By: Jarret Romanello, firstname.lastname@example.org
After a devastating two weeks, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara and Chief Deputy Brian Hester sat down on Friday to share their thoughts on the suicides of Deputy Clayton Osteen and Deputy Victoria Pacheco and the 1-month-old child they left behind.
In 22 years as Sheriff, Mascara has seen 4 line-of-duty deaths and another 19 employee deaths due to medical complications. Still, the death of two new deputies that just celebrated the birth of their son, was a gut punch to the longtime Sheriff. “They were both tickled to start a family,” Mascara said.
Osteen, a US Marine veteran that served non-combat duties in Korea, started with the Sheriff’s Office in 2019. He came from a proud family of law enforcement officers. His grandfather J.R. Norvell and his uncle C.L. Norvell served as the eighth and ninth Sheriffs of St. Lucie County. “He excelled at everything he did,” Mascara said. Osteen won Deputy of the Quarter and Deputy of the Year in his first year on the job.
Chief Deputy Hester trained with Osteen three times a week in the agency’s jiu-jitsu class and remembered the purple belt as an outstanding coach and mentor to his peers. “He took real pride and time with our deputies to help them understand the importance of physical fitness and protecting themselves,” Hester said.
Pacheco joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2020 and won a Life-Saving Award and Unit Citation in her first year. Pacheco and Osteen developed a working relationship that blossomed into romance.
While pregnant, Hester says Pacheco worked on light duty in the detective bureau, helping investigators work cases. “She was always happy, smiling, willing to lend a helping hand, and upbeat,” Hester said.
On November 21, 2021, their son Jayce was born. Mascara refutes speculation that the baby was a stressor that caused the suicides. “They were a beautiful couple together,” Mascara said.
Mascara says both Osteen & Pacheco were identified early in the Police Academy for their talents, so he was troubled when he learned of the manner of death. A pre-employment psychological evaluation revealed that both deputies were fully compatible and acceptable to enter the law enforcement profession. “This was something that none of us could have prevented,” Mascara said.
After the deaths, Deputy Osteen’s brother Jonathan – also a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Deputy, took custody of Jayce. Jonathan was granted a court-ordered 1-year emergency guardianship of his nephew and brought him home to live with his wife and two kids. “Jayce is in a loving home with two cousins,” Mascara said.
The Sherriff’s Office has received numerous donations for Jayce, including groceries, diapers, baby formula, and an offer of legal assistance to make a permanent adoption. Indian River State College will give Jayce a 4-year college education. The outpouring of support from our community and from around the world has been overwhelming,” Mascara said.
Chief Deputy Hester says law enforcement suicides have been on the rise since 2016, prompting discussions about PTSD and first responders. The agency follows the data, provides training, and offers programs to protect employees, but the epidemic still hits home. “There was nothing there for anyone to see,” Hester said.
The problem is so prevalent that Hester pointed to 2019, when more officers took their own lives than were killed on duty. Eighty-nine officers were killed or died in motor vehicle accidents nationwide that year, and 239 committed suicide.
Constantly responding to abnormal situations makes for a stressful job. The images deputies see on their calls remain in their memory for a long time. “If you haven’t done this job, it’s hard to understand what it is like to go to a call and see what these deputies see. This job doesn’t end when the shift ends, and you carry it with you,” Hester says.
The agency already has a Chaplin and a team of peer-to-peer counselors on a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team. The team deploys to provide critical support to deputies during the most stressful of situations. The Sheriff’s Office offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for everyday help navigating emotional, marital, or financial burdens.
The Chaplin and CISM Team activated following Osteen’s death. The Sheriff and Chief Deputy began attending roll calls to get a pulse of the agency. Through community partnerships, they brought in more licensed counselors from Treasure Coast Hospice for therapy and one-on-one counseling. “I was amazed how many of our deputies went to these counseling sessions,” Hester said.
Because there is a shortage of mental health practitioners in the area specializing in treating first responders, St. Lucie County deputies often travel to find help with their occupational stress.
The Sheriff’s Office is launching a mobile application that quickly connects deputies with licensed mental health counselors. “It is very important to us to have licensed professional counselors that deal with first responders,” Hester says.
But sometimes, all the preparation and planning in the world can’t prepare you for the unknown. Although we will never know what caused two young deputies to take their own lives, we do know that the job they face tests the metal of even the toughest souls.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office started the new year with the loss of two very special people. Jayce Osteen may never know his mom or dad, but he now has 800 aunts and uncles at the Sheriff’s Office. “Our focus now is to make sure that he grows up healthy and secure, knowing that he is loved,” Mascara said.
God Bless the men and women of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.
If you feel overwhelmed, you can call the 211 Helpline 24/7 for free, confidential counseling.
If you feel hurting yourself, you can call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
You can donate to support Jayce through the Sheriff’s Office here: Donate to Support Crime Prevention Efforts | St. Lucie Co Sheriff’s Office, FL (stluciesheriff.com)