'If it's in your heart, you got to do it': LA deputy reserves risk life and limb in free time

LAPD reserve officers are not paid for their work patrolling the streets.

September 1, 2019, 3:52 AM

It was the day before Thanksgiving in 1991 when Cindy Moyneur England, known at the time as Moyneur, faced what felt like certain death.

She went with her friend's family on a hike that was expected to last the day. The weather forecast was good, and Moyneur was wearing clothes for warm weather. Most of the group decided to head back down the mountain after having lunch, but Moyneur and her friend's 11-year-old nephew decided to keep hiking toward the top of Southern California's Mt. Baldy, she said. At more than 10,000 feet high, the peak of Mt. Baldy is the highest point in Los Angeles County.

But the weather forecast proved wrong. At the summit, winds whipped up to 100 miles per hour, snow was falling and the windchill neared 40 degrees below zero. Trying to retreat, Moyneur and the boy took a wrong turn and found themselves lost, she said.

Hours went by and they couldn't be found. Eventually, the sun set.

"We had 8 inches of snow that first night," Moyneur said. "They couldn't locate us."

This report is part of a three-hour ABC Radio special, "America Works."

With their bodies freezing and little food or water left, the two built a shelter and expected to be rescued any moment. But the hours dragged on.

The conditions were so bad that rescue teams looking for the pair thought they'd only find their bodies, Moyneur recalled.

Moyneur said she heard noises about 43 hours later. It was a Los Angeles County Sheriff's search and rescue team, composed of volunteer deputies.

"At the point they found us, I was no longer walking," Moyneur said. "So we were very weak."

Both had severe frostbite that required surgery, and a long and painful recovery followed.

The rescue had stuck in Moyneur's mind. Her rescuers were reserve deputies for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Along with their counterparts at the Los Angeles Police Department, these volunteers, who often have full-time jobs outside of law enforcement, donate their free time to serving in uniform. Some are doctors, teachers or electricians, but they're police officers during their spare time.

They volunteer their time to attend the police academy -- on nights and weekends -- and then after years of training they're given a badge, a gun and the same uniform worn by their full-time, paid colleagues.

Moyneur herself has now been a sworn deputy of the sheriff's department's Montrose Search and Rescue team for 26 years.

Responding to the call

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has 570 reserve deputies who do search and rescue, patrol the streets and perform a long list of other duties such as working in the Homicide Bureau. The LAPD has around 400 reserve officers. By appearance only, citizens have no way of knowing who's a volunteer deputy or a full-time, paid officer. Their uniforms, training and duties are identical to full-time law enforcement officers. When someone dials 911 for help, the person who responds may be a volunteer.

On a beautiful Sunday morning in August, ABC News rode along with Moyneur. She and her law enforcement partner, Deputy Robert Sheedy, patrol the mountains above La Crescenta, northeast of Los Angeles.

For their day jobs, Moyneur works as a physical therapist while Sheedy is in the biotech industry, where he develops pet foods infused with omega supplements. During their off hours, both put on the uniform and respond to search and rescue calls.

PHOTO: Los Angeles County reserves respond to a motorcyclist down on a windy mountain road.
Los Angeles County reserves respond to a motorcyclist down on a windy mountain road.

La Crescenta is in the shadow of Angeles National Forest. On summer weekends, Southern Californians go to the mountains to recreate and escape the heat.

After a completing a brief check of their truck to make sure they had their supplies, the two set out, ready to respond to anyone who's lost or needs medical attention.

It didn't take long for the first call to come in. A motorcyclist had gone down and needed help on one of the park's windy mountain roads. The pair rolled what's called a Code 3 in California and turned on their emergency lights and siren, the sound of which bounced off the mountainsides as they sped toward the victim.

On scene, Moyneur and Sheedy were a welcome sight for highway patrol officers and firefighters already there. The two deputies were the first Emergency Medical Technicians EMT to arrive. EMT training is in addition to what they've learned at the academy, and it's critical for search and rescue deputies.

PHOTO: Los Angeles County reserves respond to a motorcyclist down on a windy mountain road.
Los Angeles County reserves respond to a motorcyclist down on a windy mountain road.

Moyneur and Sheedy immediately took over medical care as the motorcyclist laid on the pavement screaming in pain. They managed to stabilize him and prepared him for transport in a helicopter.

"You're going to do fine," Moyneur assured the motorcyclist, who told her he had gotten knocked out in the crash. As he complained of severe pain, the years in which Moyneur and Sheedy had worked together began to show as they worked in unison, putting their EMT skills to use.

Hours later, the pair would respond to a much more severe motorcycle crash. The driver was unconscious and not breathing very well, and again, Moyneur and Sheedy were the first EMT's on the scene. Their presence was again a clear relief to the other responders on scene. They calmly and deliberately worked to save the man's life, orchestrating the process that would give him a chance at survival.

"I just need to know do we need to do compressions? Do we have a pulse," Moyenur asked Sheedy.

