FAIRFIELD — The top cop in 2013 among the 10 investigators with the Solano County District Attorney’s office was their boss, Supervising Investigator of the Bureau of Investigations Kurtis Cardwell.
Cardwell is a people person. His walks through the District Attorney’s office are usually interrupted by brief chats with coworkers, frequent smiles, laughs and sometimes a hug.
“I’m pretty sure it was pretty much just a farewell gesture,” Cardwell said recently. A timely farewell gesture. Cardwell’s last day on the job was Dec. 30, 2013. He spent 30 years in law enforcement in a career that began when Cardwell was barely beyond his teen years.
Cardwell, 50, grew up watching “Adam-12,” “Dragnet” and other cop shows on television. By the time he was 14, he signed on as a police cadet with the Fairfield police department before graduating from Fairfield High School in 1981. In 1984, Cardwell was hired as a dispatcher and clerk for the Solano County Sheriff’s Office and became a deputy sheriff two years later. In 1989, he saw his name pop up on a layoff list and decided it was time for a change.
Cardwell transferred over to the Suisun City Police Department, where he worked for 12 years, rising to the rank of sergeant before changing jobs for a 12-year stint with the D.A.’s office.
Ten years ago, with just a few years on the job in the D.A.’s office, Cardwell received similar kudos when top Solano County officials named him top law enforcement officer for 2003. That year Cardwell was a key player in bringing justice to an airman at Travis Air Force Base who randomly shot and killed two strangers on Utah Street and in an alley behind a Jackson Street bank. The killings came after the airman robbed an adult bookstore outside the base’s main gate for the second time in a week.
In 2008, when Fairfield City Councilman Matt Garcia was murdered, the killing drew intense scrutiny. With no obvious culprit in the investigation, a huge break in the case came with a phone call from one of two men who were eventually convicted of murder who wanted to turn himself into authorities. There are many ways the initial questioning of the suspect could have gone wrong, but it did not. One of the two investigators spearheading the questioning was Cardwell. His people skills, his ability to draw out the truth and discern fact from fiction was a skill he finely honed over 30 years in law enforcement.
The job of being an investigator for the District Attorney’s office is a hybrid law enforcement gig. There are no graveyard shifts patrolling the streets, just the occasional late night call out to an officer-involved shooting. Much of the workload is following up on details and changes in criminal cases after an arrest, but before the suspect is convicted. Tracking down witnesses and getting them to court, while at the same time helping facilitate prosecutors during complex trials, are tasks that usually fall into the normal familiar Monday-through-Friday workday.
Cardwell didn’t show much remorse over wrapping up a career in law enforcement. Instead of riding off into the sunset, he plans to ride off into a snowstorm. A few years ago, he bought some property in Idaho and he has not been shy about showing off the plans for the home he is going to build. He has already lined up a part-time job as a school bus driver to complement a life devoid of the day-to-day details of crime, crime victim and criminals.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.