Many people have answered the call to serve. Whether in the military, law enforcement, emergency medical services, or fire department; they have put the well-being of others before their own.
For their dedication and sacrifice, they deserve recognition.
Story and photo by Kristin Schaeffer
Lit only by a desk lamp and a window, awards and letters concerning exemplary cases decorate the walls, with photos of family prominently displayed on the shelves, Taylor Courtney’s office tells a brief story of the things that matter most to him.
Eyes shining as brightly as the smile on his face, Courtney, an Investigator for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department, picks up the framed photo of a blonde woman and explains that this is his “Beautiful wife” who also works in law enforcement. Then after a few more family introductions via framed photos on the shelves, he extends the invitation to sit and talk with him.
“Apparently people like to talk to me,” Courtney shyly offers as a possible explanation of why he has his job. The awards hanging around us hint that, while it may be true, there’s more to this story.
In February Courtney received his second Peace Officer of the Year award in three years, a feat he reluctantly admits only at the questioning and prodding of the interview, and points out what a huge honor, and how humbling it is for him to have received the award twice.
“It makes me almost embarrassed to talk about it,” he says through his discomfort.
In fact, Courtney is quick to redirect the conversation to the cases that have lead him to where he is now and move the focus away from his awards.
“In 2013 there were several things that happened, but one of them, notably was a drug interdiction traffic stop I did,” he says. “They actually didn’t have any drugs, but there were a lot of receipts in the vehicle and we were able to do some follow up warrants with the Department of Homeland Security because the suspect was an illegal immigrant. We actually did a search warrant on a storage locker and there was over $20,000 in cash in there.”
The money ended up as a forfeited asset and the Sheriff’s Department was able to use a significant amount of it to subsidize their Evidence Technician Program, according to Courtney.
Courtney feels his awards can be attributed to his performance record, but there’s a good chance it goes much deeper than that.
“I have a really, really strong drive and a passion for what I do,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to have a positive effect on someone’s life. I deal with people in the worst moments of their lives, and when you have a positive effect on them and they’re able to move on in a healthy way because of something I did throughout interacting with them, that’s rewarding and I think that’s where that passion comes from.”
Many would agree that behind every passionate person, there’s a good ‘Aha! moment’ story. Get Courtney to talk about why he wanted to go into law enforcement and a little boy dressed up as a Sheriff with his toy gun and badge emerges and sits in the seat where grown-up Courtney previously sat. Youthful excitement sneaks into his voice and his face grows more animated.
“When I was in high school my girlfriend’s father was a highway patrolman in Lusk,” he begins. “And I was fascinated by the uniform and the cars and being the good guy.
There was a guy in Nebraska who was wanted for a meth lab, he said. There were multiple high speed police chases and officers shot. Eventually he ended up in little old Lusk, Wyoming, population 1500. He ended up on a ranch and one of the Rancher’s sons snuck out and called law enforcement from a neighboring ranch. The police got there and got him into custody and he had been shot, so they had to take him to the little hospital in Lusk.
Well since my girlfriend’s father was a State Trooper, we went over to the courthouse and made all these sandwiches because the FBI was in town, the swat team, we had all these people and I was in awe to see a real FBI agent.
Then we took all this food down to the hospital because that’s where they were, and when we walked in, I’ll never forget it. There were two old double doors like you see a hospital and when they opened, there on the gurney was this person that had shot two officers and had been in all these chases and there had been this big manhunt; a really, true dangerous person. Something you’d see on TV. And he was handcuffed to the gurney and there were big State Troopers and Police Officers all around him, guarding him and I thought: “I want to be that person that catches that bad buy, that really bad guy that hurts people. So that’s what I pursued.”
What does the little boy dressed as Sheriff do now?
“As an investigator, basically I’m a detective,” he said. “We just call it investigator. Typically, what happens is, whenever we have an incident that would require further investigation, (usually felonies), we get the case assigned to us. Then we do the investigation, put the case together, and we take these huge case files and turn them into a prosecutable case, or not. We disprove them.”
