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Hometown Heroes: Somerset Police Chief Silas West

Somerset Police Department, KY

EOW: Monday, January 16, 1928

On January 15, 1928, Silas West, the police chief of Somerset, and another officer, Massengale, stopped a vehicle driven by Perry Chumbley near the Southern Railroad depot. The officers believed Chumbley was drunk but did not find any weapons on him. One of Chumbley's sober companions was allowed to drive him home instead of being taken to jail for drunk driving.

Soon after leaving the scene, Chumbley became upset about the treatment he received from the officers and threatened to “get” them. An informant told West and Massengale about Chumbley's threat. Later that same evening, when Chief West and Patrolman Massengale saw Chumbley standing in front of the Southern Mercantile Company on the Square, the Chief approached him to search him, but Chumbley drew a .32 caliber handgun and began firing on both officers.

Chief West, holding a police issue flashlight, attempted to hit Chumbley, but Chumbley's gun hit West's middle finger, which broke the bone and caused the Chief to drop the light. The Chief then drew his weapon with his left hand and began firing. At the same time, Patrolman Massengale was also firing his gun.

Reports say that seventeen shots were fired within a minute during the shootout. Chumbley fired five times, Chief West six times, and Massengale six times. Nine shots hit Chumbley above the waist, and a tenth entered his head just over his left eye, killing him instantly.

Chief West was wounded twice; the mortal shot three inches below the heart, and the other shot was the middle finger on his right hand.

After being shot, Chief West walked to the Somerset General Hospital with the assistance of James Lewis Davis and Bert Hines, where he immediately underwent surgery to remove the bullet. Chief West made it through surgery but succumbed to his injury exactly 12 hours after the shootout.

Chief Silas West was the Somerset Police Chief for six years and was recognized as one of the "most fearless, upright, and conscientious officers in Kentucky." Chief West was a patrolman for Somerset before being elected Chief (by the city council). Before becoming a patrolman, West was a passenger conductor on the Southern Railway system for 25 years.

Somerset Police Chief Silas West turned 59 years old just days before he was shot in the line of duty. Chief West was survived by his wife Minnie Wise West and two sons, Richard, who was a policeman in Philadelphia, PA, and James, who lived in Ohio at the time.

Interesting side note: A few days after Chief West's murder, Robert Warren was elected Chief of Police by the city council to replace Chief West after his murder. In a surprising move, Councilman Green wanted to reduce (not increase) the police force for economic reasons. However, Councilman Orwin, City Attorney Gladstone Wesley, and Mayor Norfleet opposed the idea.


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