Immediately after Deputy Jonathan Lozada picked me up at the edge of my driveway to begin our second ride-along (click here to meet him in the first ride-along), a call came in that would prove to be tragic and sad, and set the emotional tone of the ride along which would also include a heart-wrenching domestic violence event.
"OK, so we have a call for a suspicious incident," says Deputy Lozada. "Actually more of a welfare check, as you can see in the notes." He is referring to the 911 Dispatch notes appearing on his laptop screen.
I tell you, when you go into a whole new field, you soon learn how very little you really know! I was thinking, "Welfare check? Welfare check. Hmmmmmm. Like food stamps? HUH?"
Since there are hopefully no stupid questions, I asked him to clarify the nature of a welfare check, and he explained it is when someone calls in to ask us to check on a person.
OH !! Checking on someone's welfare. OK. Got it.
(NOTE: the information I am about to share is public knowledge now and has been reported in the press. I will give the link at the end of this call).
"Subject has a heart condition, lost his wife last week," Deputy Lozada reads from the 911 dispatch notes. "Concerned neighbor called saying he left the dogs loose inside his house and hasn’t been seen since yesterday afternoon."
Lozada turns the car around and we head toward the neighborhood. "All right, we are going to make sure he is OK. He could be in the house needing help, or unfortunately deceased."
We learn that Corporal Scott Sposato and Deputy Jacob Curby have just arrived on the scene.
"We usually send one unit but we will go help him out," he says.
On way there, we talk and he tells me he has just finished a month-long Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs course at Indian River State College. "Actually Sgt. (Eric) Flowers wrote the course and teaches some of it. I have been taking it at night. I learned how to obtain search warrants, what is needed for wire taps. It gives a better understanding of what is on the street. I also learned some interesting facts like Florida is the #1 (marijuana) grow state. California being the second."
Once on scene, we stay in our car in case another call comes. We watch Sposato and Curby speaking with the missing man's neighbors. They had lived next to him for 15 years, have keys to his house and already checked it. He was not inside.
"If he turns out to be a 'missing elderly endangered' that is going to automatically bump up the priority of us finding him," explains Lozada. "We will contact friends, family, next of kin. Have you heard from him since the wife’s passing? We will check the jail and hospitals."
UPDATE: The next day Lozada emailed me, asking, did I see the news? The man had been found deceased in a body of water behind Oslo Middle School. Click HERE to read the news story.
On road patrol, things happen so quickly you barely have time to absorb any of it before you are onto the next duty.
"Now we are going to check on Deputy Ben Buffington. He is out on a traffic stop over here. We are just going to check and make sure he is all right."
It's a Wednesday which has overlapping shifts and thus more officers. He says there are about 35 officers on duty, and usually 15-20 on other days. He talks about his day yesterday which was spent chasing a stolen car as well as jumping into a canal ditch running after burglars on foot! Hmmm - note to self: I may need to get a waterproof camera!
When we reach Buffington, he is back in his car. The two park side by side and Lozada uses his radar detector and they work as a team. "So I will sit here with Ben. He doesn’t have radar in his car, so he will go for the first speeder, then I will go for the next one. I would transfer the probable cause to him so he could write them a ticket. I would just have to sign my name on it as being the radar operator. 61 ON THAT SILVER ONE," he shouts out to Buffington. Have you ever heard the sound of a radar machine? I am not sure I could handle it day in and out. Think of 'the most annoying sound in the world' from the movie Dumb and Dumber.
A little while later we had a chat with Deputy Buffington.
"I was born in Plantation, Florida and when I was around 3 or 4 we moved to the Vero Highlands," says Buffington. "My father works for IRCSO as well."
His dad is Lt. Mark Buffington, whom we will meet soon when Chunky Chat visits the 911 Dispatch Center.
"As a kid growing up I would participate in some of the sheriff office events such as softball tournaments and parades. One year I was in the McGruff crime watch dog outfit walking around the sheriff office BBQ!"
This August will mark his 9th year working for the IRCSO. He started in the fleet service working on all the sheriff office vehicles from helicopters to golf carts. He did the same for the Indian River Shores and city of Fellsmere vehicles. Next month marks one year on the road for him, the majority spent in south county where he grew up. He says he likes giving back to the community, especially in his old neighborhood, just like Lozada.
