Community helps family uncover police officer’s story of courage

By Kristy Eppley, C-I staff writer, Chronicle-Independent, Camden, SC.
Submitted by C. Marquita Latta, Hampton, VA.
Nearly 80 years ago, a Camden police officer paid the ultimate price for justice. Robert “Uncle Bob” Latta laid down his life in an attempt to protect a woman from her estranged husband who reportedly had intentions of killing her.

Tuesday night, 9/09/1997, Marquita Latta, the officer’s great-grandniece, thanked the citizens of Camden, SC, during the meeting of Camden City Council for helping her bring his story to light and finally getting a sense of justice for his heroic act.

The story was uncovered when Latta, who lives in Hampton, VA, accidentally stumbled upon her great-granduncle’s death certificate while doing research in the courthouse in Columbia, SC, on a short trip.

At the time, almost no one she found in Camden, including Police Chief Jack Cobb and Archives Director Agnes Corbett, had ever heard of the Lattas or the incident that claimed Robert Latta’s life.

Through research, Latta found a 1/24/1919 issue of the Camden Chronicle that originally reported the incident. After four years of researching and submitting forms, her great-granduncle’s name was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, in Washington, DC, and the Criminal Justice Hall of Fame in Columbia, SC, in our year of 1997.

“If you... had not of helped me, I could not have gotten this far,” Latta said, scanning the room full of city officials and history buffs with her eyes. Latta presented the Camden Police Department with a framed collage—a pencil rubbing of her great-granduncle’s inscription on the national wall, surrounded by police patches, the program from the national service and a picture of Latta’s name on the wall. “In valor there is hope,’ one of the items read.

Latta also gave gifts to those who helped her most in her quest to honor her great-granduncle. Cobb and Mayor Minges received hats from the National Law Enforcement Wall in DC., in addition, peanuts, specialty of her home state of Virginia. Monica Sheorn, Records Administrator, received a T-shirt with the Hampton Carousel and peanuts. Bev Crane received a coffee cup with peanut.

However, the big gift was saved for someone Latta said helped her tremendously. Agnes Corbett, director of the Camden Archives, SC, received a fax machine for the archives, a plaque in regards to Robert A. Latta, police officer, and his only son Albertus L. Latta, U. S. Rural Mail Carrier, to be hung in the archives and a plaque for her own dedication to Camden, SC, history.

Latta said she could not express how much she appreciated all the help she had gotten from the people of Camden in making sure that her great-granduncle was properly honored. He is the only city of Camden police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Robert “Uncle Bob” Latta was killed 1/22/1919. On 2/10/1919, he would have reached his 65th birthday. His reputation was that of not carrying a gun and would reason things out in potential problems.

Through previous publicity, Dallas Phelps, a Camden, SC, citizen provided Latta with documents that helped her locate a great-grandson of the officer in Monroe, NC, who put her in touch with his aunt in Florida who was 10 years old when the incident occurred.

Robert Albertus Latta was her grandfather, and one of the things she told Marquita Latta in their telephone conversations was that her “Pop-pop was a hero”.

“Now, he will always be a hero to everybody” who appreciates the police department, Latta said, urging folks to let their policemen know they are appreciated.

Latta has a special reason to believe that her great-granduncle was a hero. She was a victim of spousal abuse in the mid 70’s. “Uncle Bob was saving a woman from spousal abuse and possibly murder when he died. That could have very easily been me in a different time. Abuse is abuse, it has no date or time. It remains the same.

When she got into town this week, Latta was taken to Boykin Park by David Blackwell, who was 11 years old when the shooting took place. The park, which used to be known as Team Row, is where the incident occurred.

Corbett said she enjoyed helping Latta bring her great-granduncle’s story to light. “I want to commend this family and Marquita especially for bringing a story forth that might have been forgotten.”

Robert Albertus Latta, police officer, was the great-grandson of James Latta and Elizabeth Houstin Latta, descendent through their son William Latta, branch #12.

James Latta was the owner of Historic Latta Plantation, which is now on the National Register of Historic Sites, located in Mecklenburg County, Huntersville, NC. Rubbing of Uncle Bob's Name