Detective Steve Ballard: ‘It’s not what you see on TV’

Tom KingEast Knox, Our Town Heroes

It is tedious and methodical work. It revolves around death. It requires patience and sustained focus. Asking yourself questions over and over and searching for answers. Interviews and evidence. Plus, teamwork. It’s 24/7/365. Welcome to the world of Major Crimes Det. Steve Ballard of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).

Steve Ballard

Ballard, 51, joined Major Crimes in November 2017 and brought to this job 20 years of experience – corrections, patrol, a field training officer, the criminal warrants division, to being a decorated K-9 patrol deputy. Ballard was KCSO’s K-9 Officer of the Year for 2013 and 2016.

Sheriff Tom Spangler talks about Ballard: “Steve’s one of those individuals who is extremely talented and could do just about anything. His experience as a patrolman and K-9 handler have undoubtedly shaped him into the detective he is today.”

He is one of eight detectives in Major Crimes investigating all non-domestic crimes against persons, including missing person cases, suicides and all homicides. Ballard considers it an honor to have been selected for this unit. “To me it is a huge thing to work in Major Crimes and investigate the most violent crimes we have,” he said. “It’s incredibly interesting and I do love it.”

Ballard and the other detectives, supervised by Lt. Jim Shipley, do not have slow days. Ballard has files for 42 open cases he’s working. “What we do is not what you see on TV. TV makes everything seem so simple and easy. It’s not that at all. We don’t have the technology that solves a case so quickly like TV. It is tedious work. It takes time to do these investigations. It’s a collaborative process among the detectives and other units in the department and the DA’s office (Knox County District Attorney).”

His decision to accept assignment in Major Crimes was made in part by his work and experiences on one of the most gruesome crimes – if not the most gruesome – in Knox County history. That was the ghastly murders and dismemberment of Lisa and Joel Guy in their home on Goldenview Lane on Nov. 26, 2016. Ballard, then on patrol, was the first KCSO deputy to enter the home the next morning along with Det. Jerry McCord. Ballard walked up the steps to the second floor and found Mr. Guy’s severed hands in the hallway. Mrs. Guy’s head was in a pot of boiling water on their stove.

Joel Michael Guy Jr., now 33, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of felony murder and two counts of abuse of a corpse. He is serving a 106-year sentence without parole.

“Yes, it was absolutely shocking. Being in shock is a better way of putting it. When I walked in through the garage and then through the door into the home, the smell from the stench and chemicals made my forehead feel like it was on fire. Another officer with me said he felt like he’d just walked through the gates of hell.

“That was a horrific crime scene, grisly and overwhelming. That case had something to do with my wanting to be in Major Crimes. It impacted me.”

He said another type of case affects him: “The cases that bother me the most are the suicides. No one can ever say why they did it or answer the family’s questions. You can become numb after a while, but I always pray for the families,” he explained. “I’ve got one suicide case I’ve been working on for two years and I simply can’t let it go.”

Ballard is a native of Knox County, reared in the Carter community and a 1989 graduate of Carter High School. At age 13 he went with his father to help search for a man with intellectual disabilities who was missing in East Knox County. “I met a man named Rick Harrington that day,” Ballard recalled. “We talked and he made quite an impression on me.” Harrington is a legend in the Knoxville emergency services profession and here is a LINK to our story on him.

As a junior at Carter High, Ballard worked for the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad for a year. He also spent a year as a volunteer firefighter for the New Market Volunteer Fire Department. He worked the next several years building and remodeling homes and today he is a very talented woodworker out of his “caveman” woodworking shop. We have a picture of one of his tables here.

This table was built by Det. Steve Ballard in his home woodshop.

He also works with his father at his shop and also helps care for his parents, both in their 80s.

This KCSO veteran is about as even-keeled as they come. “You think about the things you see but you have a job to do. I don’t consume myself with it or I’d start having issues. We move on and keep working, but as a human being we do not know how things will affect us. We all take it day by day.”

An old expression comes to mind about Ballard – salt of the earth.

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.

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