New sheriff takes over ‘well-oiled machine’

Chris Newton (left) and Chad Hammel are the new sheriff and chief deputy, respectively, of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department. Newton takes over the sheriff’s role from Terry Stoffel, whom he served under for eight years as chief deputy of the sheriff’s department.
Chris Newton (left) and Chad Hammel are the new sheriff and chief deputy, respectively, of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department. Newton takes over the sheriff’s role from Terry Stoffel, whom he served under for eight years as chief deputy of the sheriff’s department. Photo by Steve Clark.

As Chris Newton’s tenure as sheriff of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department begins, he describes the department as a “well-oiled machine.”

He credits that to his predecessor, Terry Stoffel, whom he served under for eight years as the department’s chief deputy. Stoffel was a mentor to him during that time, shares Newton, and his tutelage prepared him for the opportunity to succeed him.

Last year, Newton got the chance to do just that when he was elected sheriff, taking over for Stoffel after a two-term tenure. Newton, a Republican, ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections.

The transition from Stoffel to him as sheriff has, as expected, been a smooth one, says Newton.

“I think I’m one of the first to come from the chief deputy’s position and move into the sheriff’s slot,” he observes, “and have such a good relationship with our sheriff.

“The guy coming in there really kind of had to figure it out on the fly. For me, Terry’s been very open.”

That openness took on literal form, with Stoffel opening up his office to Newton several weeks before he needed to.

“He moved his stuff out a month ago so I could go ahead and move in here and we could start making these changes so, come Jan. 1, it’s ready to go for us,” says Newton of the department.

Before Newton officially took over as sheriff, he needed to decide who his chief deputy would be. The man for the job, he deduced, was Chad Hammel, a fellow Huntington native whom he’s known for years.

“We grew up down the road from one another as little kids,” shares Newton. “I’ve known him and I’ve known his family and I know his character and his reputation.”

Newton has been with the sheriff’s department for 23 years and says Hammel’s tenure has lasted nearly as long. Over the years they’ve served together, Newton says Hammel has been a role model for his coworkers.

“I think character really counts in these positions,” he says. “He’s got great leadership. The guys listen to him.”

Also, by virtue of having served together for so long, Newton says Hammel is someone he deeply trusts.

“I trust him that if I can’t be there to make the decision, he’s going to make the right decision,” states Newton.

As Newton settles into his new role, he says his main objective for the sheriff’s department is for it to continue to be communicative with the community.

It will be particularly important, he says, to communicate with the Huntington County Commissioners and Huntington County Council as preparations are made to address the issue of overcrowding at the Huntington County Jail.

“I think having that communication and letting them know, especially with what’s going on with our inmates and the building and everything that we have going on in the county, keeping them in the loop on all these big-ticket items and things that are happening, I think, is essential,” says Newton.

When it comes to the future of the jail, Newton says research will be conducted to determine the best-possible way for Huntington County to move forward.

“We’re going to go visit several jails that have recent builds to see how they’ve done it, talk to their current sheriffs, talk to their jail commanders and see what worked, what didn’t work,” he states.

In addition to communicating with county officials, Newton says it will also be important to continue to stay in touch with the public regarding present and potential dangers to the community.

Newton cites active-shooter situations as a potential danger that the sheriff’s department has been ardent in disseminating information about.

“When all the church shootings (were) happening, we had a big thing at the Nazarene Church and we invited everybody in,” he says. “We packed the church. And we all got up and talked about things that they could do to keep their churches safe.”

In the wake of that forum, Newton says he conducted assessments of churches throughout the county, giving church leaders tips on how to enhance safety measures at their places of worship.

Providing valuable information to the public, whether it’s in regard to preventing gun violence or the spread of drugs, will continue to be a priority for the sheriff’s department under Newton’s watch.

“If something’s happening, let’s get out, let’s talk about it,” he says. “Let’s make our community a little bit better.”

Educating the public doesn’t mean just educating adults, however. Camp HERO, which Newton founded in 2012, is returning this year and will see children ages 9 to 13 once again get an opportunity to meet emergency-service personnel and learn about their jobs. The weeklong camp, which is offered every two years, will be held in early July.

“It’s blossomed to 200-300 kids,” says Newton of the camp’s attendance. “It’s become one of the largest camps in Indiana – here in just little Huntington, Indiana. I have people from Kentucky, Texas, Florida, people have called us all around and said, ‘Man, how are you doing this in such a small community?’”

“Whatever we’re doing,” he says, “it’s working and it’s effective.”

Ultimately, over the next four years, Newton says the sheriff’s department will simply keep striving to provide the best-possible service it can to Huntington County.

“I would ask the public to realize that even though you may not see us on a daily basis,” he says, “our deputies here work tirelessly, day in and day out, 24/7, to make Huntington a safer community for not only your family, but for your property.”