A crowd of about 200 law enforcement officers, judicial officials and community members recently packed Bear Creek Smokehouse to celebrate longtime Department of Public Safety Sgt. Terence Helton as he retired after 33 years of faithful service.
“In law enforcement he’s just been outstanding, not only as a trooper but as a supervisor,” said Harrison County Sheriff Tom McCool. “The officers that worked for him truly respected him because he treated them with respect. It was a win-win. It was a benefit for both sides.
“He’s had an outstanding career with the Texas Department of Public Safety,” the sheriff said.
After attending Wiley College, Helton joined DPS in 1986, reporting to his first duty station in Canton.
His career was inspired by his father, Malcolm, who started as a city police officer, became a captain for the sheriff’s department and retired as a sheriff’s investigator after a 30-year stint in law enforcement.
Helton was also influenced by David O’Neal, who was a DPS officer he met while working at Safeway grocery store as a sacker in 1981.
O’Neal, who retired from the agency in 2007, remembers when the then teenaged Helton approached him about his ambitions.
“I worked security at Safeway when I was a trooper here,” said O’Neal. “He came up to me one day while I was working and said he wanted to become a trooper one day. I told him he needed to go ahead and get his college education and once he got his college to come see me.”
O’Neal said the two stayed in touch and following college, he became Helton’s mentor, helping him fill out his application for DPS. He also supported Helton’s journey through recruit school.
“It’s a very grueling school, about 26 weeks,” O’Neal said. “So I encouraged him over the time he was in recruit school and helped him study.”
Throughout his career, Helton worked at various duty sites, and ultimately returned home to District 1B, where he retired as sergeant, overseeing the Harrison and Panola County locations.
“My first duty station was Canton. I stayed there a year and I moved to Longview,” Helton recalled. “I stayed there for two years and got back home to Marshall in ’89 and stayed here until 2003; and I was promoted to sergeant, and they sent me to Center.
“I stayed in Center for three years until 2006 and transferred back home and this is where I completed my career,” he said.
His honors during his career include receiving the G.O. Cooper Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award at the Greater Marshall Chamber of Commerce’s annual Law Enforcement and Firefighter Appreciation Banquet.
O’Neal said he’s proud of his mentee and the modeled officer he became.
“He’s a pillar of the community, in my opinion,” said O’Neal, noting how Helton also involved himself in other activities including FFA and 4H with his kids.
“He’s just got such good integrity,” O’Neal continued, sharing how Helton’s also active in his church. “He’s just a fine, good Christian man, family man.”
“He was a mentor to a lot of troopers, molded them into being good officers,” said O’Neal, sharing how he helped promote many of them. “There’s a lot of people’s lives he’s affected positively.”
O’Neal said he was even proud to call Helton his sergeant for a short period.
“I felt like he was like my son,” said O’Neal. “I love him like a son. My wife and I both are just so fond of him and his family, his kids. He’s just a wonderful person.”
Helton’s father is also in awe of his achievements.
“I am immensely proud of my son,” said Malcolm Helton. “He is an exceptional law enforcement professional whose work ethic reflected our core values of ‘protect and serve.’”
Harrison County Court-at-Law Judge Joe Black said Helton has been someone he’s always admired.
“He’s been one of those people I’ve looked up to for my entire life,” said Black.
“I’ve known him since I was about 8 years old when he started working for my grandfather back in the ‘70s and he’s always done an excellent job,” said Black, recalling how Helton would assist with the animals at Black’s grandfather’s veterinarian office.
“He’s been exemplary in everything he’s done,” Black continued. “He’s one of those people you respect, admire and look up to … and you hope a lot of young people will do the same.”
Black, who is also a former prosecutor, said when he got the chance to return to Harrison County to work here as the district attorney, he witnessed the regard shown for Helton.
“You can see how much his fellow troopers respected him and admired him,” Black said. “He was always there to help them, teach them and work alongside them.”
“He’s one of those guys that make an impression on you for your entire life and you don’t forget him,” said Black. I’m glad to say we’ve been friends for that long.”
McCool said he’s happy for Helton in his retirement. He’s known the sergeant for most of his life.
“I watched him grow up over the years,” McCool said. “Terence always had great character about himself even when he was a youngster. He was always such a very polite and well-mannered young man and he remained so throughout his entire career.”
McCool said even as a teen at Safeway, Helton exhibited such strong leadership skills that everybody mistook him for the manager.
“He was basically running the store in a matter of months,” said McCool.
“I knew as a very young man that he would succeed in life at whatever he chose to do,” the sheriff said. “A lot of that comes from the way you’re raised. So I have to give his mother and father a great deal of credit. They certainly did a great job with him.
“His father was an outstanding law enforcement officer back when there were very, very few black officers in Texas … and he was exactly the same way,” McCool added. “He was very courteous, very polite and he was very, very well respected by everyone that worked with him. And Terrence was very much the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree.”
“I’m just so happy for him,” the sheriff said of Helton’s retirement.
O’Neal echoed his sentiments.
“He deserves a good retirement and to just enjoy life,” said O’Neal.
Helton said the most gratifying part of his career was being able to help people who were in dire need, from the person who needed assistance with a flat tire to the individual that needed help in recovering stolen property.
Even when it came to the task of writing tickets as a trooper, he found it rewarding to change a seemingly unpleasant situation into a positive experience.
“A lot of times, your job, it entails you to write tickets and that’s something that people really don’t want,” said Helton. “When you get a chance to visit with them and you meet with them and you can turn an unpleasant experience into a pleasant experience (it’s gratifying).
“Even though they got a ticket, a lot of times they still left happy,” he shared. “They were pleasant with a good taste in their mouth.”
As a sergeant, he strived to ensure his staff was well equipped with whatever they needed, and found satisfaction in making sure that duty was fulfilled. Helton said he also found it rewarding to have the opportunity to be a counselor in the class of DPS recruits, which are new employees.
An unforgettable moment that sticks out the most in his career was being a part of the capture of a most wanted terrorist suspect, who was passing through Marshall in 2001.
According to a Sept. 19, 2001 News Messenger article of the event, the driver of a vehicle on the FBI’s Watch List was arrested the day before after being stopped for speeding on U.S. Highway 59. The driver, 37-year-old Abdul Rasheed’s name was on the FBI’s material witness list related to terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
State troopers had stopped him in front of Walmart for speeding. He was driving a taxi with Illinois license plates and troopers thought he was acting suspicious.
Troopers also found a map of the United States in the trunk with red pins marking at least 100 locations on the map. Checking the license plate, the taxi showed up on a FBI list of vehicles to look out for. The terror suspect was arrested and taken to the DPS office to await the arrival of FBI agents.
The capture was a victory Helton will never forget.
As he retires, Helton said he’ll miss the people he works with the most.
“They become family,” he said, sharing how much time they spend together.
He plans to enjoy his retirement and is looking forward to spending more time with his family and grandchildren.