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Prince George’s Sheriff Melvin High dies at 78

He was a law enforcement fixture in the region, serving as sheriff for 12 years and the county’s police chief for five years before that.

Prince George's County Sheriff Melvin C. High died unexpectedly at age 78 on Nov. 17, 2022. (Prince George's County Office of the Sheriff)

Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin High, who held the office for 12 years after serving as the county’s police chief, has died at age 78.

High died Thursday after checking into MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Officials at a news conference Thursday evening said High had been feeling ill. He is survived by his wife, a daughter and a grandson.

High was a law enforcement fixture in the region, starting his career as a police officer in D.C., where he eventually rose to assistant chief, helping diversify the department by recruiting and mentoring more female and Black officers. He later served as chief of the Norfolk Police Department before taking over as police chief in Prince George’s, where he is credited with guiding the agency through a tumultuous time — and reforming it — as it was under a federal consent decree.

High was in his final months as sheriff, having decided earlier this year to step down from the position. John D.B. Carr, High’s assistant sheriff, was elected to the job last week and will be sworn in next month.

In the interim, High’s chief assistant sheriff, Darrin C. Palmer, who has served alongside High since 2010, will lead the office. Palmer was sworn in at 3 p.m. Thursday.

“Sheriff Melvin C. High was an exceptional human being who gave everything he had in service to others,” Palmer said.

“I have unending respect for him, and it has been the highlight of my professional career to be associated with him and to work for and with him,” he said, adding: “I have watched as he fielded calls from chiefs all around this country, seeking his input and guidance. He always assisted.”

High earned a bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University and a master’s degree from Southeastern University in the District. He joined the D.C. police in 1969, at a time when the agency had few Black officers, and retired in 1993 as assistant chief.

High moved to Norfolk before returning to the region to lead the Prince George’s County Police Department from 2003 to 2008.

He ran for sheriff and served three terms in the job, modernizing the agency during his 12-year tenure and helping the office earn top law enforcement accreditations. County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), credited High in a statement with launching the annual Purple Light Nights program in October to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Kendal Wade, who ran against High for the sheriff’s job in 2018, said High broke through barriers in public safety.

“Many leaders and young people in public safety stand on the shoulders of people like Melvin High,” Wade said, adding, “He was a man who was very proud to be able to have the opportunity to help people.”

Carr said High was a mentor to all at the sheriff’s office and guided him as he rose through the ranks. High promoted Carr to lieutenant colonel and offered insight on “how to balance everything,” he said.

“His life was about service,” Carr said. “He will definitely be missed, not just within our agency but within the public safety profession. He touched many lives.”