COUNTY — “He was the best friend I needed through it all.”
Judy is describing Detective Lt. Tom Harriman of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office who retired last week after more than a decade serving survivors of domestic violence.
Judy (not her real name) recalls meeting Harriman about five years ago.
“I was in a really bad domestic [violence] situation,” she explains, “and he knew every outlet [for help].”
“The first time, my husband tried to shoot me with my kids there.”
He was caught “down the road,” she says. She tells how she and the children weren’t allowed to answer the phone and how her husband had said he would make sure no one left him or he’d “kill them all.”
After the threatened shooting incident, she says Harriman got in touch with her, confiscated all the guns in the house and helped her get an order of protection.
“He also got me a VARDA-alarm.”
A VARDA-alarm is a voice-activated radio-dispatched alarm, a type of alarm that, when activated or “tripped,” broadcasts the type of the alarm and the transmitter location over the local police radio frequency using a pre-recorded audio message.
Because of where she lived, it took law enforcement a bit longer to get to her, she explains, necessitating the alarm, which enables the closest officer to get there quickly.
“[Harriman] put me in touch with Safe Voices, helped me change the locks, went to court with me and followed through texting me to make sure I was OK.”
Harriman also made sure when the divorce papers were being served that she had protection.
Judy describes how after her husband got out of jail he emptied the bank account leaving her high and dry trying to support her children.
After the divorce, she says she tried to work it out with her ex, a way for him to have time with the children.
“However, a few years later after he realized I had moved on, he tried to choke me and kill me,” she says. “He hurt the kids, too, and sent my daughter into premature labor. He said he was going to kill both of us. My daughter’s boyfriend called the cops but when they arrived he was holding my son and I had to lie and tell the cops everything was fine.”
She was terrified her ex-husband would follow through on his threat and kill her son.
The next day, she says, after he had left, she called the cops and told them the truth. They searched for her ex but couldn’t find him. A few days later, the ex showed up at her house, trying to get in through a window. She pushed the alarm and, she says, held a gun on her ex until help arrived.
It came in the form of Harriman.
“Tom showed up that day, he came to the door … I couldn’t uncock the gun I was shaking so bad … I said, ‘Please take the gun!’ … he took it put his arms around me … I finally felt safe.
“You know you are safe when Tom’s arms are around you.”
The ex, who, she says was always on drugs or drunk, ended up serving a few months in jail. During that time, she says, she had given the alarm back. However, when he was getting out she talked with Harriman about the death threats she had been getting from jail.
“He got me the alarm again.”
Harriman “knows what you need before you need it,” she says.
Safe Voices provided her with a lawyer, she says when her ex-husband tried to get the protection order removed and “if Tom hadn’t been in court with me that day, I probably would have backed down and taken the order off but I just looked at Tom instead of the man who’d been conning me, making me feel guilty. Tom gave me the power … the strength.”
She says Harriman would stop by [her home] periodically to make sure they [the Sheriff’s Office] were doing their job and keeping track of her ex.
She described how her ex would have important mail sent to the house, and had initiated contact with one of the children and the probation department wasn’t doing anything about it so she told Harriman about it and he had the deputies check that the ex was where he was supposed to be.
“Tom kept on top of it. He kept me safe for five years.
“It was the worst time in my life and you feel you won’t survive … he was the angel that came in and made me feel I could do it for me and my kids.
“It [Harriman’s retirement] makes me want to cry,” she continues with her tears in her eyes, “it’s kinda like losing a dad. He is my best friend, a father-figure, someone I could always count on.”
Harriman was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and had to go out on medical leave while undergoing treatment.
“When he was out for medical reasons,” Judy continues, “he always answered me and had someone respond.”
She feels that at times, they were each other’s confidant.
“He confided in me and I confided in him. I have never cried in anyone’s arms so much.”
She recalls how Harriman got her set up with a victim’s advocate after the strangulation attempt, which left her injured and out of work.
“He knows all there is to know when it comes to domestic violence. He’s a damn good detective … he’s damn good at everything he does and he likes to get to the bottom of things, to the truth.”
She says her children have met Harriman but don’t know him well. But she tells of a time when her eldest interacted with Harriman and later told her, “I see what you mean, when he comes in the house it’s just … calming.”
“I hope his daughter, if he has one, knows how lucky she is,” says Judy, her eyes filling up once again. “I don’t think he realizes how many people think so much of him.”
She’s not wrong, law enforcement from a myriad of agencies think very highly of Harriman. “He’s a good guy,” says Norway Detective Gary Hill and his sentiment is echoed in multiple agencies in the county.
Harriman speaks and attends each yearly vigil during Domestic Violence Awareness month in October.
“Tom had nearly 12 years with the Oxford County Sheriffs Office,” says Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant. He “had also worked for the State of Maine Fire Marshall’s Office and for the Bridgton Police Department.
“He has had a great career in law enforcement bringing a lot of pride to himself, his family and to the law enforcement community. A professional at all times, a mentor, a role model and a super good guy. His wit, his charm, his knowledge and his professionalism are going to be missed.
“Several years back I penned on my ‘cop cards’ the following words: ‘Being a winner doesn’t mean you have to be the first to cross the finish line. Just crossing that line makes you a winner!’ Tom Harriman has certainly crossed that finish line more times than can be counted. Enjoy your retirement, Winner.”
“The last time he left my driveway after coming to tell me he was retiring and making sure I had the contact information for his replacement,” Judy says the tears now running freely, “and I realized he wouldn’t be coming back, I couldn’t get in the house fast enough to ball my eyes out.”
Editor’s Note: Harriman declined to be interviewed saying, “I just want to fade into the sunset.” We have used the name Judy to protect her.