Horrific: Two sheriff’s deputies from same agency that share a child take their own lives within days of each other

Share:

The following contains editorial content written by a retired Chief of Police and current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today. 

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL- This is one of the more heartbreaking stories we’ve shared on Law Enforcement Today.

We’ve reported a number of times on the epidemic of suicides among law enforcement officers. This past weekend, that epidemic took a devastating turn for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department in Florida.

On New Year’s Eve, Deputy Clayton Osteen tried to kill himself, and on Sunday the family removed him from life support.

After learning of Osteen’s death, Deputy Victoria Pacheco took her life, according to Sheriff Ken Mascara and reported by Fox 29 in West Palm Beach. Equally disturbing, the two shared a one-month-old son.

In a statement on the department’s Facebook page, Mascara spoke of his two deputies in announcing the suicides:

“As sheriff, I saw these two deputies as young, ambitions, and a great compliment to my already amazing group of professionals. To the general public, and sometimes even myself, it’s easy to view law enforcement as superhuman…but let’s not forget that they’re human just like us.

“Law enforcement deal with not only the day-to-day stress we all face, but also the stress of those whom they serve in our community, which can sometimes be very challenging.

“While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the private circumstances leading up to this devastating loss, we pray that this tragedy becomes a catalysts for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding mental well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis.”

 

While clearly the focus on law enforcement officer deaths is typically on those feloniously killed in the line of duty, police suicides have remained at a startling rate over the past several years.

As a matter of fact, according to an article last year in the Chicago Tribune, police officers over the past few years have been more likely to die at their own hand than from a line of duty death.

The number peaked in 2019 at 247, with 185 committing suicide in 2020 and 165 last year, so fortunately the numbers are trending in the right direction, according to a nonprofit based in Massachusetts which tracks police suicides.

The numbers are probably much higher, since the organization relies on information submitted by current and retired police officers, the Tribune article noted. One possible explanation for the drop in 2020 and 2021 is the coronavirus pandemic, but that is just a theory.

One city which has seen a number of police suicides is Chicago, where in 2021 in just the first three months of the year, three Chicago PD officers had taken their own life, marking twelve since 2018. A DOJ report from a year earlier showed the suicide rate among Chicago officers was 60% higher than the national average for police officers.

Post traumatic stress disorder, which is primarily considered among members of the military, also affects first responders, not only police officers but firefighters as well. According to the National Fallen Firefighters Association, firefighters are three times more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.

An opinion piece in The Hill addressed research which shows that in the case of police officers, may feel stigmatized if they reach out for help, which is deemed as a sign of weakness for a career where police officers are expected to maintain a “tough guy” persona.

While many police and fire departments have implemented programs where personnel involved in traumatic calls have a chance to debrief and get things “off their chest,” many do not.

I can speak personally to the importance of post-traumatic incident stress debriefings. I had been a police officer for about 25 years, had just been promoted to lieutenant, and had been to my share of traumatic incidents during that time, from horrific car accidents to a fire where four young adults were killed, the stabbing death of an elderly man to a young child having his abdomen ripped open in a horrific fall. 

All of that builds up and weighs on you, although you try to put it in the back of your mind. You pretend like it doesn’t bother you, but with each and every traumatic call, every child seriously injured in a car accident, the weight becomes unbearable.

For much of my first twenty years, my police department didn’t offer any means to debrief after stressful incidents. That began to change in the late 1990s, early 2000s. And as a supervisor, I began to take notice of the stress my officers experienced after such incidents, and became not only a believer but a strong advocate of such debriefings.

One night my department received a call reporting gunshots at a local condominium project. Officers arrived at the scene, and as the only supervisor working that night, left the station where I was the shift commander and went to the scene.

Given the circumstances, I authorized entry to the condominium. Upon going inside, we discovered four elderly victims, all suffering fatal gunshot wounds to the head. Two of them were lying in bed, one was I believe on a couch, the other on the floor, with a gun next to his hand. It was determined it was a triple murder/suicide.

I had two rookie officers on-scene and this was their first exposure to such a horrific scene. It shook me up as a 25-year officer who had seen a lot, so I knew these officers were affected, whether they admitted it or not. I could see it in their eyes.

Within a matter of a few days, we set up a post-incident stress debriefing. Several of the responding officers said they “didn’t need it” but they were told they needed to attend, but were not required to say anything. The session lasted about an hour, and some officers spoke, including me, while others did not.

After the debriefing, one of the officers who did not speak asked to talk to me in my office. She sat down and I could tell she was upset. She told me that she had no idea that a grizzled veteran such as me would be affected by such a call, since I had “seen it all.”

I explained to her the importance of getting in touch with your emotions after such an incident and even if you didn’t want to talk it out amongst your peers, you needed to speak with someone about it.

Or sometimes, just listening to others and hearing them express their feelings can let you know that you are not alone. Trying to “tough it out” may work for a while but it’s not a recipe for long-term success.

