Rome’s Raider: State will honor fallen officer

Published 11:37 am Thursday, May 1, 2014

Today six names will be added to the Ohio Fallen Officers’ Memorial Wall at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London.

Among those names is Constable Joseph Rigney of the now defunct Rome Township Police Department. Rigney was shot and killed 62 years ago while serving a warrant on a suspect in Gallia County. Rigney and his memory had been lost to time, until current Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning found a box of old photos.

“We were just going through some stuff at the office,” Browning said. “I found this old box of photos. They were basically crime scene photos and one of them was the photo from when Rigney was killed.”

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At the time the photos were discovered Rigney’s identity was still unknown. This spurred Browning to conduct some research and he discovered that Rigney was a rather active lawman.

“I found our old case files,” Browning said. “Once I had a name, I was able to dig a little more and I found that Rigney was a pretty interesting character. There were some fascinating stories about him including one about a raid on the old Parrot Club near Proctorville.”

The incident at the Parrot Club was widely reported. In an article published by the Toledo Blade in 1949 Rigney is described as a “one-man raid.” The club was the site of some illicit gambling and its owner had shot at Rigney during the raid.

“Rigney decided not to press charges against the club owner,” Browning said. “Rigney, the owner, and then Lawrence County Prosecutor Louis Sheridan came to an agreement that the owner would leave the State of Ohio or he would face the charges.”

Just a few years later Rigney was killed in Guyan Township while approaching the house of a suspect for whom he had a warrant. As he approached the residence, the suspect opened fire through an open window.

“Those shots were the shots that killed him,” Browning said. “The suspect eventually surrendered to the Gallia County sheriff and he was prosecuted and convicted of first-degree murder.”

The Tribune reported on his death in July of 1952 saying, “Rigney was widely known as the raiding constable of Rome for several slot-machine raids.” He was 70 years old at the time of his death, making him 67 at the time of the infamous Parrot Club raid. He was buried at the Rush Town Cemetery in Scioto County. His name will now be immortalized alongside 767 other Ohio officers who died in the line of duty.

“When I found out that his name was not on the memorial wall I knew I had to gather as much information as I could to try and get his name added,” Browning said. “Once I had gathered up all I could, I sent it to Attorney General Mike DeWine. It’s great to see that his name will be added and that his memory won’t be lost.”

Browning is currently looking for a surviving member of Rigney’s family in hopes that Rigney will also be included in the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“That’s the one thing my research hasn’t led me to yet,” Browning said. “It would be wonderful for him to get national recognition as well but the national memorial requires that a family member be present for inclusion. I’m still hopeful that I’ll find a relative. But, I couldn’t have found as much as I had without the help of Sheriff (Jeff) Lawless in Lawrence County.”