Duluth police Lt. Arthur Briggs lost his life in the kind of tussle law enforcement officers might face any shift that they work — trying to get a person who is drunk and disorderly under control.
About 3 p.m. April 28, 1908, the owner of a West Duluth laundry called to have a drunken man removed from his business. Briggs responded and chased the drunken man out the rear door. Moments later, Briggs was found dead in an alley, his body lying across that of his prisoner, that afternoon’s Duluth Herald reported.
Briggs, who was described in press accounts as the most valuable and popular member of his department, was 53 and weighed close to 300 pounds. His heart gave out. The cause of death listed on his death certificate was pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.
Seven Duluth police officers are honored for giving their life in the line of duty by having their names inscribed on a plaque that has been posted on the wall of City Hall. Briggs’ name isn’t on the plaque. But soon, it will be.
Retired Duluth police Officer Ron Leino researched Briggs’ background and news clips and provided the information to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office. In November, 103 years after Briggs’ death, Assistant St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Kundel filed an affidavit with the Minnesota Department of Health changing Briggs’ death from “natural” to “homicide” due to the “stress of a struggle with an intoxicated suspect.”
Briggs will be honored on May 17 when Duluth police hold their annual observance in memory of the officers who gave their life in the line of duty — Gary Wilson in 1990, Carl Root in 1966, Oscar Olson in 1941, David Butchart in 1933, John Callahan in 1918, Neil Mooney in 1914 and Harry Chesmore in 1911.
The noon-hour ceremony will be held at the new Law Enforcement Center on Arlington Avenue. Briggs’ name will be added to the plaque and the memorial will be moved from City Hall to the entryway area of the new police headquarters.
Briggs was born in Ireland in 1855 and was a carpenter there until coming to this country and joining the Duluth Police Department on April 1, 1887.
According to newspaper accounts, Briggs was known by every man, woman and child in his jurisdiction. More than 5,000 people attended his funeral at Holy Apostles Episcopal Church, 57th Avenue West and Elinor Street, making it at that time the largest funeral in Duluth history.
The News Tribune reported that the mourners showed up “to look for the last time upon the face of one of the bravest and most loyal policemen the city of Duluth has ever had.”
Current Duluth police Lt. Scott Drewlo, his department’s administrative affairs commander, and Leino were instrumental in gaining the recognition for Briggs.
“They say he was a real role model in the community,” Drewlo said of Briggs. “He did all of those things that we look for in officers to this day as far as community policing partnerships: being part of the community, knowing the community. He was that guy. He was that guy that anybody in the neighborhood felt comfortable going to for help.”
Briggs had seven children. It’s unknown whether any of his relatives still live in the area. Anyone who might have a family connection to the late officer is asked to contact Drewlo at (218) 730-5603 or Leino at (218) 730-5439.