Thursday, March 23, 2000

Campbell bailiff was tough, honest cop

He remembers Newport old days

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Al Seifried made me promise not to write a “big fluttery thing.” So I won't mention his Elliott Ness-like integrity or his Dirty Harry nerves.

        Just know this: At 81, two decades after retiring from Campbell County's police force, Mr. Seifried can still pin an unruly defendant to the wall.

        Behind his thick glasses and gentle laugh is a cop's cop. In his day, he worked his sources, went after big bad guys and occasionally broke some furniture to do it.

        Now he serves as bailiff for Campbell County Circuit Judge Leonard Kopowski. The judge has a lot of respect for Mr. Seifried, because he has heard the stories.

        From 1950 to 1980, he was a patrolman and then chief of the Campbell County police. He covered a vast rural territory with few resources and little professional training. Back then, county police also were called upon to raid gambling joints in Newport, because many of Newport's own officers were crooked.

        Mr. Seifried couldn't be bribed, however. He was tough.

        “I don't think I've ever seen any anger or fear in him, and he's been through some harrowing experiences,” says Campbell County Sheriff John Dunn Jr., who worked for Mr. Seifried in the '70s.

        A quiet man with muscular forearms and silver hair, Mr. Seifried looks much younger than 81. He doesn't like talking about himself. Fortunately, he has a scrapbook full of yellowed newspaper clippings from the old days.

        There's one story about the old Yorkshire Club in Newport, which was raided by Mr. Seifried and one other officer.

        A lookout always sat outside the gambling room. Mr. Seifried ran past the guy, knocking him off his chair, and managed to wedge his foot in the door just as it was locking. The result: one man arrested, $3,784 seized and “a sudden exodus from the Yorkshire of about 300 patrons,” the newspaper said.

        Then there was his solo encounter with a gun-running motorist. The man had a pistol in his pocket, and when his hand moved toward it, Mr. Seifried stuck his own weapon to the man's head.

        “I wouldn't do that if I were you. Keep both hands on the steering wheel,” he said.

        “I should have shot you when you got out of your car,” the man said.

        “That's when you should have done it,” Mr. Seifried agreed.

        The result: confiscation of 57 stolen guns worth $5,000. At the time, that was $1,500 more than Mr. Seifried earned in a year.

        Bar fights were common, Sheriff Dunn recalls. As a 22-year-old patrolman, he counted on the older man's wisdom. One night, a woman raked a broken beer bottle across her husband's face at a tavern.

        “I'm trying to stop the fight, and this guy's bleeding all over the place,” the sheriff recalls. “Those guys didn't know me, but they knew Al, and as soon as he walked in, they sensed they better calm down a little.”

        Being such a straight arrow, Mr. Seifried occasionally got threatening phone calls from the mob element, which ran Newport's gambling houses in the '40s and '50s. He never worried for himself, nor did he fear anyone would hurt his wife or two children.

        “I had a job to do, and I just did it,” Mr. Seifried says.

        His brother, Chris, was part of a citizen's group that lobbied to clean up Newport in the early '60s. The group's candidate for sheriff was George Ratterman, whose tough talk so alarmed the gangsters that they tried to frame him.

        Before the election, Mr. Ratterman was knocked out with drugs and photographed in bed with a nightclub dancer. During the sensational trial, it became clear that dirty cops were working with gambling interests to set him up. All charges were dropped, and Mr. Ratterman was swept into office.

        He promptly hired Mr. Seifried, who took a 10-month leave of absence to serve as a deputy.

        “George, how do you become sheriff?” he used to tease his boss.

        “Get caught in a hotel room with a broad,” Mr. Ratterman would reply.

        Today, most of these men are long gone. Mr. Seifried, who smoked six packs of Lucky Strikes a day until 1978, has outlived them all.

        In the clippings, I found Mr. Ratterman's words when he hired his friend back in '62.

        “The citizens of Campbell County are fortunate that men of the caliber of Mr. Seifried will devote their lives to the preservation of law and order in our community,” he said.

        Sorry, Mr. Seifried. I couldn't resist getting fluttery.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer.Her column appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at (606) 578-5584, or by e-mail at


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