Aspen Times Weeky: All in the Family
photos by ANNA STONEHOUSE
When Kyle Ryan applied to be a deputy at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, he didn’t tell his father about it.
And while that alone may not be surprising, the fact that his dad is Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan might make the decision a bit more likely to elicit a raised eyebrow.
“I was shocked,” Ron Ryan said in a recent interview. “Our office manager said, ‘Have you read the applications yet? Did you know Kyle applied?’
“I didn’t know he applied.”
Ron Ryan’s surprise soon gave way to pride, both in his son’s choice to follow in his professional footsteps as well as his desire to uphold the same community-policing ideals deeply embedded in the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office that Ron Ryan has upheld his entire career.
“Kyle is an incredibly smart guy,” Ron Ryan said. “For him to want to be a part of this organization, … it was nice to hear that.”
As it turns out, the Ryans’ family dynamic is not the only father-son, torch-passing currently playing out in the Sheriff’s Office.
Three weeks ago, Quinton Wheatley began as a full-fledged Pitkin County deputy after three months with a training officer. Wheatley — who, like Kyle Ryan, grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley — is the son of Aspen police Officer Kirk Wheatley, a 17-year veteran of APD and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
“He’s a common-sense thinker,” Kirk Wheatley said of his son. “He’s rational about a lot of things.”
Quinton’s mom, Penny Paxton, also works in law enforcement. The longtime former Basalt Police Department officer and current agent in Denver for the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division said the residents of Pitkin County are fortunate to get both young men.
“It’s such a tight-knit community up there and both of them have a sense of that,” she said. “They know what’s expected of them as police officers in that community. They know that from their parents.
“Just being from there has molded what they’re about.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said he’s excited to welcome the next generation to his staff.
“I think it’s cool they knew their dads’ profession and wanted to pursue it,” he said. “They know it’s an honorable profession.”
Quinton, 27, graduated from Basalt High School in 2008, while Kyle, 23, graduated from Aspen High School in 2012. Both said they knew from an early age they wanted careers in law enforcement, though they approached that goal from different points of view.
Quinton said he attended college classes at Colorado Mountain College and Colorado State. He also worked as a delivery driver and at various service and hotel jobs before he began seriously thinking about becoming a deputy two years ago.
“I did ride-alongs with (my parents) as a kid, so I knew from early on I wanted to do this,” he said. “But I wanted to have some life experience first.”
Quinton said the job appealed to him because it’s not the same every day. He also said he wanted to “go out and make positive relationships.”
“So often you hear about negative police contacts,” he said.
Paxton said she doesn’t remember her son expressing a desire for a career in law enforcement as a boy, but believes he came by it naturally.
“I think he just grew up with his dad and I and valued what we did and why we did it,” she said. “Law enforcement is not an easy career path.”
However, Paxton said if she felt Quinton wasn’t right for the job, she wouldn’t have hesitated to tell him. That didn’t happen.
“Quinton has always been, I guess you could say, big-hearted,” she said. He’s a very caring individual. He has a good heart and a good soul.
“He’s very grounded, and I thought he would be a good fit (to be a deputy).”
DiSalvo said he’s known Kyle since he was born but had never met Quinton before, though he’s known Kirk Wheatley for years.
“I think Kirk said Quinton was interested (in becoming a deputy) and I said I’d love to sit with him one on one,” the sheriff said. “I was instantly impressed.
“He grew up in this community. He knows what comes with this job. He was just a good man – just like his dad.”
Kirk Wheatley said he never pushed his son into a law enforcement career, but thinks his love of the outdoors is well-suited to the duties of a county deputy, as opposed to an officer in the city.
“I’ve trained hundreds of (police officers) and I can instantly tell if they’re city or county,” he said. “Being in the county fits his personality more.”
Quinton Wheatley agreed, and said his love of hunting and hiking draws him more to the wide open spaces of Pitkin County.
“I really like how the county … really puts a lot of trust in you to use your own discretion,” he said. “I love being a deputy.”
Ron Ryan moved from Detroit to Aspen when he was 8 years old. He graduated from Aspen High School in 1987 and went to work first for the Aspen Police Department in 1990, then for the Sheriff’s Office three years later.
He’s been with the agency ever since, and has served as DiSalvo’s undersheriff since he was first elected in 2010.
“Having grown up here and brought up kids here, (I know) it’s not easy,” he said. “But I have such an amazing respect for this valley and the people in it.
“It really is an honor to do this job.”
Kyle Ryan’s path to the dark green uniform of a Pitkin County deputy is, of course, intertwined with that of his father’s.
“His values and the values of this department made me interested in law enforcement,” Kyle said. “But it made me interested in law enforcement here specifically.”
Kyle volunteered for the Basalt Fire Department at age 18, fought wildland fires and worked special events security for the Colorado State University Police Department while attending college there.
So it came as no surprise to his mother when he chose to follow his dad into policing.
“I always kind of knew that’s what he was going to do,” Leslie Ryan said. “He was always interested in what his dad was doing.”
Further, the profession suits him, she said, because he’s always been mature and determined.
“When he was 14 years old, he said, ‘I’m going to get a job,’” Leslie Ryan said. “He came home with three, and he worked them all.
“We didn’t help him get into colleges. He got all that stuff done with no help from us.”
She said that while she was a bit surprised he didn’t tell his dad he was applying to be a Pitkin County deputy, it fits with his personality.
“He’s very independent,” Leslie Ryan said. “And he’s been very independent since he was a little bitty thing.
“He does things and I don’t even know he’s done them.”
Kyle himself pointed to that independent streak when asked why he didn’t tell his father he was applying to be one of his deputies.
“I’m highly independent,” he said. “I’m the oldest of four (children). I frequently jump into doing things.”
He admitted he sometimes excludes people from conversations they ought to be a part of, but said he wanted to join the department and be as separate from his father as possible. He pointed out that a meeting between him and his father and a reporter last month was the first time they’d interacted within the office.
“I wanted to stand on my own two feet,” Kyle said.
He said he always assumed he would start his law enforcement career elsewhere — perhaps a large city — but reconsidered.
“I wondered if (by leaving) I was doing a disservice to myself,” Kyle said. “Community-based values policing is what I like and it’s not available in other places.
“This community is special. Deputies make a personal connection with the community as part of the job.”
Ron Ryan said he wasn’t sure DiSalvo would be OK with his son working for the agency amid concerns about nepotism.
“This is a political position and perceptions are important,” Ron Ryan said.
However, DiSalvo said knew he wanted to hire Kyle and vetted the situation with a Denver employment attorney and others, including Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, and found no reason not to.
“I don’t see it as nepotism if it’s the right guy for the job,” DiSalvo said. “He’s a very intelligent young man.”
Ron Ryan recused himself from the hiring process for not only his son, but all three new deputies, he said. Promotions involving Kyle also will be handled delicately to make sure no inequalities exist, Ron Ryan said.
DiSalvo said he’s not only impressed by the two second-generation law enforcement officers, he’s excited about two other newly hired young deputies, Chris Sulek and Cameron Daniel, who also come with ties to the valley.
“My last four hires — they’re the best four hires I’ve had in a long time,” DiSalvo said. “They’ve got youth and enthusiasm.”
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