Gig Harbor Hero

Meet Sean Decker — Our South Sound Citizen of the Year

There are dozens of sweet anecdotes we could use to introduce Sean Decker.

Like how his genuine smile captured the heart of his wife, Emily, and how she knew he was the man she was going to marry in just three weeks; or how he once bottle-fed the stray kittens she had rounded up. We could start with how his 5-year-old daughter says he’s her superhero, the countless times he’s stopped to buy lunch for those trapped in hard times, or the ways he’s impacted local kids as a student resource officer for schools in his capacity as a deputy for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

We could go on, and on.

And we can just imagine Decker, the 46-year-old father of four and grandfather to one, blushing slightly, sitting back in his chair with his arms crossed in bewilderment because he doesn’t think he deserves being the South Sound magazine Citizen of the Year.

“I’m, like, blown away,” he said of the recognition and the realization that his wife was among the many who nominated him. “I’m like, ‘How lucky am I to have a wife that cares enough about me to nominate me?’ I’m blown away by the amazing things — the little things — that she does. I’m just so blessed and so lucky to have her in my life. That’s the first thing I thought,” he said.

“The second is, I can’t fathom; I don’t feel worthy of this. I just feel like there must be thousands of people, if not tens of thousands, in our community that are deserving, if not more deserving than I am,” he added. “There are people making amazing differences in this world, and I’m humbled.”

Kelly Morris works the night shift at a 24-hour emergency and specialty animal hospital and met Decker for the first time when he brought in a stray dog he’d rescued while on shift. And he’s done that multiple times since.

“A lot of people, when they bring in lost pets or stray pets, they want to bring it in, find the owner, and then go,” Morris said. But the hospital can’t shelter animals because they’re a private business. “They’ve done their good deed, and they want to leave. He brought in a coyote puppy once, and he was like, ‘Can I take it somewhere — to a rehabilitation center — can I take it home? What should I do?’ He wants to do everything necessary.”

Decker with his family at the beach. Photo courtesy Sean Decker

The humanity Decker displays and the friendly warmth he emanates make him stand out against all the other do-gooders she’s come across.

“He’s very reachable. He’s very easy to talk to,” she said. “He’s out in the community. He’s a dad; he’s involved with church and his son’s sports as a coach and assistant coach. He’s out in the community seeing and talking to people.”

Several months ago, when the heaviness of fall had settled in, Decker spotted a man walking barefoot in the rain. Driving the opposite direction, Decker turned his police vehicle around and caught up with the guy. He had nowhere to live, nowhere to stay. He didn’t even have socks.

Decker offered him a ride and called his wife, asking her to grab his only pair of spare boots and the thickest pair of socks she could find.

“I’ve got two pairs of boots,” he said. “And I saw this guy who didn’t have any. So, my first thought is, ‘Why should I have two pairs of boots when he doesn’t have any?’” Decker said.

He laughs recalling a time when he was patrolling on another endlessly rainy day and saw a huddle of high school girls dressed as Christmas trees advertising an event. They were drenched, he said, so he brought hot chocolate to them.

“These little things go a long way,” he said. “I think especially in my job, it’s important that people see us as human beings. As people first and cops second,” he said. “These little things like buying hot chocolate for some high school girls can make a huge difference in the long run. Fortunately, we get the opportunity every day to make contact with people and talk to people and make a difference and show them we’re just like they are.”

Decker wasn’t always so giving. A couple of years ago he found God and attributes everything he does now to an insistent desire to be the person God wants him to be.

“I can tell you that before I was a good person,” he said. “I wasn’t the guy out there looking for homeless people to feed. I wasn’t putting my neck out if I didn’t have to. I wasn’t the guy out there putting complete strangers in front of me in line. I am now, and I think that says something. At least it does to me.”

Wife Emily Decker described the love she has for her husband and the collection of generous moments he’s offered.

Once he called her in the middle of the night after a dispatch call that led him to finding two adults incapacitated in a parked vehicle with an infant child in the backseat. Emergency foster homes were full, so he brought the baby home, and the couple dressed her in hand-me-down clothes from when their two children were babies. The little girl, with stunning curly hair, fell asleep in the crook of Emily Decker’s neck. The following day, they placed her with an agency, but Sean Decker still thinks about her, and wonders how she’s doing now.

The event partially inspired them to become foster parents, and they adopted their 5-year-old daughter, Taelynn, on National Adoption Day on Nov. 20, 2015.

“I’ve got two pairs of boots, And I saw this guy who didn’t have any. So, my first thought is, why should I have two pairs of boots when he doesn’t have any?”

He once came across a father and daughter parked on the side of the road who had fallen on hard times, Emily Decker said. In the father’s despair, he’d pulled over to gather his thoughts. Nearly out of gas, with no money or food, they had few options.

Decker filled their gas tank and told the father to pick out anything they needed from the convenience store and gave them contacts for shelters that accepted families.

She’s amazed, she said, that he’s as tender as he is.

His job in law enforcement can be taxing, but he also had a traumatic deployment in Somalia as a young soldier in the U.S. Army. He fought in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu — made famous by the film Black Hawk Down — as one of the responding companies from the 10th Mountain Division that acted as support for the rangers and Special Forces units who’d been attacked by Somalis.

He’s never been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but the 16-hour firefight has a rippling effect, he said. He replayed the battle with fairly vivid detail at a noisy coffee shop during a two-hour interview for this story. But now, more than 20 years later, he’s still plagued by what he doesn’t remember and differentiating what happened from the arresting nightmares he had for years after.

Two years after leaving the Army, he joined the sheriff’s department. His transition from military to law enforcement isn’t partnered with a flowery feeling of manifest destiny. With little secondary education or marketable skills, Decker said he wasn’t sure what other career options he had. Nearly 18 years later, it seems like a perfect fit.

“People can tell when you honestly care, when you have a genuine concern for their situation and when you don’t,” he said. “And it makes a world of difference. Whether it’s a vehicle prowl or a deceased husband, I try to be an ear for them to talk to. Sometimes it turns into a long conversation, and sometimes they don’t have a whole lot to say. Either is OK because I’m there for them.”

is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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