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Deputies Join the Thin Blue Line

The Rio Arriba County Sheriff s Office has three new deputies, after they graduated from the Law Enforcement Academy on May 18.

The new deputies, ranging in age from 27 to 32, had very different reasons for going into law enforcement.

Deputy Dorothy Onikute, 32, originally from New York, was running her own dog training business in Los Alamos, after she arrived in New Mexico in June 2013. She now lives in Chimay .

After the untimely death of her brother Martin Onikute, who was a lawyer, she decided to take the leap and become a deputy.

Deputy Gabe Wadt, 27, of Los Alamos, said his contracting business, building houses, was lucrative, but every job, while slightly different, was functionally the same. He now lives in Espa ola.

I didn t enjoy the contracting work, he said.

After a couple of ride-alongs with various Sheriff s Office deputies, Wadt was hooked. When he saw the opening for deputies advertised, he decided it was time to apply.

Paul Medlin, 29, of Chama, has been working toward a career in law enforcement for a long time. He started working security for the Wild Horse Casino and Hotel in Dulce, then started classes at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos for mechanical engineering. He dropped out of the program because he had a baby on the way with his then-wife.

To earn enough money to support himself and his newborn, he started working as a prison guard in Santa Fe and jumped at the opportunity when he saw the Sheriff s Office was hiring.

All three deputies started with the Sheriff s Office on Aug. 1, 2016. They started at the Santa Fe-based Academy on Jan. 29, before finally graduating, May 18.

Sheriff James Lujan said he decided to send all three deputies to the Academy at the same time because they needed to get their certifications before their first year was up and he did not want to have an employee on desk duty, waiting to go to the next Academy.

The state s Administrative Code states that a law enforcement officer can work for a year, before he must go through the Law Enforcement Academy and get certified.

Instead, I just sent all three, Lujan said. The rest of the deputies stepped up and were able to handle the (increased) workload.

Now that all three deputies are taking calls on their own, the pressure is off the rest of their colleagues.

It helps a lot, Lujan said. Now we re able to make it to more calls and do the job.

Capt. Randy Sanches said the three deputies, even though they were uncertified, outshined certified officers applying for the deputy positions.

These guys pushed and pushed and pushed through the entire (hiring) process, he said.

Lujan said the three are outstanding deputies.

They re doing great, he said. Vet tech

Onikute had lots of experience in the medical field before she decided to move to law enforcement. In addition to being a medic in New York, she also worked as a veterinary technician on the side, while she was running her dog training business in Los Alamos.

She first moved to New Mexico for an engagement that did not work out, but she decided to stay.

I always wanted to be in law enforcement, she said. That, or I wanted to be in law. (I wanted) to debate sides more than anything else.

Onikute had always put off the decision to either go into law or law enforcement. Then, her brother wound up on life support for a month, following an unspecified incident.

Before he died, she was able to talk to him about life and her goals. He gave her the push she needed to apply.

After he passed away, I owed him, she said.

Onikute said she knew that the fitness and strength requirements were going to be a challenge, so she started working out before the tryouts, to be absolutely sure she would pass the tests. Building houses

Wadt said he wanted to become a deputy for a variety of reasons.

After graduating from the University of Washington with a bachelor s degree, he moved back to New Mexico to be a construction contractor. Wadt grew up in Los Alamos.

His father retired from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked as a quantum chemist.

The work proved repetitive and Wadt wanted a change of pace.

He wanted a little bit of excitement in his life and he knew of Rio Arriba County s reputation as having some of the busiest law enforcement in the state.

That was borne out during the deputies first months, while they were paired with a field training officer.

All of us had felony arrests in the first month, he said.

At the academy, the deputies found that many of their fellow recruits planned to just answer calls, but not make any arrests or conduct any investigations.

Larger departments have officers and detectives that specialize in all sorts of crimes, including drunk driving and crimes of violence, Sanches said.

I enjoy helping people and I m in a capacity to help, Wadt said.

He said he s been able to make the biggest difference with children.

They re helpless, he said. They re at the whim of the courts, or the (Children, Youth and Families Department), so we go in and help move the needle in their favor. That s one of the most profound things.

Long journey to

law enforcement

For Medlin, all of his previous jobs led to his application to the Sheriff s Office. Between his time as security guard and a prison guard, he has dealt with most states in which humans can be found.

I ve learned what both sides look like, he said.

Medlin knows how to deal with an intoxicated person and how to deal with someone who s behind bars, and how the conditions of freedom and incarceration are inherently different.

He, too, says one of the best parts of his job is helping children receive a better outcome, once deputies are called.

Before he started as a security guard, Medlin joined the Army National Guard when he was 19 years old.

It seemed like the right thing to do, he said.

In the Army, he is trained as, and assigned to be a truck driver. He holds the rank of sergeant.

Bonding at the Academy

Sanches said he made sure to go to the Academy, as an adjunct professor, during the most stressful times. While there, he would find the three deputies and, as they reached their exhaustion points, ask if they were ready to go home yet.

I told him, That s not an option, Onikute said.

Sanches said he did not single-out the Rio Arriba recruits, but also sought other students who seemed to be nearing their breaking points.

Onikute said the Academy was closest to hell, as described in Dante Alighieri s Inferno.

It was like Dante s fifth (circle), she said.

Because the instructors knew that the three deputies were going to be working in Rio Arriba County, and had already spent five months on the job, they pushed the deputies harder than many of the other recruits.

They would remind us every week, your back-up is 45 minutes away, Onikute said.

Sanches said the three deputies will work incredibly well together, after their shared arduous experience.

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