Retired Sheriff Yee was 'like pit bull' in bringing justice
The scrapbook of retired Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Gim Yee looks like a Who's Who of the county's most notorious criminals.
Inside are newspaper clippings with photos of Yee escorting Wilkinsburg shooting spree killer Ronald Taylor; Yee's hand on the arm of Kenneth Hairston, who bludgeoned his wife and son to death in 2001 in Garfield; walking behind Joseph Cornelius, a homeless man who killed an 11-year-old boy in the North Side; and perhaps the most violent of all, escorting Mt. Lebanon native Richard Baumhammers, who killed five people on a shooting spree through two counties in April 2000.
In each photo, Yee wears his sheriff's uniform, his black hair swept to the side above his glasses, earpiece in, little emotion on his face as photographers snap pictures of the man he's taking to and from a courtroom in the County Courthouse, Downtown.
“Since I was little, I wanted to do law enforcement. I believe in justice,” said Yee, 62. “I enjoy helping people.”
Yee of South Park retired last month after nearly 33 years in the sheriff's office. He worked in nearly every division of the office in his career, but he was most known for appearing in news photos and television footage next to infamous defendants at the courthouse.
He laughed about times people recognized him in public.
“It was embarrassing. One time I was at Sam's Club, and a lady was there, and she said, ‘I see you in my bedroom all the time.' And I'm there with my wife, and the cashier is looking at me. Then another guy said, ‘I see you on TV all the time in my bedroom, too,' ” Yee said. “My wife was giggling, laughing.”
Yee and his wife have two children and four grandchildren. He grew up in McKees Rocks and graduated from Sto-Rox High School in 1968. His father was part-Hawaiian, part-Chinese, and his mother was from Canton, China. They met when his father, serving in the Navy during World War II, was in a port in China receiving medical treatment for a shrapnel wound. His mother was a nurse there.
“He told her he would come back for her, and he did come back,” Yee said. “I'm glad he did.”
Among family pictures in his two-story home, Yee has piles of awards and commendations, including a letter from the Ohio Department of Taxation for assistance in an investigation, an award from the Law Enforcement Agency Directors of Allegheny County, 2004 Amen Corner law enforcement award and a 2002 recognition award from the Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff's Association for making more than 100 warrant arrests.
“Justice is very important to me, making all those arrests,” Yee said.
Sheriff Bill Mullen said Yee was a hard worker.
“He would find out who was in the courthouse and run their names to see if they had warrants. He went above and beyond in looking to see that,” Mullen said. “He was very pleasant, helpful and showed respect. And he was always in the paper.”
Yee graduated from Point Park College in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in biological science. He attended Carnegie Mellon University for graduate school. He left his job as a medical researcher at the VA Hospital in Oakland to take a job as a deputy sheriff in 1980 for less than half the pay.
“You can't get justice doing research,” Yee said.
Yee was hired by Sheriff Eugene Coon and later served under Sheriff Pete DeFazio until DeFazio resigned in 2006 amid a federal investigation of the sheriff's office.
“I've known him all my life. He's a great family guy,” said Joe Panucci, 59, of McKees Rocks, who works as a clerk in the courthouse. “Gim was like a pit bull. He'd always run the names and have a list prepared, and then, he'd come in and collar the guy.”
Yee is a National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor, teaches merit badge classes for Boy Scouts and leads safety courses in pistol, shotgun and rifle in the Clairton and Carrick sportsman clubs.
Some prisoners he escorted during the years write him letters asking how he's doing. He wears gloves when he opens prison mail — just in case — but does not write back.
“I don't want to make them sad. What am I going to say?” Yee said.