Three vying for Cass County sheriff

Published 8:00 am Friday, April 22, 2016

Three local law enforcement officers will be competing for the Republican nomination as Cass County Sheriff in August’s primary election.

Current Undersheriff Richard Behnke, of Dowagiac; Cass County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Tim Cochran, of Niles; and Berrien County Sheriff’s Office corrections officer James Terry Ellis, of Edwardsburg, have all filed for the Republican nomination, according to Cass County Clerk/Register Monica Kennedy.

The deadline to file was 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Current Sheriff Joseph Underwood will not be seeking reelection this year, announcing in February that he would retire at the end of his current term on Dec. 31. Underwood has served as Cass County’s chief law enforcement official since 1993.

The office of Cass County Sheriff is a four-year term. As head of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff oversees law enforcement on county roadways and in townships, as well as the operations of the 911-dispatch center and the Cass County Jail in Cassopolis, among other responsibilities.

The three candidates will appear on the ballot of the Aug. 2 Michigan state primary election, with the winner receiving the GOP nomination for the office, moving on to the general election Nov. 8.

No residents filed for the Democrat or third-party nominations prior to the passage of Tuesday’s filing deadline. Potential candidates wishing to run without party affiliation can still file for the general election by July 21.

Here is information about each candidate in alphabetical order:


Richard Behnke

Richard Behnke

Richard Behnke

Behnke, of Dowagiac, is the current undersheriff of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, serving as second-in-command of the department under Sheriff Underwood.

A lifelong resident of Cass County, Behnke graduated from Dowagiac Union High School in 1982 and received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice management from Ferris State University in 1986.

Behnke has worked in law enforcement the past 30 years, beginning his career as an officer with the Village of Marcellus in 1986. He has worked the past 29 years in the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, serving as a deputy and sergeant in the patrol division, E-911 director in central dispatch and was promoted to undersheriff in 2003.

He is currently the chair of the Cass County Human Services Coordinating Council, a member of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, a member of the Dowagiac Rotary Club Board of Directors, and a member of the Finch Camp Foundation Board.

“I have been employed by the Cass County Office of Sheriff for 29 years and worked in every level from patrol deputy to mid management and executive level as undersheriff,” Behnke said. “I feel I am ready to take the next challenge as sheriff and welcome the opportunity to serve the citizens of Cass County.”


Tim Cochran

Tim Cochran

Tim Cochran

Cochran, of Niles, is a deputy sheriff with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the former chief of police of the Howard Township Police Department.

A lifelong resident of Cass County, Cochran graduated from Niles High School in 1978 and graduated from the Lake Michigan College Police Reserve Academy in 1985. He became a certified police officer in 1989.

Cochran has worked in law enforcement the last 27 years, starting as a reserve officer with both the Niles Township and Howard Township police departments. Upon graduating from police academy, he continued work at Howard Township department, being promoted to sergeant and eventually chief. He has served since 1999 with Cass County Sheriff’s Office, serving as a resource officer, detective for the cass county drug enforcement team, crime scene investigator for cass county major crime task force and currently as a deputy sheriff.

“I have experience in grant writing and I would like to see the Cass County Office of the Sheriff apply for community policing grants and other grants that can fulfill the needs that a budget cannot,” Cochran said. “These grants include hiring more police officers, upgrading dated equipment, educating and improving policing in the community with respect to opiates, heroin and meth. My goal would also include improving employee productivity and morale.”


James Terry Ellis

James Terry Ellis

James Terry Ellis

Ellis, of Edwardsburg, works for the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office as a corrections officer.

Born and raised in Berrien County, Ellis graduated from Grace Baptist High School in 1975.

After graduation, Ellis enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served a military police officer from 1976 to 1979. He later became a police officer with the Niles Township Police Department, serving on road patrol from 1982 to 2001. In 2001, he became an officer with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, working for several years in the department’s enforcement division before moving to the jail five years ago.

Ellis briefly served as a member of the Howard Township Parks Board, and is also a longtime volunteer at his church, Coulter’s Chapel Church of God, in Niles.

“My education comes from 35 years of police work,” Ellis said. “I feel I can do a good job for community. My number one goal is the community’s safety and well-being. I think I can make some needed changes at the sheriff’s department and get the job done.”