Robert D. Chittenden

Chittenden, R D

Appointed: 1907 – 1911

Robert Dean Chittenden was born in Switzerland County, Indiana, on February 1870 in a farming family. The family migrated to Fresno County in 1887. Chittenden gained experience in the fruit industry and later became a partner in the construction and operation of the first raisin seeding plant in Fresno County.

Active in Democratic Party politics in Fresno, he was elected to the office of Public Administrator, and served from 1903 to 1907. As the Democratic candidate for sheriff, he was elected in November 1906, and held the office from January 1907 to January 1911.

He was widowed while serving as sheriff and did not seek re-election in 1910. After leaving office, Chittenden started a successful street paving and road construction business, which operated throughout the San Joaquin Valley. He served as the Fresno County Administrator under the National Recovery Act (NRA) during the depression.

Sheriff Chittenden was known as "the motorcar sheriff;" he was the first sheriff to regularly utilize motor vehicles in the suppression of crime. Shortly after taking office, he installed a records keeping system, which recorded identifying information on prisoners incarcerated in the county jail. In December 1907, Chittenden purchased equipment and initiated the fingerprinting of prisoners booked into the county jail. Mug shots of prisoners were obtained by walking shackled prisoners from the jail to nearby photo studios.

Sheriff Chittenden was a "working sheriff," taking part in the field investigation of most of the major crimes occurring during his term of office. The first major crime of his term was the murder of Deputy Sheriff Joe D. Price at Dunnigan's Gap, near Squaw Valley on March 13, 1907. Price had arrested James Richardson near Squaw Valley for stealing a horse and buggy. As the deputy transported Richardson to the jail in a horse-drawn rig, he was fatally stabbed by the suspect. Chittenden led a month-long hunt for Richardson in the hills, but the suspect managed to evade the posse and was never arrested.

In early July 1908, Chittenden headed the successful search for 18 year-old Edna Domengine, who had been kidnapped for ransom from her father's ranch in the Cantua district. After the rescue of the victim and the arrest of a suspect, Sheriff Chittenden and his deputies had to stand off a crowd of 1,000 angry townsmen, intent on a lynching, in front of the Coalinga lock-up. The last two months of Chittenden's term were spent dealing with overcrowding and riots in the county jail caused by members of the International Workers of the World (I.W.W., also known as the "Wobblies"). The city had earlier passed an ordinance to prevent the radical socialist workers from speaking in public without a city-issued permit. The I.W.W. national headquarters responded by sending hundreds of their members to Fresno, filling the jail by means of civil disobedience.

Chittenden died at his summer home at Bass Lake on Oct. 20, 1938; he was survived by his second wife, Corynne, a daughter, and son.