Spangler: ‘Someone has to speak for them’

Tom KingHalls, Our Town Heroes

It’s the hardest job she’s ever had, and at 41 she’s had a few. What she deals with at times leaves her emotionally and mentally drained. She is down to maybe two or three good cries a year after 10 years of this work.

But it’s work that has to be done, by someone, work that matters, and Knox County Sheriff’s Office Detective Miranda Spangler approaches it with an open mind and heart, with passion and compassion, but with a real distaste for the guilty.

Spangler catches her share of the high-profile cases in the KCSO Family Crimes Unit, which includes 11 detectives, three victim advocates and a case manager. The unit’s commander is Captain Greg Faulkner. Spangler works child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse cases, and there’s always work to be done. Right now, she has 10 open cases. She’ll have more as we move into 2020.

The name Spangler and KCSO here perhaps made you think twice. Her husband is Bobby Spangler, the brother of Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler. Bobby retired from the KCSO in 2015 as an assistant chief after 29 years. Today he sells real estate.

And he listens to the detective in the family.

“There are days when it’s tough, and I go home and just sit on the couch and wind down watching TV and then I talk to Bobby,” she says. “He’s a good listener. It’s draining work. I tell him about the cases without using any names. And yes, I do cry. It’s human to cry and I’m human. I just do not like to see these babies and kids mistreated.”

Miranda has been in the same little cubbyhole office for 10 years at the Family Justice Center, 400 Harriet Tubman St. The center also houses the Knoxville Police Department’s Family Crimes Unit and investigators from the state’s Department of Children’s’ Services.

It’s a one-stop center serving domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Its occupants also offer comprehensive support services for victims and their children, including prosecutors, detectives, clergy and social service professionals.

Knowing this is her hardest job ever, it begs the question: Why do you do it? Seeing what happens to babies and children…over and over? And to elders who are victims of elder abuse? Plus, the tragedy of domestic violence.

“I deal with a lot of our child abuse cases, and for me, it’s all about the kids. Someone has to speak for them, and I do that. I had high school kids telling me what was going on in their homes, and I realized I liked helping them,” she says. “But sometimes it’s hard to stay calm and open-minded. But I handle domestic violence and elder abuse too and on a different level, they can be just as tough to deal with.”

And their “business” does not seem to be slowing down. In 2019 their unit worked 936 child abuse cases (babies, young children, rapes, physical abuse, etc.); 2,713 domestic abuse cases; and 553 elder abuse cases. That’s 4,202 cases, which equals a heavy caseload for the unit’s 11 detectives. These are numbers for Knox County only.

The Knoxville Police Department’s Family Crimes Unit has more cases to work than the county’s unit. That adds up to a huge number of child abuse, elder abuse and domestic violence cases in the city and county combined. Faulkner says there were 17,669 domestic violence calls for city and county units in 2019, or a call every 30 minutes.

Miranda Spangler

A second question for the detective is: What’s the hardest case she’s ever worked? “I knew you’d ask me that,” she said. Confidentiality and privacy prevent her from naming names – but she agreed to discuss it. It wasn’t easy for her.

“It was fairly early in my time here and a family took in a friend to help him out. While he was there, he raped their little girl twice. She was 10 and in the fifth grade,” Spangler said. “She got pregnant and had a C-section delivery and we had a baby having a baby. It was really really heartbreaking for me and still is.”

She has seen it all – shaken babies left with traumatic brain injury; young babies battered and covered with bruises; babies neglected and sexually abused; babies used for child pornography; babies burned with cigarettes and lighters.

Her work has not gone unnoticed. She has been honored five times by the sheriff and KCSO as its Detective of the Month, first in July 2012 and the latest one in October 2019.

“She’s very dedicated to the job and she has the experience. You usually don’t stay in this line of work as long as she has,” Faulkner says. “She’s the most experienced detective I have. And this is a place where most people in the department do not want to work. It’s hard to see what we see and deal with every day – but Miranda loves it. She’s very thorough and detailed.”

And she has no plans to leave. “I turn 42 soon so I have eight more years before retirement and my plan is to stay here until then,” she says. “I love this work. It’s not for everybody and I understand that, but for me, it’s what I love.”

Before joining the unit in 2010, she was assigned to patrol. She worked in the commissary at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Center at age 20 and spent some time doing Property & Intake work. At the downtown jail, she guarded maximum-security prisoners. In 2003 she attended the KCSO Police Academy and then spent 4 1/2 years working in elementary and high schools.

During her early years at KCSO, she also found time to have two children. Today, son Brady is 18 and daughter Sally is 17. Brady wants to be an electrician, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, and Sally has plans to be a medical examiner. Meanwhile, Spangler will go on doing her best to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. If you have suggestions about someone we should feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.

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