Cpl Landon Gary and Assistant District Attorney Melissa Handke win Mitch Sperry Legacy awards

Plamedie Ifasso
The Daily Ardmoreite

Ardmore Police detective Cpl Landon Gary and Assistant District Attorney Melissa Handke received the 2019 and 2020 Mitch Sperry Legacy award for their continued work in protecting the lives of children. 

The Carter County Multidisciplinary team usually presents the award for the following year during a retreat, but because the retreat didn’t happen last year due to COVID, both winners for 2019 and 2020 were awarded during this year’s event, Gary said. 

Gary, who received the 2019 Mitch Sperry Legacy award, started working in the Ardmore Police Department in 2015. Gary spent three years on patrol before he moved to the criminal investigation division. He grew up in Ardmore, and despite the fact that he didn’t initially plan on coming back, he takes pride in being able to make a difference in his hometown. 

“I’m in a unique position,” Gary said. “Being a detective and doing what we do, I get to work a lot of crimes against children. Kids aren’t able to really have a voice sometimes, so being able to be a voice for them and get justice for the kids is one of the most rewarding parts.” 

Gary said he doesn’t forget any of the child cases he’s worked on and every one of them is important to him. A thought, Handke, the recipient of the 2020 Mitch Sperry Legacy Award, can also relate. Handke said while some cases may be more difficult, each victim is equally as important to her. 

“As a criminal prosecutor and juvenile prosecutor, my job is to represent those who seek justice,” Handke said. “Sometimes that means I speak for the child who is too small or shy to speak up, or sometimes it’s the elderly man whose property has been burglarized numerous times.  When it comes to child abuse or neglect cases, my heart breaks for these children and what they go through.” 

Growing up, Handke knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She realized her passion for being in the courtroom while interning for the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office. After graduating from law school in 2003, Handke worked in private practice for many years in Oklahoma City. 

After she and her husband moved to Carter County in 2010, Handke worked as the in-house counsel for an insurance company and became the Assistant District Attorney in 2015. 

“While this is an individual award, I am only as strong as the team that I work with which starts with my boss, Craig Ladd,” Handke said. “I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful mentors throughout my career.” 

Handke said she relies on her faith and family for support when having to mentally prepare for difficult cases. Gary said a lot of these cases deal with loss, and it’s important to focus on the wins. 

“You can't dwell on the losses,” Gary said. “You just got to celebrate the wins and the ones that you were really able to help and get justice for. You got to linger on those, instead of dwelling on the losses that we have.”