Hurlbut embraced Wild West character as San Juan’s chief

Lonny 'Greywolf' Hurlbut

Former police chief of San Juan Bautista Lonny “Greywolf” Hurlbut died Jan. 30 in Nebraska. He was 77.

Hurlbut, who served in an outfit of jeans, cowboy boots and a low-slung gun holster, moved from Ohio to San Benito County in the early 1980s to take the job as chief of police in San Juan. As the story goes, the former private security officer learned to ride a horse to participate in a city parade.

“I know that’s where my dad’s heart was,” said Stormi Hurlbut-Kissel, who lived in San Juan during her middle school and high school years when her father served as an officer. “He honestly cared about everybody. A lot of times we would have a family meal changed or he would work a holiday to give another one of his employees or reserves the night off.”

She recalled how the family members were not allowed to have pets, but every time her father found a stray animal, he would bring it home. Hurlbut-Kissel said they got to take care of the animals until they were picked up or adopted.

“We never really had to have our own,” she said.

Hurlbut-Kissel recalled her father as “really, really funny.”

“He just was funny as hell, but really sincere,” she said. “He was a jokester, big time.”

Hurlbut, who legally changed his name to Greywolf, may be best known for dressing in Western attire instead of his standard issue police uniform. He was featured in “People” magazine and multiple times in the “Los Angeles Times” for his antics.

His daughter said she remembered the publicity driving her a little crazy when she was younger. She said a TV crew showed up to talk with her dad as she was getting ready for her eighth-grade graduation.

“Then at my wedding to my husband we walked out of the church and there were photographers everywhere,” she said. “I realized they weren’t there for me – they were there for him.”

Hurlbut’s tenure in the Mission City had some controversial moments. In 1987, the police chief suspended himself when a “drunken street brawl” broke out at Dona Esther Mexican Restaurant, according to an archived Free Lance article. Hurlbut was the one who recommended to the city council that he be suspended for a few days because he was intoxicated and unable to break up a fight that included a reserve police officer along with two volunteer firefighters. Hurlbut, the officer and the firefighters were off duty at the time of the incident.

Hurlbut also defied the San Juan cultural resources board when they asked him to enforce a sign ordinance that prohibited the use of the U.S. flag for commercial purposes. Hurlbut refused to make business owners remove the flags. He reportedly paraded down the city’s main street with a flag and quit the job. He returned for a few months in 1989 at which point county District Attorney Harry Damkar brought charges against him of conspiracy and tampering with evidence. He was found guilty in July 1990, at a time when San Juan Bautista was recovering from a recall effort that ousted three city council members.

In 2003, then San Benito County District Attorney John Sarsfield called for the reexamination and possible retrial of 60 felony convictions dating back to 1984, including the conviction of Hurlbut.

Despite the controversy at the end of his career, Hurlbut-Kissel said her father’s time in San Juan was a highlight for him.

“My dad loved San Juan and he was honored to be the police chief,” she said. “He just really would light up when he would go to work.”

She said until the end of his life when he would talk about San Juan, his eyes would light up.

Hurlbut-Kissel said a celebration of life is in the works for some time this summer in San Juan, though a date and time has not been announced yet.

“We loved San Juan,” she said. “That’s where we called home.”

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