Dakota County honors legacy of first full-time African-American sheriff's deputy

In honor of Black History Month, Dakota County is celebrating it’s first full-time African-American sheriff's deputy. 

“He was larger than life," said Jeff Cotton, son of Sgt Jerry Cotton. “I always say it's kinda hard being Superman's son.”

Jerry Cotton stood out in a room, not because of the color of his skin, but because of his infectious smile and positive attitude. He came from a family of law enforcement, following in the footsteps of his step father, uncle grandfather. After high school, Jerry Cotton started as a reserve officer for the Dakota County Sheriff's Office and was later hired as the first full-time African-American deputy in 1980, before working his way up to sergeant.

“It wasn't anything he took lightly because you've got people out there that want you to succeed and unfortunately some that want you to fail,” said Cotton.

“We looked at him as a father figure,” said Chief Deputy Joe Leko. “We called him the ‘big dog’ on the midnight shift.”

Chief Deputy Leko was part of Cotton's so-called "dog shift" recalling how genuine he was, professional and passionate about life and law enforcement.

“He didn't expect any special treatment because of who he was,” said Leko.

Cotton was known for his extra thoughtfulness handing goodies at traffic stops.

“If there was a kid in the car, he'd give the kid a little stuffed animal, so that way the kid had something to play with while the dirty process was being done,” said Cotton. “By the time he was done he'd give you the ticket and the candy and say 'this isn't personal it's my job.'”

Sgt. Jerry Cotton passed away in 2006 from cancer after contracting hepatitis from someone he gave CPR to. He died at 59 with no regrets.

“If it was a funny story, he would tell us," said Jeff Cotton. “If it was a sad story, he would just want a little longer hug.”

Cotton’s wife continues to organize annual golf tournaments and raise money in her late husbands name.