End of Watch: The Death of Clint Rigby

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Escambia County, Florida District Four Constable – September 4, 1955

In Escambia County, Florida, there existed for many years constables. They had arrest powers, worked throughout the county, and were elected. But…what were they? Why did they exist? Were they necessary?

A constable was an elected law officer with arrest powers much like a deputy sheriff has. But they didn’t work for the sheriff – they worked for the Justice of the Peace. Neither position exists today, being abolished by an amendment to the state constitution on January 1, 1974.

In short, the Justice of the Peace position was in place to allow men of common sense to hear cases between parties, to arrest law violators (mostly misdemeanants) and to handle civil cases. The constables served as the “policeman” for the justice of the peace. The constable served warrants and civil papers issued by the justice, and they patrolled their areas of the county for law violators. Both were elected positions. Both were a throwback to the old ways of handling things – kinda neighborly.

Clint Rigby was part of north Escambia County. Part of his childhood was spent on Wards Mill Road, and part in McDavid. In 1923, 26-year-old Rigby was appointed Justice of the Peace in northern Escambia County, impressive, considering his age. He was obviously highly regarded. In 1926, he began serving as a deputy sheriff. He served in that capacity for ten years. Then he threw his hat in the ring for Constable, an elected position. Not that it was hard. He was the perfect man for the job. And he was elected.

On April 10, 1937, Nick Owsley was arrested by Constable Rigby for shooting and killing Earl Nelson, his best friend with his .38 revolver. Upon questioning Owsley, Rigby was told the shooting was an accident as he was showing his gun to Nelson. When Rigby interviewed Nelson on his death bed, he confirmed the accidental shooting. So, Owsley was in the clear, right? Not so fast.

Owsley forgot to mention the other guy he shot. Apparently, Owsley and Nelson were earlier in “Grady Johnson’s Place,” a bar just south of the Alabama/Florida line, in Century. Owsley got into an argument with Walter Simmons over a woman. Owsley pulled his .38 and shot twice. One hit the juke box, showering coins over the floor, and the other hit Simmons in his “vital parts,” according to the report in the April 11, 1937, edition of the Pensacola News Journal. Constable Rigby had already gotten this information when he interviewed Owsley, who went to jail.

58-year-old W. C. Rigby was an icon in rural northern Escambia County. He had served the community as constable for 20 years. Everyone in northern Escambia County, Florida knew and respected him. They knew two things about him. He was always there to help and serve, and he was a strict enforcer of the law.

But Clint Rigby was not only a lawman. He was a husband and a daddy. He and his wife, Aggie had five children, Hayette, Maleze, Wanda, Verdelia, and Jean.

He began as a constable at 38 years old in 1935. During World War II, he was one of the few lawmen in that part of the county. He was still at it at 11:15 on the night of September 3, 1955[1].

Byrneville, Florida

Byrneville, Florida is a small community in Escambia County, in the northwest corner of Florida. At 11:15 on the night of September 3, 1955, he was patrolling in Byrneville, west of Century on Highway 4 when a car driven by 27-year-old Clarence Odom of Uriah, Alabama swerved over into his lane and headed straight for the constable. Rigby tried to swerve to miss him, but the car, travelling at a high rate of speed, slammed into him head-on! It then skidded 189 feet to a stop. Rigby’s car skidded 114 feet and ejected the constable onto the highway. The collision killed Odom at the scene. Constable Rigby was rushed to nearby Century Hospital with severe internal chest injuries. He died the next day[2]. He left behind his wife, Aggie, and five children, Hayette, Maleze, Wanda, Verdelia, and Jean.

Constable Rigby’s wife Aggie later became a matron at the Escambia County Jail and worked there many years, somewhat of an icon herself.

Thank you, Constable, for your sacrifice.

[1] Northescambia.com. http://www.northescambia.com/2022/12/ecsos-new-k-9-rigby-named-for-constable-killed-in-byrneville

[2] Officer Down Memorial Page. https://www.odmp.org/officer/18776-constable-william-clinton-rigby

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