Ryan Newton was 21 and in epic shape from surfing and beach volleyball when he saw a notice about orientation at the Criminal Justice Training Center at Golden West College for those considering a career in law enforcement.
He knew he could ace the physical test. He wasn’t sure about the rest.
“I really just needed a job,” said Newton, a San Clemente High School graduate who at the time was taking general education classes at Saddleback College.
“I didn’t even know what the Penal Code was.”
Newton showed up to the orientation 15 minutes late. The doors were closed.
For a minute or two, he considered leaving.
“But I decided to go through those doors,” Newton says.
He got some awkward stares, but that was it.
Then, after that meeting, Newton decided to put himself through the academy.
He recalls getting grilled the first day by his tactical officer for missing a loop on his belt.
Soon, though, he thrived.
And these days, Newton is a seasoned detective at the Tustin PD who recently bagged a couple of top awards.
At the agency’s annual banquet at the Marconi Automotive Museum in March, Newton, now 35 and beginning his fifth year as a TPD detective, received the Case of the Year and Officer of the Year awards for 2018.
The case of the year involved Newton’s dogged pursuit of serial bank robber Daniel David Courson, who was arrested in June 2018 in Boise, Idaho and whose story reads like something straight out of Hollywood.
That case, as well as Newton’s work involving creative ways to use GPS technology to track criminals, also earned him officer of the year honors.
“Ryan is one of the most creative detectives that we’ve ever had,” said Lt. Ryan Coe. “His tenacity and drive to pursue the guilty and seek justice for his victims is second to none. And Ryan’s fun-loving and upbeat personality make it a joy to come to work every day.”
Andrea Albin, the TPD’s Property and Evidence Unit supervisor, has known Newton since 2006.
“He’s amazing,” Albin says. “He is honest and kind and hardworking and ethical.”
Tenacity, Newton says, is key to good detective work.
“You have to work hard and continue to focus on finding the truth, which is really what our job is all about,” says Newton. “Sometimes that takes a lot of effort, a lot of work, and a lot of coordination — not just within our own department, but with other police departments as well.
“Patience is another necessary quality.
“You also have to have a joy for the work,” Newton continues. “You have to enjoy researching and figuring things out. A lot of these cases are giant puzzles that are scattered all over the place, and you need to go in and put those pieces together and do it well and accurately so that when it comes time for you to show up in court and you’re on the stand testifying, you don’t screw anything up.”
Detective work, Newton says, is a lot different from patrol, where he worked for five year after joining the TPD in 2005.
“In patrol, it’s all about ‘hook and book,’” says Newton, who also worked a couple of years on the TPD’s Special Enforcement Detail (SED) before becoming a detective.
“As a detective, I had to learn patience. I initially didn’t have the temperament. It was a huge learning curve.”
Newton worked on the Courson case for more than three years, and among his 30 or so active cases are some cold cases.
Newton recalls finding Courson living in Park City, Utah. He flew there to serve a search warrant and would have made the arrest if Courson hadn’t been tipped off.
“Your failures make you a better investigator,” Newton says.
The day Newton received a phone call that Courson had been arrested by the Boise PD he was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas and was so excited he bought everyone at the bar a round of drinks.
As for cold cases, Newton says he always wanted to work on one that happened before he was born (1983). And he has one: the 1982 murder of Juan Carlos Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 30, of La Mirada, was a Cuban immigrant who had been in the U.S. less than a year, working with his brother in janitorial supplies, when he was slain in an office while working after midnight.
“There are a lot of theories,” Newton says. “It’s hard to tell if it was a robbery. But the way he was murdered is indicative of there being some type of personal relationship (with the killer). I have a suspect list and have interviewed multiple people.”
Married with two kids, a 4-year-old son and a 1 ½-year-old daughter, Newton still surfs but not as often as he would like. Lately, he and his son have been going on hiking adventures.
Newton’s wife is a court reporter who works on civil dispositions. They met at Molly Bloom’s, a bar in San Clemente.
Newton says he sometimes misses working patrol, but detective work has become his sweet spot.
And he loves the TPD.
“It really is a good time to be working for this agency,” Newton says. “One of the things I like about Tustin is that a lot of people who work for this agency spend a lot of time outside of their normal duties being proactive with the city.
“Community outreach is huge. I don’t ever think that we’ll ever know the type of impact that is having, but it is huge. I like working for an agency and for a community that wants me to succeed.”