Michelle Tutor has a unique distinction among all the officers in Ashland Police Department history.
“I am the only grandma ever to patrol the streets of the city of Ashland,” she said.
Tutor, who began with the department Aug. 25, 1990, retired in June with just shy of 29 years of service. She wasn’t the first female officer in Ashland— that distinction went to Jodeanne Janecek who started a year earlier. Both joined when female officers were the exception to the rule, and Tutor went into the job knowing she might face some resistance.
“It was what I knew; I worked with the guys. I dispatched for three years before I became an officer,” she said. “That was good, to get to know the guys, their personalities, and I didn’t take their behavior personally. It takes a special breed to be a police officer. When I started on patrol, I can’t say I was taken in with open arms, but I also felt that I was, for the most part, treated respectfully. The guys I worked with provided the guidance I needed to learn how to do my job. I am the officer I am because of their fairness.”
Tutor said her experiences in the community were much the same.
“They didn’t see a female, they saw a uniform. I thought for the most part, they treated me the same as they did my male counterparts,” she said.
Tutor was determined to make the roster — so determined that she took on the rigorous training needed to become an officer while still working full-time as a dispatcher.
Then-Police Chief Gordon Gilbertson noticed, particularly when she came out on top among officer applicants who took the department’s test.
“I certainly did not hesitate to hire her,” he said. “She has had an outstanding career, and I think we can all be very proud of what she has accomplished.”
It hasn’t always been an easy career.
Current Chief Jim Gregoire said Tutor has proven able to act under pressure. In 2013, she was forced to trade gunfire with a juvenile who had killed his granduncle.
Tutor said that episode was the most difficult of her career. She arrived at the scene at an east-side residence shortly after 9 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 16, 2016, only to see William S. Saari stagger out the door before falling into the snow. As he exited, 14 year-old Joseph Ackley, his grandnephew, fired at him with a .22-caliber rifle. Tutor then drew her pistol and fired at Ackley, who fired back. When Tutor fired another round, Ackley retreated into the house.
With police closing in, Ackley shot himself in the stomach and was then arrested by officers. He was not seriously injured and later was sentenced to life in prison for killing his relative.
Tutor said her reactions at the time were driven by her training.
“I knew that if I had to withdraw my gun and shoot it, somebody had it coming,” she said.
Three years later, she still doesn’t remember drawing her weapon and aiming it, but does recall making the conscious decision to fire.
In many ways, the investigation that followed — which found Tutor’s actions justified —was more difficult than the incident itself, she said.
“The shooting part I was trained for, I emotionally handled the shooting part well. I did not handle the investigation well. When they took my duty belt, it was like they took part of my identity,” Tutor said.
At the time, Tutor was awaiting a Christmas visit from her daughter.
“I waited to tell her about it until after she arrived,” Tutor said. “I told her the good news was that I was able to have the entire time of her visit off from work. The bad news was that I was off because of the administrative suspension because of the shooting.”
Tutor said her daughter took the news in her stride, saying what was important was that her mother was able to celebrate Christmas with her.
While the shooting was the only time Tutor had to fire her weapon, it’s not the only time she was involved in a hazardous situation. Gregoire recalled another instance in which, with a flying tackle, she successfully disarmed a suicidal man armed with a rifle.
Tutor was also the first officer on scene when a man attempted to burn his girlfriend to death with gasoline as she slept in July of 2018, Gregoire said.
“She actually saw the fire ignite from the street,” Gregoire said. “The woman who was burned ran out on the street, and the first person she saw was Michelle Tutor.”
Gregoire said the victim couldn’t have encountered anyone better. Gregoire himself has come to admire Tutor’s character and integrity.
“I can tell you that I have leaned on her a lot as chief, to see if I am moving in the right direction or not. She’s always been very honest in her responses and a police chief needs that kind of assessment about what is going on,” he said.
Tudor credits family not only with her character but with making her entire career possible by helping to care for her daughter after her divorce and while she was going to school and working night shifts.
Her daughter Ranndi Fritchen, who works for hospice in Charlotte, N.C., said growing up with as mom who was a cop was perfectly normal.
“I thought my mom was a tough woman, and that’s how all women were,” she said. “I never really had the stereotype of the stay-at-home mom.”
Fritchen said she didn’t worry about her mother being a police officer.
“She had a bullet proof vest and a firearm, and she had other officers who would have taken a bullet for her. I honestly worry more about her visiting Charlotte,” she said.
Fritchen said her mother’s example had a large impact on her own life.
“Having a mom who is so resilient has taught me I can take anything,” she said.