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Dallas Police Honor Legendary Detective 50 Years After Historic Role In JFK Assassination

An iconic Texas lawman in a white hat was honored at Dallas Police headquarters Tuesday. Former Dallas police detective JamesLeavellewas recognized 50 years after the assassination of President John Kennedy catapulted him into history. 

In November, 1963, JamesLeavelle’sjob as a Dallas Police detective made him part of history. 

“Detective James R.Leavelle, badge number 736 – we have 10,000 badge numbers now – so this is quite a low badge number, was one of the lead detectives assigned to investigation the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as well as the murder of Dallas Police officer JD Tippit,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown explained.

He was the first to interrogate suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald after his arrest at the Texastheatrein Oak Cliff. AndLeavellewas handcuffed to Oswald two days later when Jack Ruby shot Oswald in the basement of police headquarters: that moment captured in a Pulitzer Prize winning photo.Leavelleis the big man in the white hat.

“He was the kind of guy that was made of iron," Jim Ewell said as he recalled his experiences as a Dallas Morning News reporter on the police beat in 1963.  "And he could go through the door first.  If they had to crash in on a next of robbers,Leavellewould be one of the first inside. He was that kind of guy.”

Chief Brown presentedLeavellewith the Police Commendation Award and named the department’s annual Detective of the Year award after him.

“Being the chief and being able to recognize such an iconic figure is just special,” Brown told a large crowd of invited guests.

Leavelletold the gathering there were other officers more deserving, but he said he always tried to be the best cop he could be after he joined the force in 1950.

“Occasionally I would hear an officer say I was looking for a job and I found this one. To me that officer didn’t belong in the department because he didn’t have the department’s interest in his heart,” Leavelle said.

Before grabbing his white hat,Leavellethanked those who had come to honor him, including longtime friends who made history with him.  

“So I thank each and everyone of you.  And God bless you,” he said, smiling at the standing ovation.  

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

BJ Austin / KERA News

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BJ Austin has more than 25 years of broadcast journalism experience, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.