Mismatched padlocks preserved the space that was once part of their everyday routine.
Open the locker, put the uniform on, serve.
Finish the shift, take the uniform off, go home.
For four deputies who served South County out of the Orange County Sheriff Department’s Aliso Viejo substation, tragedy eventually fractured routine.
They did not finish their shifts, and worse, they did not get to go home.
Padlocks were placed on their lockers, and the keys were purposefully discarded.
“Someone put a lock on them and they stayed untouched,” OCSD Sgt. Jesse Arellano said. “Nobody was ever going to use them again.”
Eventually, brass name plates memorialized the deputies killed in the line of duty: Darryn Robins in 1993; Brad Riches in 1999; Steven Parsons in 2000 and Matthew Davis in 2002.
Under each name, a simple and poignant messaged inscribed in the plaque: “We will miss you.”
Those lockers – a seemingly mundane item that is part of a career that is anything but – became a way to honor the fallen.
So when plans were in the works to completely renovate the interior of the 23-year-old building at 11 Journey, deep thought was put into what to do with the memorial lockers.
“We knew we weren’t going to just throw them away,” said Sgt. Jesse Arellano. “It would feel strange to just get rid of them.”
As details were being worked out for the substation project, which included revamping the heavily used briefing room with improved technology and new furniture, updating work stations and a renovated investigations space, Arellano and his colleagues thought about how best to preserve the sentimental lockers.
They decided on a memorial hallway that would honor the four Aliso Viejo Substation deputies, along with the other five deputies who were killed in the line of duty in the department’s history.
With bolt cutters in hand, Arellano walked through the locker room, breaking the locks of the memorial lockers and checking for any items.
As expected, most were empty.
When they reached Sgt. Matthew Davis’ locker, an old Thomas Guide with his name written in blue Sharpie across the top was found and kept.
Arellano made his way to the final locker tucked in the furthest corner of the room.
The locker had belonged to Deputy Brad Riches – a line-of-duty death that sent shockwaves through the department at the time and still resonates with department personnel today.
While all line-of-duty deaths are devastating, Riches’ weighed a little heavier than most because he was targeted for wearing a badge.
On June 12, 1999, Riches was on routine patrol when he pulled up to a 7-Eleven in Lake Forest after he saw an armed man walk into the convenience store.
The man told the clerk he wasn’t there to rob the store. Instead, the assault rifle was intended for the deputy he expected to respond to the call.
The man, a self-proclaimed “cop-hater,” according to court documents, opened fire on Riches with an AK-47, blasting him with 30 rounds.
After that day, a padlock was placed on Riches’ locker, not to be touched again until February 2018, when Arellano walked up with bolt cutters in hand.
When Arellano opened it, his breath caught in his chest.
Hanging with a dry cleaning ticket still attached and dust settled on the shoulders was Riches’ uniform. On the shelf above, sat his cover.
“It gave me the chills,” Arellano said. “The dry cleaning ticket showed he hung that up the day before he was killed. To me, that is special. For a lot of us, half of our life is spent in front of those lockers. It’s where we start and end every day.”
OCSD personnel at the Aliso Viejo substation removed Riches uniform and preserved it in a shadow box. It now hangs as a memorial at the Sheriff’s Department’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin.
The doors of each locker were removed and hung in a hallway as part of a memorial installation in the newly remodeled Aliso Viejo station.
On one wall hang the portraits of all nine of OCSD’s fallen. On the other, the doors of the lockers framed in black wood – a project crafted and donated by the father of Sgt. Brian Sims, who supervises the Traffic Division and works out of the substation.
The lockers are perfectly spaced to take up the entire length of the wall with no room to expand the memorial further.
“Someone pointed that out,” Sims said of the design, as he stood in the hallway on a recent Thursday. “They asked, ‘Don’t you want to leave room for more?’ I said, ‘No we don’t. We don’t ever want to hang another one again.’”