Special needs student from Prosser becomes honorary police officer

August 20, 2014 

Karter Childers, 21, of Prosser, in middle, became an honorary member of the Kennewick Police Department on Wednesday morning. Chief Ken Hohenberg swears in Karter as Zebbie Castilleja, who organized the event, looks on.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald

— The Kennewick Police Department decided to use a special weapon to help fight crime Wednesday, and its name was Karter Childers.

The former Prosser High special needs student took to the streets of Kennewick armed with a radar gun, plenty of backup and his good friend Zebbie Castilleja.

Childers, 21, has microcephaly, a rare neurological condition resulting in him having fewer brain cells than the average person. His family says the disorder left him with the mental capacity of a young child.

But Childers did not let his condition get in the way of his dream to one day become a police officer.

He was sworn in Wednesday as an honorary police officer for the day and given permission by Chief Ken Hohenberg to patrol the city.

Childers and Officer Mike Meyer rode together, while Zebbie and Officer Chris Buroker rode in another car. The foursome helped arrest a burglary suspect and made sure people were safe after a car crash, said Zebbie, a junior at Prosser High.

Once the patrol was finished, Childers toured the police department and met other law enforcement officials in the area. “On the way home, Karter said, ‘Wow, my dream has come true,’ ” Zebbie said. “That was pretty cool.”

Childers’ wish to be a police officer would have never come true if weren’t for Zebbie and the friendship the two have developed. The pair met almost two years ago in a P.E. class at Prosser High School and quickly became friends. They were recently at a special needs prom put on at their high school, and Childers told Zebbie about wanting to become a cop, Zebbie said.

Zebbie, 15, had recently won the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year award for Benton and Franklin counties. One of the judges for the award was Hohenberg.

Zebbie says he and Hohenberg developed a bond during the competition and have kept in touch. Like Childers, Zebbie one day wants to become a police officer and would like to work for the Kennewick Police Department.

Zebbie’s grandfather was the late Raymond “Ray” Cotey, a Prosser Police Department patrol officer for 15 years who became police chief in 1989. He resigned in 1992, after being assaulted during an arrest.

Zebbie contacted Hohenberg to see if it was possible to make his friend’s wish come true, he said. The chief was instantly on board and a few weeks later Zebbie was set up to join the department.

Hohenberg said it’s only the second time since he has been chief that the department has had an honorary officer.

“I can remember how much passion I had the first day I walked in the door at the Kennewick Police Department,” Hohenberg said. “I see that in Karter as well, and I certainly see that in Zebbie.”

Hohenberg pulled out all the stops at Wednesday’s ceremony, giving Childers a coin that exemplifies excellence in the department and his own official pen. Childers then perfectly recited the department’s Oath of Honor in front of a crowd of other officers and guests.

Childers — who said he was “very excited” to go on patrol — flashed a smile from ear to ear when he talked about Zebbie and their friendship.

“We grew together and became best friends,” he said.

Hohenberg told the Herald the ceremony is just another example of the leadership Zebbie has shown in the community and the big heart he has for others.

“He is a very, very strong leader,” he said. “He has just impressed me with his compassion for other people and you see that with Karter.”

-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com

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