"Some of the men and women who worked the road back then when I was a kid still work for IRCSO and some have been my supervisors. Like my father, they watched me like a hawk growing up, making sure I didn't choose the wrong path in life or hang out with the wrong people. I knew since I was a kid surrounded by my 'uncles and aunts' wearing green that I wanted to be a deputy sheriff."
He describes how tough it was the year he spent working and going through police academy at the same time.
"Let me tell you, working all day till 4, then rushing home to get cleaned up and maybe grabbing a bite to eat to be in class at 5:30, I am not going to lie - it was rough physically and mentally! I couldn't have done it without my law enforcement family, and my regular family and friends."
We now head to the IRC Courthouse. Lozada has two appointments to give evidence to the State Attorney's Office. On the way, I am watching the map of the county on the screen and say, "Somewhere on that map, there is something going on and someone is planning something, somewhere!"
He laughs and says, "They are up to some secret squirrel stuff and it is up to us to find out what it is!"
Once upstairs, Lozada first speaks to Steve Wilson regarding a reckless driving case, and then we meet up with Deputy Brian Aguiar and Bill Long. Deputy Aguiar is a familiar face to regular Chunky Chat readers, starting with the first Citizen's Academy entry from May 2014. A couple weeks prior, Lozada and Aguiar happened to be at the same intersection and caught on their video cameras an accident allegedly involving a stolen car, resulting in several felony charges.
"That lady he hit had car seats in her back," says Lozada after we leave court. "And had she had a kid back there – that would have been a tough day for all of us on scene. Especially Brian (Deputy Aguiar) and I who saw it happen. We would be thinking, we just saw this kid get killed. Sometimes it can get tough for us."
"A big percentage of our job is working with the State Attorney's Office," he explains. "They file the charges. They are the reason people go to jail or prison. I don’t take any of it personally. Whether or not the SA files a case, all I really care is the Judge held probable cause so that I can’t be held liable for a wrongful arrest."
Once in the car, I read the screen. "Attempt to locate." Deputy Curby is looking for the missing (now deceased) man we checked on earlier.
Having spent so much time in Fire Rescue doing the Book where they are always together as a team, I had a misconception when I started working with IRCSO that deputies were mostly all alone. That is really not the case at all. They are alone in their cars usually but they always are watching out for each other, providing backup and support.
We hear on the radio that Buffington and Curby are nearby making an arrest. The gentleman had a warrant out for his arrest and Buffington had been looking for him when he drove right by! With them is Deputy Daniel Whittington, although you won't see him here because he is camera-shy. (Next time I will insist!).
We go for backup.
After we took a little time to get to know Deputy Curby who began his career in law enforcement in July 2014.
"I was born and raised in Fort Pierce," he says. "It's nice because I work in Indian River County and live in Saint Lucie County just five miles across county line. So the people I arrest - I don’t see them when I go out to the grocery store."
I ask if he always wanted to be in law enforcement.
"Oh yes, for sure. Since I was a kid it was always something I looked at doing. My grandfather was a Saint Lucie County deputy years ago too, so I think deep down it is something in the blood that travels through and is inherited! When I was first in school, though, I thought I would play it safe and so I went to be a computer technology major. I got about a year into that and switched to criminal justice. When I got my degree, I went straight into the Academy and was hired right off the bat here."
What does he want you to know?
"That we are here to help. That is pretty much all there is. We have our crime in Indian River County just like anywhere else. The biggest part of our job is community interaction. We are just here to help. Don’t be scared to call us. Often people will call only when things get really bad and they tell us all this previous stuff and we ask why didn’t you call us earlier?! No problem is too small. We help people get inside their houses, unlock their cars, all the way up to felony arrests. We protect and serve. And Service is probably 90% of it!"
We leave to help Deputy Linda Nolan move a disabled car off the road, and on the way I learn Lozada is now on the Negotiations Team with Sgt. Mike Pierce (another familiar face on Chunky Chat!) through our IRCSO S.W.A.T. team. UPDATE: Since the ride along, Lozada was chosen to be a Field Training Officer for IRCSO! Congratulations!
Oh - so, back to the story! I have been told that as soon as it get to be 3 or 4 pm, the number of calls and incidents increase substantially. Sure enough, the clock strikes 4 pm and it starts to get hectic. Deputies are answering calls left and right. Then we are asked to see if we can locate a man with multiple warrants out on him, including a US Marshal's warrant.
Lozada, Buffington and Curby begin communicating as all three make their way to the apartment complex where they are looking for a specific car connected to the suspect. They discuss the layout of the location, what and who they are looking for, and who will do what.
