Standup comedian Juston McKinney was a young deputy sheriff when he was frequently assigned to protect the late President George H.W. Bush which, he recalled, was an honor “even though the pay wasn’t exactly great.”
McKinney was 19 when he was hired as a York County, Maine deputy sheriff and worked as a county cop until 1997. Because the Bush family’s Walker’s Point compound in Kennebunkport is in York County, McKinney found himself assigned to various presidential details.
“I was the outermost ring of protection,” he recalled. “I would be in my police car at a checkpoint, along with a Secret Service agent, and if a car drove up I would have to get out of my cruiser, approach the vehicle and verify identification. So if something went down I would get shot first, they would hear a noise and know there was a problem. But I was OK with it, because I was making almost nine dollars every hour. Big bucks.”
McKinney said he worked presidential motorcades and crowd control, when the elder Bush came and went, or when visiting dignitaries were in the area. He said he also conducted an investigation into a burglary at an Arundel boat house, where Bush stored his boat.
“I processed the scene,” said McKinney, who has since appeared on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” on multiple occasions and has been featured on Comedy Central. “It was the end of the Gulf War, so the thought of an attack on our president was very real. But to be honest, he was a brave war hero who fought in WWII, he was a tough guy, so if there was a problem, I was hoping he would save me.”
McKinney said he and his fellow deputies learned quickly that Secret Service agents were keeping an eye on them.
“One guy I worked with went to go to the bathroom in the woods and he heard rustling,” he said. “It was Secret Service agents, in all black, and they were watching us. It was pretty intense.”
On May 25, 1992, McKinney said, he was 21 years old when President Bush personally thanked all of the law enforcement officers for protecting him.
“He was very genuine and sincere looked you right in the eye,” said McKinney, who grew up in Portsmouth and now lives in Newmarket. “It was a moment I’ll never forget. I was only 21 years old, and he was president of the United States. You felt like he was a great man.”
When the president shook his hand, McKinney said, a Secret Service agent took a photo and later mailed it to him. The local comedian said he never knew the agent was there, or took the photo, until he received it.
“Nowadays you’d do a selfie,” he said. “I didn’t have that luxury in 1992.”