Hovering over the San Jacinto Mountains, seemingly able to see forever in any direction, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Marlatt has to remind himself every day that he’s actually working.
Trust us, he is.
In addition to being a pilot on the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s (RCSD) Aviation Unit, Marlatt is on the Board of Directors for the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, he is president of the Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Relief Foundation, and he is chair of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association Special Events & Donation Committee. Marlatt also is vice chair of the Benefits Trust.
“It’s not about me,” Marlatt says. “It’s about helping our brothers and sisters in the association and law enforcement in general.”
As a pilot in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s (RCSD) Aviation Unit, a typical day for Marlatt might involve swooping down into the wilderness to rescue an injured hiker in the morning and chasing down a robbery suspect racing down the 15 Freeway in the afternoon.
With Marlatt piloting the ship and his tactical flight officer beside him, the two-person crew can establish perimeters, clear areas, and guide units on the ground to where they need to be.
“Anything we think we can be an asset from the air, that is what we are there to do,” said Marlatt, one of 11 deputies on the unit and the one with the most time in the air.
In March, Marlatt amassed 6,000 hours of flight time, reaching the milestone accident free.
“If I’m in the TFO (tactical flight officer) position, he’s probably the pilot I would want flying if it was the most technical type of flying we have to do,” said Dep. Ray Hiers, one of the newer members of the unit. “If you get into a high-stress situation, you want to be flying with something who you don’t have to worry about what they’re doing and just focus on what you are doing.”
The Aviation Unit’s primary function is patrol, but search and rescue operations are a close second.
The unit performs up to 300 search and rescues annually, said Marlatt, who started with the unit 15 years ago as a tactical flight officer and has been a pilot since 2009.
Back then, the crew used Thomas Brothers Guide maps to navigate, Marlatt said.
Today, RCSD ships are equipped with thermal imaging cameras, high-intensity searchlights, and downlink equipment enabling video to be sent to the ground.
RCSD air crews patrol over urban areas such as Corona and over the Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness, where the highest peak is above 10,800 feet.
On a recent Sunday, the unit rescued an injured hiker on Box Springs Mountain above Moreno Valley.
STAR 9 picked up the hiker and flew him to Riverside County Fire personnel waiting at a nearby school.
Earlier in October, the unit rescued two hikers who’d gotten lost in Idyllwild.
Marlatt was drawn to a career in law enforcement by his stepfather who was a Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy.
After beginning his career with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department as an Explorer, Marlatt became a Sheriff’s Service Officer in 1996.
He was a deputy in corrections for six months and then moved to patrol.
When on a ride-along with the Aviation Unit in 1998, Marlatt discovered his calling.
“One day, that’s what I want to do,” Marlatt said to himself. “Just the feeling of going up in the air and what you can see, versus being on the ground. It’s almost euphoric.”
Two calls stand out from his early days in the air.
One was in 2008, when Marlatt and his pilot chased bank robbery suspects all the way down to Escondido.
Marlatt watched from above as the suspect’s car flipped over, the suspect was ejected, and bills flew out everywhere.
Another call involved two suspects who had followed a man home from a casino to rob him.
A deputy on the ground attempted to pull the car over, but the suspects fled and the pursuit was on.
Marlatt’s unit gave chase from overhead as the suspects sped along the 215 Freeway towards Perris.
The vehicle stopped and the passenger surrendered, but the driver got into another car and took off.
The suspect shot his way into a house, grabbed a set of car keys, and took off in a car parked in the driveway.
Two deputies on the ground were wounded trying to stop the suspect, who also shot at Marlatt’s helicopter.
“That was definitely a hair-raising experience,” he said. “You hear the clunk. You turn off the lights, check all the gauges.”
But Marlatt isn’t only serving the public.
He handles many needs in his roles as president of the Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Relief Foundation, chair of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association Special Events & Donation Committee, and vice chair of the Benefits Trust.
Those needs may stem from medical emergencies, funeral expenses, and memorial travel expenses.
After RCSD Dep. Jason McMillan was severally wounded during the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. 2017, the foundation paid the expenses for McMillan’s family to travel to Las Vegas.
McMillan was shot while trying to shield his girlfriend from the gunfire raining down from the 32nd floor off the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He sustained liver and lung wounds and has a bullet in his spine. The foundation contributed $8,000 toward the purchase of a special SUV suited for his needs.
When Dep. Jay Youngblood was left paralyzed below the waist after a motorcycle training accident in July 2018, the foundation covered travel and lodging expenses for his family while he was in the hospital.
With the support of Sheriff Chad Bianco, the RCSD soon will open a new hangar in Palm Desert and up the staff from 11 to 16 deputies.
“I’m fortunate to be here,” Marlatt said. “We’re a public service. That is what I’m here to do … save lives.”