Primarily my responsibility at the Sheriff’s office, as far as cases I investigate, would be Persons Crimes. I work on anything from a homicide potentially to a missing person, but on a day-to-day basis I handle juvenile cases that deal with abuse or neglect. I deal with any sexual assaults, so even if it’s an adult on adult rape, I deal with those cases too, he says.
Despite his youthful dream of being the good guy that catches the bad guy, Courtney recognizes the importance of fairness in the Justice System.
“We don’t just go out and try and prove the case, we also try and disprove it,” he said. “It’s very important that we look at both sides of things.”
Natrona County law enforcement invariably offers extensive support for victims and victims’ families. As an investigator, Courtney works with many different agencies to get the job done.
I work with the Department of Family Services on the child cases, says Courtney. I get a lot of that. I also work with the Children’s Advocacy Project a lot. I’m a huge advocate for them. It’s a fantastic non-profit organization that often provides free counseling services to victims and their families. They go above and beyond all the time.
They also do our forensic interviewing of our children, which is crucial in order to obtain a conviction for somebody for abuse or neglect of a child. I can’t say enough about them, he says.
In the cases like the ones I deal with, it doesn’t stop with a guilty verdict in court. “No sentence of someone can ever replace what they’ve done to a child, whether it be physical or sexual abuse because the mental ramifications of that go on for a lifetime. So putting the steps in place to have those victims deal with it in a healthy way and process it, that’s where the true victory comes in.”
On the flip side of fairness, Courtney also feels it’s important to put himself in the shoes of the suspect and convicted, which he admits is not always easy.
“Even the people that commit these crimes, understanding where they’re coming from, if you can do that and you can relate to them, it’s so important. Because a lot of times society just judges and they don’t really, truly understand what actually makes that person tick. I think it’s very important that we accurately portray someone who commits a crime for who they actually are. What’s their mindset and how do they actually work as a person? Because somebody who molests children deep down inside doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But they’ll tell you it’s wrong because Society says it’s wrong. It’s like an emotional switch.”
“There’s no way I could do this job without that support at home.”
Getting into the mindset of the suspect can be hard, but Courtney relies on his family for the support that keeps him in the here and now.
I have a fantastic wife who works in law enforcement. There’s no way I could do this job without that support at home. And because she’s a sworn law enforcement officer, I am able to talk to her about some things that occur during my day that maybe some officers can’t, because she has that confidentiality; she’s privileged to that information.
“And my two beautiful daughters. I go home and they run up and give me a hug and scream: Daddy! And I get to tickle them and hold them and throw them around and enjoy them and honestly, that brings me back to reality because I know that life is a matter of perspective. I always try and put myself in another person’s perspective, be it a victim, a witness or even the suspect and try and truly understand their perspective. If I put myself in a family’s perspective as a parent that had a child that was abused or neglected, I would want law enforcement to do exactly what I’m doing to help my kids.
Courtney has been able to positively affect many people in his time as an employee of the Sheriff’s Department. He feels the weight of his position, but he knows what he is doing is important work and he wants to do it as long as he is able. The Natrona County Sheriff’s Department Investigator has a vision of the legacy he would like to leave behind when he does move on, and it’s one we could all strive for in our own lives.
In order to do the right thing for the victim, whether it be counseling or advocating for their voice in the court system, so they are humanized and not just a name on a piece of paper, that requires emotional investment, according to Courtney.
You really have to get to know these people and interact with them on a daily basis. So as long as I can hold out with my emotional state in dealing with that, then I hope to continue to do it and to set an example for young deputies that come up behind me. Hopefully they’ll want to handle this similarly, so it’s not just the people that I can affect, but there’s a broader scope of the people that we can all affect.
“Quite honestly that’s what law enforcement should be here to do. It’s not about chasing the bad guy. It’s about interacting with your community and it’s about doing the right thing at all costs. You just do the right thing.”
My mom taught me a lot of good things. She was a very good mother growing up. She taught me to think and be intellectual and have emotion. It’s ok to be vulnerable. That helps me a lot. She always said: “When I’m right no one remembers, and when I’m wrong no one forgets.”
And that is so true in law enforcement. Less than one-tenth of one percent of law enforcement officers are corrupt in some fashion, says Courtney. “We really just want the best for people.”