A Law Enforcement Hero's Tale

Last month a Dayton, OH, police detective was murdered serving a warrant on alleged fentanyl distributors, and all Americans need to hear his story.

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Editor David GriffithEditor David GriffithPhoto: Kelly Bracken

There are a lot of definitions of the word "hero." In the stories we now refer to as Greek myths, a hero was a person of great strength or skill, usually endowed with that superhuman ability by a god or two. Today, we most often refer to someone as a hero if they show great courage in risking their life to help others. Generally, these people are military or first responders or maybe even everyday Americans who rise to the occasion to save lives, often at the hazard—and even sacrifice—of their own.

There are many times I think we use the term hero inappropriately. I bristle when I hear someone speak of an athlete as a hero, unless they are doing something to really help people and sacrificing their own interests to do it. (Roberto Clemente was an athlete hero.)

Hero is a loaded term and one defined by the person referencing someone as a hero. World War II Marine fighter ace Gregory "Pappy" Boyington wrote in his autobiography "Show me a hero, and I'll show you a bum." It took me a long time to understand why he said that. But Boyington, a notoriously flawed man and alcoholic, was saying it's hard to live up to the adulation of people because no one is perfect.

No one is perfect. But there are people who deserve to be called hero because of the way they protect others and how, when called upon, they sacrifice themselves for the better good.

Dayton Police Detective Jorge DelRio was such a hero. On Nov. 4, DelRio was part of a DEA Task Force serving a warrant on a Dayton residence. The officers and agents on the task force made entry into the house and announced themselves. DelRio descended the stairs into the basement and one of the subjects opened fire with a pistol. He was hit twice in the face and mortally wounded.

DelRio was rushed to a local hospital. Unfortunately, there was nothing the surgeons could do. He was put on life support for three days so his organs could be donated.

Detective DelRio was a 30-year veteran of the Dayton Police Department, and he had served with the DEA Task Force for 18 years. He was survived by his wife, four daughters, and three grandchildren. He was 55 when his life was taken.

He dedicated that life to fighting evil. There are those who would say his DEA Task Force mission was futile and misguided. They would say that drugs should be legalized and enforcement of drug law should end. But those people should know that DelRio was not killed hassling a house full of peaceful pot smokers. The people he intended to arrest were suspected of heinous crimes.

Three men face charges associated with the murder of Det. DelRio. One, 39-year-old Nathan Goddard Jr., is charged with pulling the trigger and potentially faces the death penalty. The other two could get life. They all face charges of running a drug conspiracy.

Found inside the house were 22 pounds of fentanyl and cocaine, 60 pounds of marijuana, $51,000 in cash, and three firearms. Among the firearms there was an AR, an AR pistol, and a handgun loaded with rounds designed to penetrate soft armor. These were not peaceful potheads rousted by "The Man."

Dayton area media reports that the suspects had been on the DEA's radar since July. The U.S. Attorney's Office said the Task Force had been building a case against the alleged fentanyl operation over a three-month period. These guys were reportedly distributing fentanyl—the cause of many deadly overdoses—for profit. And anyone doing that is clearly a danger to the public and the police.

So don't doubt for a moment that the actions of this Task Force and the sacrifice of Det. DelRio were in service of public safety. He died a hero in every sense of the word. At his funeral DelRio was eulogized as the best undercover agent in the Task Force. He was also honored as a mentor for younger agents and officers. "He died for his country in every sense of the word," said Keith Martin, special agent in charge for the DEA's Detroit Field Division, of which Dayton is a part. "He gave his life for all of us. He is a true American hero."

David Griffith is editor of POLICE/PoliceMag.com.

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