By Ben Lawson
Throughout his 37 years with various police agencies, Deputy Ryan Cleaveland has seen many aspects of law enforcement. And he’s loved every second of it.
While in college, Cleaveland considered a career in naval aviation, which he continues to have an avid interest in. But in 1974 he joined the Jacksonville, Florida police department and never looked back. Since then, he’s worked as an evidence technician, was a spotter with the Jacksonville PD’s aviation unit, and is part of Sevier County’s traffic division.
“Law enforcement has been a rewarding experience,” he said. “I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Cleaveland married his wife, Edie, on April 21, 1983. Then, after 25 years with the JPD, he moved to Tennessee. His wife had grown up in Sevier County, and Cleaveland fell in love with the mountains during their visits. He went to work with the Pigeon Forge Police Department, where he would spend the next 10 years.
After leaving Pigeon Forge, Cleaveland had intended to stay out of law enforcement and did some work with Dollywood security. But his retirement didn’t last long. He was contacted by then Sevier County Sheriff Bruce Montgomery in 2005, who asked Cleaveland to come work for him.
Once there, Cleaveland mentioned an interest in working with traffic enforcement. This type of division had not carried much weight with Montgomery, but was later assembled under current Sheriff Ron Seals, who brought Cleaveland onboard.
“I feel like my experience and training has been tapped into,” he said.
During his time in Sevier County, Cleaveland has seen the area grow and flourish, especially in the tourism industry, with new theaters, restaurants, resorts, and cabins popping up. The move by the Tennessee Smokies and the major car shows in Pigeon Forge each year keep bringing people back.
His wife has played a role in the tourism boom with her work for Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group, which owns several Pigeon Forge establishments including Magic Beyond Belief, The Comedy Barn, and The Blackwood’s Breakfast Variety Show.
As for law enforcement, he said the job is mostly still the same. The rapid spread of new cabins has led to an increase in burglaries, but the Sheriff’s Department has also grown, adding new personnel and equipment such as laptop computers in almost all patrol cars.
Cleaveland has no regrets about his years of service, though there were certainly times that could have changed his life drastically.
While in Jacksonville, his pursuit of an armed robbery suspect led to an intense hand-to-hand struggle that left Cleaveland with no choice but to use deadly force. With his own life in jeopardy, he said thoughts of his family and the will to survive kept him going.
He has also seen the cruelty people can inflict on each other while working crime scenes as an evidence technician. But he still managed to find a positive take on the role he played.
“If I can go to the crime scene and pick up a finger print or some evidence that helps catch the perpetrator, then I have helped that victim,” he said.
Deputy: ‘Law Enforcement Rewarding’
By Ben Lawson