Talk with Jeremy Ashton, a veteran Moffat County Sheriff’s Office investigator, and it’s easy to recognize the themes of duality that run through his life.
He grew up in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles but has found permanence and peace in small-town Craig.
He sees evil, sometimes frequently, in the cases he investigates and yet believes in the good of man by leaning on his faith and family.
He is required to work in the public eye, but concedes that he operates most comfortably under the radar.
None of this is lost on Ashton, but he doesn’t analyze it that much, either. He has a phrase that sums up his feelings about work and life in general.
“It’s the good that we aspire to,” the 33-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native said, “that makes the difference.”
Ashton is one of two sheriff’s office investigators, along with chief investigator K.C. Hume. He began his career in 1998, as a deputy in the Moffat County Jail and later was assigned to road duty.
In 2002, he was promoted to investigator, and during that time he has worked numerous cases and crimes — a roundabout number, he said, is hard to place — but the two most prominent types are sex crimes and death investigations.
Those kinds of cases used to weigh on Ashton, he said, but not as much anymore. His family and his church, New Creation in Craig, are integral in helping him cope, he said.
“This job will take a toll on you if you don’t learn to manage the stress,” Ashton said.
“After a while, (cases) start to burn images in your head like a slideshow. … You see things that normal people don’t see. I just find ways to manage. … If anything, the job has increased my faith because I’ve seen both sides.”
At 18, Ashton began working as an initial attack firefighter in the Riverside and San Diego areas for the California Department of Forestry. He stuck with the profession for three years. The death of an in-law in a similar occupation prompted a career change.
At 21, he and his wife, Jessica Ashton, moved to Craig, where they were struck early with “culture shock.” The life changes continued when he began working at the sheriff’s office.
“Honestly, I never desired to work in law enforcement,” Ashton said. “I love it now. I just don’t see myself doing anything else.”
At least not for a while, anyway.
Ashton, who has 12 years in, most likely won’t extend his law enforcement career past 20 years, he said. There probably won’t be any future bids from him for positions like sheriff, either.
There’s a calling he has, one that doesn’t involve politics or department advancement, and one he believes that’s higher than catching bad guys.
“My desire is to be in the mission field or the church full-time,” Ashton said.
A two-week experience two years ago in one of the most impoverished places in the world helped create that aspiration.
Ashton and Jessica joined other New Creation congregation members in 2008 on a mission trip to Burkina Faso, Africa. There, they preached in the streets, at schools and villages, and even a prison.
The experience left a mark.
“It was life-changing just to see God’s work in a whole other country,” Ashton said. “The people were just joyful, despite the poverty.
“They were hungry. Here, we’re not hungry for God because we think we have everything. In Africa, they’re spiritually hungry.”
Ashton’s approach to work and life outside it has garnered the respect of his superiors and colleagues at the sheriff’s office.
“He’s quiet and he just does his job,” Sheriff Tim Jantz said. “He is dedicated to his family, his church and his job. He’s a great guy and has a great work ethic. He’s one of those guys that people don’t notice a lot of the time because he works quietly and behind the scenes.
“But, he’s tenacious. He’s a bulldog. Investigators are the ones who follow those cases to the very end. He’s one I would hate to lose.”
Ashton is typically working four to six cases at a time. About one-third of those cases involve working with Hume, but most of the time Ashton is on his own.
Lately, the bulk of his work has been centered on investigating sex assaults, which have shown a disturbing upswing in recent years, he said.
“It seems for every two we have, the (Craig) Police Department has four,” Ashton said.
There’s no telling why, he added.
“That’s one question,” Ashton said with resignation in his voice, “that I don’t have the answer to.”
His latest death investigation occurred in late July, when a 16-year-old Craig boy accidentally drowned on the Yampa River.
Ashton, the father of two sons, ages 13 and 9, and a daughter, 8, said working cases involving children are the most difficult for him.
“Any child close to my kids’ ages affects me,” he said.
“It’s the most uncomfortable thing in the world.”
Still, the cases keep coming, Ashton said, and they always will.
In law enforcement, officers sometimes see “the absolute worst,” and need a healthy foundation to keep from becoming jaded or cynical, he said.
In his time, Ashton said he’s learned “the difference between good and evil and life and death.” He’s also learned what works best for him to balance it out.
“Faith for me is what life is all about,” he said. “We’re not just here to grab resources. There is a reason for our existence. … I won’t lead a meaningless life. My faith means something.”