He says to me, “Gather intel and formulate the plan!”
We arrive and see the car. They already know what apartment it is connected to (a known associate of the person in question) and make their way to the door. A bunch of kids are in the street nearby playing and the deputies are relaxed and kind and low key with them. They crack some jokes and make the kids smile as they go off down the street to play.
The lady of the house grants permission to the deputies to enter and do a 'sweep'. There is no sign of him, not even any clothing. After the scene is secure, they walk me though partially to show what a sweep looks like, then we thank the woman of the house and leave. Throughout her home are attractive little plaques and signs with the words HOPE and BELIEVE. I am reminded how fortunate I am and grateful for my own life circumstance.
When we leave, Curby has already pulled over a man driving with ear buds in both ears, which is illegal. The stop reveals a suspended license, and Lozada says how Curby has that kind of luck. He will pull someone over and there will be drugs in the car, or the discovery of something like a suspended license. Lozada says when he himself pulls over a car, it is usually a little old lady who is scared, and he feels bad!
Next we see a group of juveniles, and several of them are known and convicted burglars. I still blurred their faces even though their mugshots are on the IRSCO website. They are not doing anything wrong - although they do shoot us the middle finger as seen in my blurry photo taken through the windshield from far away - but we are going to show our presence which is a known crime deterrent.
"There is nothing that says we cannot just step out and talk to them," says Lozada. "This is a consensual encounter."
Next Curby calls and asks Lozada to meet him in a public area where he believes people have open containers (beer). We roll up with dash cam video running to see if they throw cans into the water below, which one man does. After they speak with him, we walk nearby through a homeless camp. Again, gratitude time for me!! Having been to two of these camps now, I often think of them when it is raining, or especially cold or hot at night.
The calls keep coming, including a family hiding up in the back of their truck when a neighborhood pit bull on the loose came into their yard and threatened them and their small dog. We speak to the people and they point in the direction the dog went. We drive slowly down the side street until we spot him. He seems friendly at this point, panting and happy to see us. Lozada gets out and manages to leash him.
We locate his home, secure him, and get him some water, and that's when we get the domestic violence call.
We read the notes from Dispatch. Several adults in the house cannot calm the teen and he is in a violent state. It says he is Autistic. “They are very strong,” says Lozada as he puts on his gloves.
Curby is already on scene waiting. "I don’t want to send Curby in by himself if the guy is going to bite and fight. There is a possibility if he is going crazy, we might be going hands on here."
He also calls in Deputy Miguel Ruiz, whom we met on the Night Ride Part 1 with Sgt. Milo Thornton (April 2015). “We are going to be stacked on this one for officer safety.”
Holy wow, this experience blew my little mind. Dang. We get in there and the family members are hurt and bleeding. The officers were soon facing a physical situation with the teen - who was very large and strong indeed - and also at the same time trying to calm and protect the parents who were right there in the middle of it. The officers remained level headed and in control of the situation and brought it to a peaceful conclusion rather swiftly.
Once the boy was calm, they bought him outside to sit and get some air while we awaited the paramedics. The entire time we waited, the boy was sweetly repeating over and over again, "It's just imagination. When the storm is done, we will all be OK."
All the while his mother rubbed and held the top of his head with her hand, tears in her eyes. My heart broke for her and the family, and also filled with the display of such deep unconditional love. The love of a mother. I then remembered actually meeting this boy only weeks before at a musical presentation with his school. I was shooting photos for Luminaries/Press Journal.
Just before we left, I was in the kitchen with the mother and told her I knew him and how happy he was that day at the festival, singing and dancing to the music.
Tears rolled down her face and she smiled. She asked me, "Are you a mother too?"
I answered, "No, but I can see that you are a very good mother."
They had just moved here, and she was starting to arrange the dining room. I told her how much I loved how she had set it up and how I can see that she clearly loves flowers, and that I do too. She picked up a lamp off the floor, broken during the outburst earlier, and just kind of shrugged and laughed and put it back down. I thought she said, "It's only a thing." But I am not sure now if that was what she actually said, or what I was thinking.
At the end, Lozada's farewell words to me as he dropped me home were: "Another day in the books and safely home."
Be safe out there!
I am an official, fully vetted volunteer with the Indian River County Sheriff's Office (Citizen's Academy, background checks, fingerprinted, etc.). Since my expertise is photo-journalism, producing these stories is one way I give back to my community.
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