La Quinta Assistant Police Chief Lt. Raymond Gregory has been promoted to captain and will soon leave his role with the city, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department officials announced Friday.
Gregory, who has been with the La Quinta Police Department for two years, is expected to leave for his new role in October to take command of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Indio and Blythe jails.
“It’s a great honor for me,” Gregory said, adding that he will be joining the fewer than two dozen captains in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“La Quinta is a fantastically managed city, and they’ve been very supportive of their police department, which has allowed us to have a lot of good quality police services so it’s kind of hard to leave those behind, but I knew it wasn’t forever.”
Gregory will be replacing Cmdr. Mark Barfknecht, who is retiring. The La Quinta Police Department will seek to promote within the agency to replace Gregory by the fall, La Quinta Police Chief Rodney Vigue said.
“He was the first assistant police chief for the city, so it was unique role for him to fill, and he did a fantastic job,” Vigue said. “It’s nice seeing him get promoted to captain.”
Vigue and Gregory first met when Gregory started his career in Blythe, where Gregory ended up becoming one of then-Sgt. Vigue’s senior deputies. There, Vigue said, Gregory was already taking “care of things back then” in the 1990s — just a prelude to his role as Vigue’s right-hand-man in La Quinta.
“We always had the same vision for the direction we wanted to take the city, so it’s been great working with him,” Vigue said of Gregory’s work in developing new programs in La Quinta.
The promotion means even more to Gregory, who has been openly gay on the force for the last 12 years.
“It’s a great honor for me,” Gregory said. “For me, it shows that some of the good ol’ boy ways of the past is being swept away, and people are being recognized for both their abilities and their hard work.”
Gregory, who started his law enforcement career 19 years ago, said it was tough coming out but said his overall experience has “generally been good.”
“There were a few awkward times where people I worked with had their hearts in the right place but things just came out wrong,” he recalled. “But those were exceptions. People recognized that I was here for the work and being gay had nothing to do with it.”
Assistant Sheriff Colleen Walker, the department’s first woman to serve as Assistant Sheriff for Field Operations, said the promotion was well deserved.
“Ray Gregory was an outstanding member of my management team during my tenure as La Quints’s Chief of Police … Ray has a collaborative nature and has worked very hard, serving the residents of the Coachella Valley,” Walker said. “His sexual orientation was not a factor in his promotion, but I welcome his diversity.”
Gregory was officially handed his new badge at a ceremony Thursday, accompanied by his husband, Eric Ornelas.
The two met while Gregory worked as a courthouse deputy at the Larson Justice Center in Indio when Ornelas served on a jury. They have been together for 11 years and have two sons and one grandson.
“A lot of other agencies in California are a lot farther ahead in coming-out officers,” he said, “but I think this is a healthy thing for our sheriffs’ department and our valley law enforcement in general.”
Sheriff Stanley Sniff Jr. promoted Gregory along with Lt. John Hill of the Moreno Valley Police Department.
“I believe the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department needs to reflect the communities we serve, and we still have a ways to go,” Sniff said. “I’m proud of what has been accomplished since taking office. I promote based solely on merit, the ability to do the job.”
City officials said they’ll miss Gregory’s presence, but are proud to see him move forward and remain confident the city will be left in good hands.
“We understand that these folks move on in their lives and get promotions,” Mayor Pro Tem Terry Henderson said. “He’s done a great job for us, and we are sorry to see him go, but we’ve always been replaced with the finest and the best the county has to offer.”