Former Henry County Sheriff honored for
Child Abuse work
CAMBRIDGE, IL – Former Henry County Sheriff Jim Padilla has been named the Hero of Hope award recipient by Braveheart Children’s Advocacy Center in Cambridge.
The award was presented at Mr. Padilla’s retirement event in Kewanee presented by Henry County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Kerry Loncka, acting Henry County Sheriff, and Johanna Hager, forensic interviewer for Braveheart CAC.
“He (Mr. Padilla) was an investigator with the sheriff’s department and became involved with the CAC in the 1990s when we had a series of child abuse deaths that happened in our county and he was deeply saddened by that,” said Capt. Loncka, Captain Loncka, a Braveheart CAC board member. “It was then that he and several other people founded the advocacy center.”
The award honored Mr. Padilla “for going above and beyond in his efforts, dedication and compassion for the fight against child abuse.”
“My heart and soul is in that place,” Mr. Padilla said of Braveheart CAC. “I have received awards and commendations throughout my career, but this one touches my heart the most — the most meaningful and the one I will cherish the most.
“Before the center opened in Cambridge, we were using a backroom in the courthouse and that wasn’t really suited for forensic interviewing,” he said. “When the center opened it was a like a breath of fresh air. It made it so much easier to interview the children because they felt more comfortable. It also provided a comfortable place for families to wait.
“Those people who work daily with abused children, there‘s a special place for them,” he said. “It takes a certain kind of special person to work with children who have been physically or sexually abused.”
Mr. Padilla served on the Kewanee Police Department eight years and the sheriff’s department for 33 years. He was elected Henry County Sheriff in 2010. Experienced in strategic weapons and tactics and FBI sniper training, Mr. Padilla said learning how to interview child crime victims was the most challenging, both physically and mentally draining.
He said in retirement he plans to focus on his family and hobbies of fishing, hunting, competitive shooting, riding his Harley and spending time in his RV.
“Sheriff Padilla was an original member of the Braveheart CAC of Henry County and the Protecting All Children Together (PACT) advisory board,” said Braveheart CAC Case Manager Constance King said. “We want to thank him for over 40 years of service in law enforcement and his ongoing commitment and dedication to children and families.”
The center’s name represents the courage it takes for children to share their experiences, the education of the center’s team and “the innocence at the heart of every child and the heart of the community to speak up in partnership with us,” Ms. King said.
The name became official in 2007 when the Henry County center added services to children in Marshall, Putnam, Stark and Bureau counties.
“I was at the center one afternoon and the name ‘Braveheart’ popped into my mind,” he said. “It’s all about the kids, and it takes a lot of guts for a child to be able to tell the story of what happened to them.
He said he would feel badly if he’d lost one of the cases involving a child victim, which was an incentive to work hard. His most difficult case, he said, was in the 1990s when five children died at the hands of their mother’s boyfriends. He said those were the only autopsies he ever attended, for the children.
“If there was something about my job that I didn’t like, it was that,” Mr. Padilla said.