After former Winnemucca Police Chief Wright's death from cancer last month, The Sun asked those who worked with him what they remembered.
WPD Captain Pam Coats was new to law enforcement when she joined the Winnemucca Police Department in 1993. Coats worked for only a short time under Chief Roger Peterson, before he was replaced as chief by Don Wright, who served from 1994 – 2000.
“He was very knowledgeable,” Coats said, “a good leader and smart; he had a wealth of knowledge and experience. I learned so much from him because I was a brand new cop. He was so tactical-minded.”
Coats, who used to be on the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team with Wright, remembered the training exercise pictured above. The team was given permission to use an old house that was going to be torn down as a training facility.
“We were practicing dynamic entries,” Coats said. “Don was right there with us; he liked to be right in the middle of everything.”
Wright hired WPD Lieutenant Dave Garrison in 1999.
Garrison and several others who worked with Wright, mentioned a practice the former chief had of driving around town and just looking for suspicious activity.
“We used to call it, 'the Chief is out driving the tank today,'” said Garrison. “He would go out patrolling with Sheriff Gene Hill and dig up stuff and then call patrol and tell them what to go check out.”
Garrison said Wright would go out and find drug deals, he would show up when law enforcement was called on reports of domestic violence. “Any type of call — if he was working — there was a good chance he would show up on your call,” Garrison said.
Wright also hired recently-retired police chief Eric Silva, who agreed, “Don was a great chief; he was never afraid to get involved in hot calls; I recall a couple of foot pursuits where he was right there with me.”
Detective Matt Morgan was hired by Wright in 1994. “He knew what we were going through and always wanted to be in the middle of it.”
Morgan, Garrison and Coats all talked about the famous “Wright reprimand.”
“He most certainly let you know when you were in trouble,” said Morgan. “But once he did, he would never mention it to you again, there was no lingering animosity or things being held against you. He was up-front.”
Garrison remembered getting in trouble with Wright for making an unauthorized comment to the press. “I made some offhanded comment that got printed in the paper and attributed to me,” Garrison said. “I got called into the chief's office and he literally threw the newspaper at me and asked when I'd been promoted to chief. He proceeded to chastise me, then stopped almost mid-sentence and said, 'Alright that's done — let's go get some coffee.'”
Coats remembered a day she was mad over someone taking credit for one of her investigations. “I said something I probably shouldn't have and walked out without being dismissed. He came to me and said, 'If you ever act like that again, you'll be fired for insubordination.' He reprimanded me, then all was immediately good again.”
Morgan said Wright had a unique sense of humor and an 'old school' way of doing things. “He loved police work and he loved cops. That kind of a chief is nice to work for. If you did right, you knew he'd stand behind you and if not, you knew he'd yell at you — then it'd be over.”
Former WPD Captain Rick Waldie, who is still an auxiliary officer, said Wright was the first chief he worked for. “Don was a good boss and I learned a lot about the job from him. Don promoted me to Sergeant in 1997 and I learned to be a supervisor under Don's watch. He was proactive about training and giving officers the skills to be successful leaders — and he was a lot of fun to work for.”
Waldie said Wright pushed hard for good equipment for the troops. “The officers and their safety were important to Don; he always had the officers and their best interest at heart.”
Waldie remembered, “You could get a phone call from Don at midnight. He always knew everything that was going on. He was a boss who was really hard to surprise.”
Nancy Johnson was executive secretary and administrative assistant for seven police chiefs, including Don Wright. She remembers Wright when he started as an officer with the department.
“He came over from Fallon in the latter part of 1981,” she said. “One of the first cases he solved was that of a homeless man who was found dead down by the river. He went to Salt Lake and lived in homeless camps to look for leads and solve that case.”
When a local bank manager, Joe Jamello was strapped with explosives by a bank robber, Johnson said Wright drove by the bank and when he saw Jamello in a coat, he got suspicious. “His observation and quick action kept anything bad from happening that day,” she said.
“When a young girl was kidnapped by a pedophile near a local school, he was right on it. It was because he was so fast that they were able to recover that young lady,” Johnson said.
Former City Manager and Engineer Steve West remembered a lot of good years with Don as Chief. “He kept the department on an even keel and morale was good under Don; I considered him a friend.”
“He never stopped being a street cop,” Garrison summarized. “He had the heart of a street cop.”