The first thing I notice when I walk into Detective Bobby Grizzard’s office at the Massillon Police Department is a wall of coloring-book pages, colored by some of the many children who have had to come to his office during his 20 years on the job in Massillon’s Child Abuse Investigations Unit.
The second is a massive collection of Spiderman paraphernalia. At first, I mistake the toys as being intended for the kids. They are, in fact, just half of Grizzard’s impressive collection. A superhero with a superhero collection.
The irony is not lost on me.
And he may not have been granted superpowers through radioactive spider bite, but his investigative powers have led to the arrest and prosecution of some of the most despicable, deplorable criminals imaginable.
This isn’t Grizzard’s first time to be recognized for his work. He had an entire chapter in Chris Hansen’s 2007 book, “To Catch a Predator: Protecting Your Kids from Online Enemies Already in Your Home,” dedicated to his work on the Internet, where he spent years posing as children online to find and stop sexual predators, a practice he does very little of anymore.
“Technology is so fast and improving so rapidly that we in law enforcement have a difficult time in staying ahead of the curve. These individuals are tech savvy, and with smartphones they expect 24/7 access to children. Within minutes, they can determine if the person they’re talking to online is in fact a child,” said Grizzard.
He admits that the challenge online for parents today is tough and getting tougher. He has found that the average child now has three Facebook pages: one that theirparents know about, one their friends know about and one they keep secret. According to Grizzard, even the best kids make poor judgments when it comes to social media.
“Back in 2001 through 2005, when the Internet blossomed, our advice to parents and kids was to stay off the Internet. We know that is now impossible. And no matter how tech savvy you are as a parent, you are never going to be able to keep up with your kids. I think that our lives will be totally transformed from private to public in the next 10 years.”
His practices have had to evolve, but the nature of his work has not. His focus is on working directly with kids who have suffered physical or sexual abuse.
“We see kids who have been burned, who have broken bones and are physically battered with black
eyes and broken noses. We see kids who have been murdered. We see kids subjected to shaken baby syndrome with paralysis or who have been blinded. We see kids who have endured every imaginable sex act,” said Grizzard.
When asked how he chose this line of work, he shares that it was law enforcement that chose him. After graduating from Northern Iowa Community College and completing his first year at the University of Akron with plans to go into communications, the police test was being given. He decided to see how he would do.
He did well, and the rest, as they say, is history. Then-Chief Mark Weldon and Nancy Jobe from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services encouraged him to go into sex crimes.
“I didn’t think that there were that many cases, that it could be a field I specialized in full time.”
In his first year, he had 21 cases. Now, he averages close to 100 cases a year, with a career spanning more than 2,000 cases, but said that he has heard of thousands more through a countywide task force. At the height of child abuse in Stark County he estimates in the neighborhood of 900 cases a year.
For Grizzard, one case remains steadfast in his mind, the 2006 case of Jaydee Biggs, a 5-month-old baby girl who Grizzard believed was suffocated by a sex act performed by her father. Her father ultimately was convicted.
“It took me nearly two years to get him. It was one of those cases where I set the file on my desk where I could see it every day, to remind me. And some days I did little or nothing; other days, I’d make a phone call that would give me a break, help me solve the case.”
Grizzard describes these cases as very difficult, with only one opportunity to do it right, to cover all bases. And sometimes, as in the case of Biggs, the difficulty arises when the non-offending parent has difficulty believing that someone they love and trust would hurt a child, let alone their child.
“I think in all the cases I’ve done, I’ve yet to put together what I consider the ‘perfect case.’ There’s always a loose end, always something the defendant can explain away. I’d like to put together the perfect case before I retire; I don’t think that will ever happen.”
Over time, Grizzard has developed a protocol on how to handle the cases, though he admits the job doesn’t get easier, that you don’t become desensitized. And while he also handles the adult cases for the city, he said that the child abuse cases are the vast majority of his caseload. Once convicted, depending on the crime, predators can be sentenced to anywhere from probation to a life sentence.
“Because I know what effects these cases have on the kids, the time these people get isn’t nearly what you’d want them to. The kids live with this all their lives. And when I help these children, it doesn’t always mean prosecution, if that isn’t the best final outcome for the child, if they have been victimized and can’t testify, can’t face the person who has done these things to them. Putting that child in such a position would do more harm than good.”
One has to wonder, how has he done this, day in and day out, for 20 years?
This is a job you have to love to do. You work these cases as though you have to go to trial tomorrow. Sometimes you get a case that someone might consider high profile. I work from the standpoint that all of these cases are high profile, all are important.”
I like to think that somewhere, Spiderman has a Bobby Grizzard collection spanning one of his walls.
Superhero. The word has no equal in the English language when it comes to precisely pinpointing the confluence of hope and action.
It’s a word most often applied to pop culture goliaths—those larger than life crusaders that have entertained us for decades on the screen, page and now, even on Broadway’s stage. And here locally in the Hall of Fame City and City of Champions, it is difficult not to idolize our gridiron heroes.
We root for the good guys, and at the root of that rooting is hope.
For this issue, it was my great privilege to sit down with six local superheroes. No capes, no tights—just honest, unassuming, real-life superheroes—men and women who are saving lives and rescuing our residents. Men and women who give us hope.
If writing this story has taught me anything, it’s that superheroes are among us. I think you’ll agree—unmasking these six is proof enough.
And there are more out there. Superheroes are not fictional characters with too good-to-be-true powers. Their powers are true and good and very, very real.
Their powers give us hope.