The man had a pulse but he wasn't breathing very well.

Sheedy helped clear the man's airway and helped him breathe using a resuscitator bag. Then they loaded the crash victim onto a backboard on a Forest Service truck and raced him to a waiting helicopter.

The pair of reserve deputies don't usually find out if their patients go on to live or die, and this was one of those cases. The man flew off aboard a chopper, and they never saw him again.

It's about the passion

Reserve deputies and police officers often say they do it for one reason: passion. LA Sheriff's reserves are paid just $1 per year. LAPD reserves are paid nothing.

Mike Sellars, who's spent his life in film financing, has been an LAPD reserve officer for 26 years, spending his off hours donning the iconic blue LAPD uniform and patrolling the streets of Hollywood.

"If it's in your heart, you got to do it. You really got to do it," Sellars said of anyone considering reserve duties.

Reserves have to be accepted into and pass the academy on their own time. Then once on board, they must promise to work at least 20 hours a month, often on Saturdays and Sundays. Many reserves do more than 20 hours a month.

"It's a gigantic commitment. You just can't do it without being the best of the best," Sellars said. "The statistics are for every one person who graduates from the academy, about a hundred [have gone] through."

At the academy, LAPD Officer Johnny Gil is one of the drill instructors, and he said he doesn't go easy on reserve recruits.

"It's a lot of work on the candidate side that, at the end of the day, is very rewarding," Gil said. "They get a unique experience that they never even knew. All they have is the heart and soul to come in and do this -- the volunteering spirit that they have, and they come into it with two feet."

Sellars said he's seen life and death in the 26 years that he's been an LAPD reserve officer. On the same day he met with ABC News, he had just turned in his retirement paperwork.

"It's bittersweet," he said.

Sellars said he will now focus his time on a foundation that advocates for LAPD reserve officers.

Family pressures

Across town, reserve deputy Hector Montenegro of the LA County Sheriff's Department, is also on patrol.

Like all patrol deputies, Montenegro roams the streets of Pico Rivera, a city east of downtown LA, where he searches for crimes, responds to 911 calls and pulls over vehicles.

On the day ABC News rode with Montenegro, he received a call of gunshots fired at a mourner in a cemetery. Units raced to the cemetery to find shell casings but no suspect and no victim. After a short search for a suspect, Montenegro went back on patrol responding to routine calls, such as a complaint of transients hanging out behind a business.

On weekdays, Montenegro works as a manager at a utility company. During his evenings and weekends, he's in a sheriff's department tan and green uniform, riding in a black and white patrol car, working for no money.

"I think it's the best of both worlds. You are still able to give back to the community, do your part in law enforcement," Montenegro said. "Giving back to the community, serving, volunteering. But I also have full-time employment to provide for my family."

Because Montenegro is on patrol many evenings after his day job, he has missed life events at home, he said, adding that he and his wife have to work together on their calendars.

PHOTO: LA County Sheriff’s Department reserve Deputy Hector Montenegro on patrol with ABC News' Alex Stone.
LA County Sheriff’s Department reserve Deputy Hector Montenegro on patrol with ABC News' Alex Stone.

"She's very understanding so as long as we schedule everything on the calendar with the kids' schedules. Communication is good in a happy relationship," he said.

Beyond family, it takes an understanding workplace. Montenegro sometimes has to modify his work schedule to appear in court for drivers who contest tickets he writes or to testify in cases.

Montenegro has been a reserve in law enforcement for 23 years. Most of his coworkers at the utility company have no idea he's also a cop. He keeps it mostly to himself.

"I think it's exciting. You get different calls. You get to meet different people," he said.

Always Looking For Recruits

Reserve recruiters in Los Angeles are always on the lookout for professionals who might want to moonlight as law enforcement for free, often holding recruiting events. But it's not as hard as you might think to find people willing to give up relaxing weekends to instead put their lives on the line.

"Some do it for the excitement," said Lieutenant David Buckner who leads the reserve program at the LA County Sheriff's Department. "Being a police officer and facing what the citizenry will throw at you is very exciting. They get to do everything that regular deputies do. They drive patrol cars. They wear the badge, the uniform, carry a gun, get involved in shooting, weapons training, self defense."

With strict requirements for passing the academy, subpar candidates are often weeded out long before they're given a badge. Those who end up completing the process are usually prime candidates for both departments.

"I don't know if we find them or they find us," said Lieutenant Curtis McIntyre, who runs the LAPD's Reserve Corps. "I think they almost find us. Then we have that relationship and a discussion and try to make the path easier for them to be hired."

The LAPD and LA County Sheriff's Department are enthusiastic about their reserve programs because they boost officer and deputy numbers in the field. Both agencies have long fought for funding to hire more sworn personnel and reserve programs allow them to add officers without paying them salaries. An added benefit is the programs also work as outreach into Los Angeles communities that might not have close connections to law enforcement.

"For someone to don this uniform and go out there and protect and serve," McIntyre said, "it's a commendable thing."