Trooper was motivator, hard worker, friend
Hours before John Martin Harris died in the line of duty, the state trooper was in the gym sharing photos of an ecstasy bust he’d made the day before with fellow law enforcement officers.
Robbie Sanders, assistant chief of the Madison Police Department, was in the gym with Harris and others Friday morning.
Sanders had previously worked with Harris at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office but their paths crossed many times working on drug interdiction in the Jackson metro.
The two were more than professional colleagues, they were friends.
“In the gym that morning he was showing us a picture of a load of ecstasy he had gotten the day before,” Sanders said. “He had gone down on I-55 just outside of McComb. We were going to work a detail (Friday) night and he was going to come out and work with us.”
Sanders said what happened next is something that he’s always going to remember.
“We had finished working out and he hugged every single one of us and told us he loved us before he left,” Sanders said.
Harris and Sanders’ friendship began in the mid-2000s, when the two were working together as deputies.
“We worked highway interdiction and K-9s together,” Sanders said, adding that Harris had a knack for finding vehicles hauling drugs.
Harris would transition from the Madison SO to the Richland Police Department and they would work in concert together on I-20. After Richland, Harris attended trooper school and came back to Madison County.
“He was a motivator,” Sanders said. “You could go to work and not really be into it that day and then get around him and five minutes later you were ready to go.”
Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker said Harris worked as a patrol deputy when he first joined the department in 2004 before transitioning to K-9 work directly under him.
“He was that class clown, life-of-the-party type of guy,” Tucker said. “He was the loudest voice and biggest smile. He could drive you absolutely crazy and turn around and make you absolutely proud of him. I’ve never been so mad and so happy at a person in a 24-hour period. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Tucker said there were too many stories to tell, but one that sticks out was the time Harris was shot while responding to a call on Highway 16 north of Canton.
Tucker said that Harris was standing in the driveway of a house when this man came out with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot.
“I remember John didn’t scream, he didn’t really yell out,” the sheriff recalled. “He had a few choice words and took off running behind the car.”
Tucker said Harris was mad the guy shot him, but at the same time was justifying it.
“If I was in the guy’s position, I would have probably shot me too,” Harris said, according to Tucker.
Sanders, too, said there were so many stories to tell, but one that sticks out in his mind was when they were working one shift together and Harris wanted to head out to Highway 49 instead of I-55.
“He always wanted to go to Highway 49,” Sanders began. “I told him every time we go to 49 we either get in a pursuit or we wind up having to fight somebody. So, we go over there anyway, and we stop this woman and she refused consent. I got my dog out and he alerted to the trunk. There was 5 pounds of weed in the trunk. We go to arrest her and we ended up having to fight her.”
Sanders said they eventually got the woman in custody and the three were sitting on the side of the highway catching their breath.
“I looked at him and he just busted out laughing,” Sanders said. “He was solid. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life.”