“Like father, like son.”
Ed Deuel hoped to avoid this well-worn adage when it came to his son, Ryan.
In law enforcement for 33 years, 29 of those with Huntington Beach, Ed Deuel was all too familiar with the dangers of the job.
“The last thing I wanted was for him to be in law enforcement,” he said.
As a father, he wanted something safer, more predictable for his son.
As a cop, he understood the calling.
“It’s the greatest show on earth, human behavior,” he said. “Defending it, intervening in it, monitoring it and just watching it.
“It’s the greatest job in the world.”
Ed Deuel describes his son as an “excitement kind of guy” so it was no surprise when 10 years ago Ryan Deuel, 36, became an officer with the Reedley Police Department in Fresno County.
Now with the Huntington Beach Police Department, where his father worked for nearly three decades, Ryan Deuel said he plans to carve his own path while holding close lessons from his father.
“I learned from my dad that in law enforcement we have to have two different faces — how to be firm with the bad guys and how to be a humanitarian,” Ryan Deuel said. “Being prepared was also instilled in me from my dad explaining how bad things can go.”
According to his father, things do go bad. Eventually.
And for this father-son team of cops, they did.
“You can mentally prepare to be shot, you can mentally prepare to be attacked, you can mentally prepare to be stabbed as long as you’re thinking in terms of when,” Ed Deuel said. “When you start thinking if, you’ve already put yourself behind the curve.”
So far, Ryan Deuel’s career path draws few parallels to his father’s.
Ed Deuel was entrenched in patrol with Huntington Beach before becoming a supervisor.
Ryan Deuel has been working patrol since he was hired by Huntington Beach in February, but he served as a detective in Reedley with various assignments including the gang unit, boat patrol and narcotics.
However, father and son both know what it’s like to be in one of those “when” situations Ed Deuel described, where split-second decisions can mean life or death.
Ed’s first of such moments came on April 13, 1985.
While having coffee with a local businessman near Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, a silent robbery alarm call from a nearby “head shop” business came over the radio.
Drawing his gun, Ed Deuel confronted two suspects and instructed them to drop to their knees.
The suspects were hostile. They yelled, cursed and competed for Ed Deuel’s attention.
“I really wasn’t aware at that time, but they were taking turns distracting me,” he said. “I was trying to detain them at gunpoint. They were not intimidated by that at all.”
A flash of movement from one of the suspects caught Ed Deuel’s eye.
A gun fired.
“I was immediately impacted in the chest,” he said. “I was wearing body armor, but there was a great deal of pain.”
Ed returned fire, but the shooter started to rise to his feet instead of falling to the ground.
“I almost thought my bullets weren’t working,” he said.
Ed Deuel continued to fire. Finally, the shooter collapsed.
He reloaded, and the second suspect fired a shotgun. Ed Deuel shot back before the second shooter ran from the store.
Thomas Oglesby, the first shooter, died that night.
His counterpart, Christopher Sheehan, was arrested about a week later in Kern County, Calif.
Ed Deuel was awarded the Medal of Valor, law enforcement’s highest honor, for his actions that night.
This was the first of three officer-involved shootings during Ed Deuel’s career, but these weren’t the most difficult moments in his law enforcement career.
“I was more traumatized by three baby-not-breathing calls and a baby murdered call than I ever was by my shooting,” he said. “I would go back and get shot over and over again not to experience those moments.”
Officer-involved shootings are devastating, but in a different way, he added.
“There’s trauma. I think the greatest trauma involved is the pain that you see your loved ones experience,” he said. “I truly never knew what a burden I had been to my mother and father until my son Ryan had a shooting.
“It hit me like a sledgehammer.”
Ryan Deuel was at a firing range on Feb. 25, 2010 near Minkler, Ca. when an “officer down” call came over the radio.
About a mile up the road from Ryan Deuel’s location, officers served a warrant to a man suspected of arson and assault with a deadly weapon.
Twenty-five officers from six agencies, including Ryan Deuel, were involved in an hour-long gunfight.
More than 600 rounds were fired before the suspect, Rick Liles, took his own life.
Two officers were killed in the gunfight, including Ryan Deuel’s friend, Javier Bejar.
“He wasn’t even working that day but he was at the range with me,” Ryan Deuel said. “At that point, I realized we’re never really off (duty).”
Ryan Deuel also received the Medal of Valor for his actions.
Shortly after, Ed Deuel received the phone call he dreaded as a father, but knew might come one day.
“It’s just an immediate emotional impact,” Ed Deuel said. “You feel helpless. You want to be there because they’re your child. You’re grateful that he’s alive, but at the same time, you’re grieving for those who lost their lives. It’s truly a mixed bag of emotions.”
Since retiring from Huntington Beach in 2006, Ed Deuel as a co-director for the Peace Officer Safety Institute, Center for the Study of Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted.
His son’s shooting is among the incidents he has provided analysis on in recent years.
In his work with the California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Council, Ed Deuel has investigated the deaths of more than 500 peace officers in California.
“In my opinion, today’s police work is more dangerous for Ryan than it ever was for me,” he said.
As a father, it would be easy to agonize over the dangers.
As a former cop, Ed Deuel instead admires Ryan’s work and shares in the camaraderie of being a Huntington Beach police officer.
“I put the worry aside,” he said. “I take comfort in knowing that Ryan is better trained and equipped today than I was.
“With that, I’m able to sleep peacefully.”
* Photos by Steven Georges