Deputy Sheriff Mike Lilley was born in Okeechobee, FL. Initially he lived in Okeechobee, but also spent time later living in Lakeport, Immokalee, Felda and LaBelle.
For a couple of years after graduation, Lilley spent some time working at DUDA in the cattle and sugar cane division. He also worked at LaBelle Ranch, and did a lot of day work. He took advantage of the Isabella Curtis Scholarship offered to LaBelle High graduates for a little while. However, he enjoyed working, hog hunting and his rodeo time more. He soon left the collegiate track to focus on other interests.
For a time, Lilley’s days were spent as a day worker and enjoying the Pro Rodeo circuit with his friend Mark Tindall. He soon realized, though, that being a cowboy and doing day work was not going to provide insurance and retirement benefits. He listened to his friend, and decided to follow a new path.
First, Lilley tried plumbing school, but found he had a strong dislike for this trade. He then decided that he might like to try operating heavy equipment. His dad owned his own mechanic business, and since Lilley grew up around machinery, it seemed like a good fit. He was soon hired by Spiller Construction and began working out of Fort Myers. During this time, he operated a loader and bulldozer for about two years.
After Hurricane Katrina, the young couple decided to move to Maryland where Lilley’s grandparents lived. While living up north, Lilley worked at a rock pit running heavy equipment again. This lasted for about nine months because he could not tolerate the cold winter. He admitted that he “is a Florida boy who likes the warm weather.”
After moving back to Florida, Lilley once again found work operating heavy equipment. He was hired by Advanced Grading Solutions, and quickly moved up the managerial ladder. He worked as the General Manager for about three years. Sadly, when the economy tanked, so did the construction industry. This is when Lilley had a major shift in his career vision.
Going in a completely different direction, Lilley tried out for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and was hired in February of 2009. He attended the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy in Tallahassee, FL. After seven months of training, Lilley became a certified FWC Officer. While there, he also received the Officer Roy Burnsed Award, which is a coveted achievement (most-likely to succeed), named in memory of Officer Roy R. Burnsed Jr., who died in 2001 in the line of duty.
Lilley then settled back home in LaBelle. As an FWC Officer, he had a large territory to cover. He was also selected to be a part of a pilot program called Response Protection Unit (RPU) and the FWC Special Operations Group (SOG). Being a part of SOG gave him the opportunity to attain several trainings that would eventually help further his career.
When an FWC K9 position came available, he applied and was accepted. He was partnered with a yellow lab named Roscoe who was rescued from a kill shelter. Once again, Lilley loaded up with his new partner, and headed back to Tallahassee to receive more training for another seven months. The duo then came back to LaBelle and worked under various area sheriffs departments.
Officer Lilley and Officer Roscoe stayed with FWC for about six years, and enjoyed having the opportunity to work under FWC Lt. Pam Steelman. During his tenure with this department, Lilley was named Officer of the Year for his region, as well as the Wild Turkey Federation SRA Officer of the Year. Ready for another change, Lilley decided to apply with the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), and hoped to eventually land a position with their K9 Unit. K9 Roscoe was sent to work with another K9 Handler in Collier County.
Shortly after, he was hired by HCSO as a road patrol deputy. After a couple of months, a K9 position opened with the department. In need of a new furry partner, Deputy Sheriff Lilley traveled back to Tallahasse to “interview” several dogs. He settled on a nine month old Belgium Malinois named Neko.
In order to receive much needed intensive training, Deputy Sheriff Lilley took Neko to work with Corporal Justin Rigney at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The team drove back and forth between West Palm Beach and LaBelle for nearly a year. Neko was trained in narcotics detection, man tracking, and obedience. He was also certified through the Florida Law Enforcement Canine Association (FLECA).
When the training was complete, Deputy Sheriff Lilley and his K9 partner returned to LaBelle where they assist the HCSO Road Patrol Unit as needed. He stated, “this Unit is awesome, and it’s working very well with the road deputies.” During this time, he also obtained his K9 Trainer Certification and became a FLEKA certifying official which affords him the ability to certify dogs. He was able to bring all of this knowledge back to Hendry County. It now makes training and certifying K9’s much easier and more cost effective.
As the lead K9 Trainer, Deputy Sheriff Lilley is also the Supervisor and Trainer of the K9 Unit. His days and nights are spent running the unit, and making sure that the needs of the dogs and their handlers are met. There is also a great deal of paperwork, phone calls and emails that have to be attended to each day. He spends time acquiring sites and building where his unit can practice various training activities. His unit will give presentations at schools and area events to help the public understand what the K9 Unit is truly all about.
Deputy Sheriff Lilley has been married to his wife, Suzi, for nearly eight years. She is a second grade teacher at Upthegrove Elementary who is also currently working on her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. Together, they have three fur babies – Walter (Pug), Stanley (Boston Terrier,) and of course Neko. In their free time, they both enjoy anything that has to do with the outdoors. The couple is especially fond of boating and traveling.
Deputy Sheriff Lilley, along with his K9 Unit, work hard to keep a positive and successful relationship with the Road Patrol Unit. He is grateful that the HCSO “treats his unit very well”. The residents of Hendry County are fortunate to have both of these highly trained officers protecting their community.