 14 years old. There was about a 200-foot water line we had to dig. He dropped me off one morning and told me where it needed to go and how big to make it. He said, ‘I will be back this afternoon at five o’clock and I want it done.’ So, I had a sharpshooter shovel and directions on where to dig from point A to point B. I knew he expected it to be done. Plus, I wanted to make him proud. That’s the way I grew up.”
Young Prator got the job done – and on time.
After a year at C.E. Byrd High School, then graduating from Northwood High School, Prator went to college at LSU. But “getting an education was second. Having a good time was first.” So, after three years, he came home and finished at LSUS with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Prator didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but his father knew his son needed direction and structure. So, Mr. Prator pulled a string attached to then controversial police chief George D’Artois, which helped his son get hired by SPD.
“When I first got on, I was more scared of my partner than I was criminals. I had just come from college, sitting around the fraternity house watching football games, and (the movie) ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ had come out. I’m thinking all police are fat and stupid. That was the image of them for a college boy at the time.”
Thanks to “working hard and keeping your nose clean,” Prator climbed the ranks to be appointed chief of police. Along the way, Prator suffered the pain of a few broken noses, and drew his gun hundreds of times. But Prator never pulled – and still has never pulled – the trigger, in the line of duty.
“I don’t know of a single policeman worth his salt who ever wants to shoot somebody or wants to be involved in a deadly situation.”
After 27 years with SPD – eight years as chief – Prator set his sights on leading the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“When you’re the police chief, you have the city council telling you what to do. You have the mayor. You have the CAO (chief administrative officer). You’ve got so many different bosses. When you get to be sheriff, you’ve got 250,000 bosses, but each one of them is not telling you every day (what to do).”
Congressman Steve Prator?
When Jim McCreary decided in 2007 not to seek re-election to the United States Congress, Prator says the local Republican party asked him to run.
“In fact, the Speaker of the House (John Boehner) even called me. It was kind of like I was going through rush. Then there was a sheriff that caught the Green River Killer in Washington State. He got to be a congressman. They had him call me. I watched some C-SPAN, and they were talking about Medicare and Medicaid. I watched about three or four minutes, and I said, ‘This is bull____.’ I am not going to go up there and have to listen to this. I’ll be sound asleep.”
And then there’s the issue of reaching across the aisle.
“My dad raised me with the definition of diplomacy being able to say, ‘Nice doggie’ while you’re looking for a stick to kill him.”
Prator doesn’t plan on slowing down in retirement. When he wakes up, “I’m going to take a shower, get cleaned up, and go somewhere and do something. I’m going to be involved in something. That’s why I don’t watch sports on TV. I don’t want to see somebody else doing something. I want to do it.”
That “it” will likely involve reforming the justice system. Prator brought up the subject, his voice rising to accentuate his passion.
“You pull up at a red light and look over to your right or your left, and that person could very well be out on bond on a violent crime, and you don’t have any idea about it. That is wrong. There are too many cases which are diverted, dropped, dismissed, plea bargained, reduced – and it shouldn’t be like that.”
As our time together came to a close, I asked Sheriff Prator my final question. As always, what is it about his story that could influence others?
“Find your passion. Find your passion, or your North Star, as the book says, and pursue that. All else will fall in line … Until you do, you’re not going to be as happy as you could be. You might be happy, but you won’t be as happy and do as good as you could. If you’re looking for a profession, find out what your passion is, and do that.”
Steve Prator found his passion some 50 years ago – helping others. And we have been the beneficiaries.
Do you know someone who has a story to tell? Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com