Many police officers “self-medicate” through alcohol and prescription meds and that is a recipe for disaster, including suicide. I wish such post-stress debriefings were offered to me early in my career.

It would have saved me a lot of headaches (usually the morning after) and would have likely enhanced my career.

Officers should not be afraid to reach out if things get to the point where they become physically ill, find themselves drinking or self-medicating to alleviate the stress, become violent or withdrawing from family or friends.

Speaking of friends, it is important, speaking from personal experience, to have friends outside of law enforcement…it helps to maintain perspective.

Most importantly, as Sheriff Mascara said, if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call 211 or contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Two men arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a Chicago cop after shooting him during a traffic stop

We previously reported about Facebook blocking a post for a police-related nonprofit for no apparent reason other than to define it as “spam.” For more on that, we invite you to:

DIG DEEPER 

We at Law Enforcement Today were recently informed that Facebook has once again labeled a shared post from the non-profit organization Blue Hearts for Heroes as “spam” in an attempt to share the post to a Facebook group.

Back in late July, we at Law Enforcement Today shared a report noting how Facebook had labeled a post shared by Blue Hearts for Heroes as “spam”.

Well, it appears to have happened yet again – and like clockwork, no details were furnished as to what makes the post “spam”.

As we’ve previously mentioned in other reports covering Blue Hearts for Heroes, the nonprofit was founded by both active federal and local law enforcement officers that aim to assist law enforcement families with children who have special needs.

Needless to say, it’s an honorable non-profit that hosts a commendable mission.

On September 15th, Blue Hearts for Heroes shared a post on their main page pertaining to suicide awareness in the law enforcement community, which the post reads as follows:

“Blue Hearts for Heroes wants to recognize Suicide Awareness Month and make sure all of our heroes know they have someone to turn too. Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better. If you need help please reach out and we will get you the help you deserve.”

As with every other post from the non-profit’s Facebook page, there’s certainly nothing objectionable about the aforementioned and extending resources for those dealing with mental health crises is certainly laudable.

Yet, when someone attempted to share the post from the non-profit’s page to an active Facebook group called “Law Enforcement for Life!”, the person who shared the post was greeted with the following notice:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on spam. Only the author of the post and people who manage Law Enforcement for Life! can see this post. We have these standards to prevent things like false advertising, fraud and security breaches.”

Screenshot - provided
Screenshot – provided

As we at Law Enforcement Today have previously reviewed what exactly falls under “spam”, according to Facebook’s Community Standards page, it’s any post that “is designed to deceive, or that attempts to mislead users, to increase viewership” or is shared in a manner that aims to “artificially increase viewership or distribute content en masse for commercial gain.”

It is rather ironic that Facebook is deeming that a law enforcement-centric non-profit’s Facebook post being shared by an individual to a law enforcement group on the platform is somehow being lumped in with content that “mislead users” or is somehow being distributed “en masse for commercial gain.”

Do you want to join our private family of first responders and supporters?  Get unprecedented access to some of the most powerful stories that the media refuses to show you.  Proceeds get reinvested into having active, retired and wounded officers, their families and supporters tell more of these stories.  Click to check it out.

LET Unity

As mentioned earlier, this is not the first time that Facebook has labeled posts by the nonprofit as “spam”. Here’s our previous report from July detailing the first instance.

_

Blue Hearts for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that helps support law enforcement families who have children with special needs, recently had one of their posts on their Facebook page removed for violating Community Standards.

The guideline in question that was allegedly violated falls under Facebook’s “spam” policies.

Blue Hearts for Heroes post flagged as spam
Blue Hearts for Heroes post flagged as spam

On July 27th, the moderator for the Blue Hearts for Heroes Facebook page attempted to upload a post depicting a dozen police officers accompanied by a volunteer police chaplain and his therapy dog who, according to the post, “are available to respond to our law enforcement community across the great state of TX when a crisis occurs!”

However, the post was later flagged as violating Facebook’s community guidelines, with the following message as to what was violated:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on spam.”

According to Facebook’s Community Standards on “spam”, the following is written:

“We work hard to limit the spread of spam because we do not want to allow content that is designed to deceive, or that attempts to mislead users, to increase viewership.

This content creates a negative user experience, detracts from people’s ability to engage authentically in online communities and can threaten the security, stability and usability of our services.

We also aim to prevent people from abusing our platform, products or features to artificially increase viewership or distribute content en masse for commercial gain.”

Facebook’s details on what falls under the category of spam, or aligns with what spamming would look like, highlights posting “at very high frequencies”, sharing “misleading content” to generate clicks, and overall deceptive practices/content pushed by a particular post.

But the post in question just doesn’t nestle in at all with any of the defined iterations of “spam”, according to Facebook’s own Community Standards.

The Facebook page for Blue Hearts for Heroes certainly doesn’t post any content at “very high frequencies”, as the page averages roughly a single post per day or even less than that. As for anything deceptive or misleading, it’s a pretty straight forward page representing a nonprofit organization.

Matthew Silverman, the co-founder of Blue Hearts for Heroes who hosts a 20 year background in law enforcement and serves as the National Executive Vice President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, was baffled when he saw that the post was flagged:

“If a picture of those who stand for law and order goes against your standards, I find it hard to believe you actually have any standards.”

When reached out to for comment on the matter, Facebook did not respond or elaborate on how the post in question falls under their spam policies.

When reviewing the “About” section of Blue Hearts for Heroes website, the mission of the organization is expanded upon in greater detail, highlighting the purpose the NPO serves:

“The mission of Blue Hearts for Heroes is to provide information, support, and assistance to law enforcement families with children who have special needs.

Blue Hearts for Heroes is dedicated to improving the quality of life of children with special needs and their families by developing and disseminating essential skills, knowledge, and values through research, teaching, and service.”

“We are committed to listening to and learning from families and encouraging full participation in community life by all people, especially those with special needs.

We are committed to giving the children opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, others.”

For those interested in donating to Blue Hearts for Heroes to further enable their mission to assist law enforcement families and their children with special needs, please click the link here.

Do you want to join our private family of first responders and supporters?  Get unprecedented access to some of the most powerful stories that the media refuses to show you.  Proceeds get reinvested into having active, retired and wounded officers, their families and supporters tell more of these stories.  Click to check it out.

LET Unity

We at Law Enforcement Today have previously covered the work of Blue Hearts for Heroes back in May. 

Here’s that previous report. 

_

Policing has never been an easy job, and recent times have done nothing but further complicate it and make it more trying. For those officers that are also a parent of a child with special needs, the situation is almost unfathomable.

And yet, this is the life of thousands of officers across our nation. They serve their communities with honor and nobility during their shifts, and then they go home to help with their special needs child.

No matter what a parent’s profession, their children are always on their minds at some point during their workday. But none more so than those who have needs beyond what’s considered “normal.”

For officers, this double duty of service in a dynamic and sometimes dangerous environment on one end, and a challenging and frustrating environment on the other can lead to extreme and complete exhaustion.

Robert Greenberg, who has been in law enforcement for over 30 years and is currently serving in Florida, had law enforcement families such as these on his heart increasingly throughout the years.

He met with Mathew Silverman and John Wiley, and the three formulated a plan to find a way to serve these officers and their families.

Thus, Blue Hearts for Heroes was born.

Blue Hearts for Heroes is a 501(c)(3), its mission is to support law enforcement families who have children with special needs.

The website reads:

“Blue Hearts for Heroes is dedicated to improving the quality of life of children with special needs and their families by developing and disseminating essential skills, knowledge, and values through research, teaching, and service.”

According to Robert, the idea is that when officers can be comforted knowing that their spouses and children are getting the assistance they need at home, those officers will be better able to focus on protecting and serving the citizens of their communities.

As it says on the website, Blue Hearts for Heroes is “committed to assisting law enforcement heroes with the help they need so they can continue assisting the citizens of the communities they serve.”

What a beautiful notion and an honorable mission.

Robert was asked about his decision to start this specific type of nonprofit. He said:

“It’s simple. There’s currently no type of support specifically aimed at officers with duties that go above and beyond the ‘normal’ realm of family once they hang up their uniform for the day. I wanted to change that.

“I want to be able to help reduce stress for these officers in any way I can, especially in this climate. Through education and acts of service, I believe we can accomplish that.”

Like Robert, Mathew has served many years in law enforcement, having just passed the 20-year mark. For him, starting the Blue Hearts for Heroes was a way to take his many years of community service to a new level.

Mathew said:

“Being active in police organizations and advocating for my fellow officers just didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to find a way to serve those who are serving our communities and felt an especially strong pull towards the officers that had even more struggles on the home front.”

Permanently disabled in the line of duty, John knew a thing or two about facing extra hardships at home. He was able to rebuild his life after law enforcement and become the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, which has led to him meeting hundreds of officers in all walks of life.

John said:

“I talked with so many officers who have special needs children at home, and I just feel like I connect with them. Everyone goes through times with a little bit of extra struggles, but this isn’t just a phase- it’s their whole lives. We want these families to know that we see them and they’re not alone.”

Robert, Mathew, and John have brought an impressive group together to form the board for their nonprofit, including other active police officers, one who has two sons with autism, as well as a PH.D.

Blue Hearts for Heroes is ready to bring training, blessings, and support to families of police officers with special needs children.

To offer a tax-deductible donation to this wonderful cause, click HERE.

To get involved and volunteer with Blue Hearts for Heroes, click HERE.

_

Want to make sure you never miss a story from Law Enforcement Today? With so much “stuff” happening in the world on social media, it’s easy for things to get lost.

Make sure you click “following” and then click “see first” so you don’t miss a thing! (See image below.) Thanks for being a part of the LET family!

Facebook Follow First

 

Share:
Submit a Correction
Related Posts