Ryan Conklin with his dog Sophia and son Alex
By Davy V.
Whether you loved him or hated him, Ryan Conklin was a good man.
Maybe even weird for having what some may describe as an odd and strange interest in murderers, as his Death Row Art Show Facebook page and his extensive collection of serial killer artwork would perhaps indicate?
But Ryan Conklin was a good man nonetheless.
Ryan Conklin committed suicide on February 13, 2016.
Having had my own father committ suicide when I was 22 years old,, after years of being harassed and intimidated by the Rochester, NY Police Department, Ryan's death has hit very close to home for me.
I wanted to write something about Ryan sooner, but I didn't want it to in any way come across as exploiting or sensationalizing his death.
Exploiting and sensationalizing.
Two words which unfortunately have not only become the norm, but perhaps even more disturbing, have become expected, in today's tabloid-style social media world.
I didn't want anything I wrote about Ryan to give off that impression.
Also, for the first time since I started this blog, there wasn't that excitement, or that rush I usually feel when I "break" a story.
That excitement that writers feel when we hit publish, and that rush we get when see our creations take on a life of their own, in some cases even going viral.
It wasn't about that for me.
While I knew that I wanted to write something about Ryan, there's no "rush" or "excitement" in writing about the passing of a friend.
It's a very hard thing to do to write about a friend's death.
I also wanted to give Ryan's family the respect of having some time to grieve without having to see, or read anything about their loved one plastered all over the internet, being shared across Facebook.
Which is ironic, because while I wanted to wait a bit longer to write something, some very disturbed individuals, including someone close to Ryan posted some disgusting things about him online.
It was after Ryan's son Alex informed about those posts, that I decided it was a good time to write about my friend.
I first met Ryan through a Facebook status he had posted on July 5, 2014, just hours after being arrested by Monroe County, NY Sheriff's Deputy Phillip Baretela, for doing nothing more than exercising his first amendment right to free speech, when he asked Deputies Baretela and Shawn Baker, why they were all taking a break together at Henrietta Hots restaurant, a greasy burger dive in Henrietta, NY, at 2:00 a.m., on, of all nights, July 4th.
Precisely when bars are closing and drunk drivers are getting behind the wheel putting innocent lives at risk.
Ryan suggested to Monroe County, NY Sheriff Deputy Phillip Baretela that perhaps they should stagger their breaks, so they could focus their attention on catching drunk drivers.
But if it's one thing that cops hate more than being video recorded, it's being given any suggestions on how to do their jobs.
So Deputy Phillip Baretela began yelling at Ryan Conklin.
"Are you a badass?", Deputy Baretela shouted at Conklin as he got in Ryan's face, before physically assaulting Ryan, grabbing him, and twisting his arms as they pushed Ryan against the restaurant's entrance.
Deputy Baretela's thinking?
He couldn't allow this.
How dare a taxpayer who pays his salary, question when and where he decides to eat?
How dare a taxpayer who pays his salary tell him how to do his job?
So Ryan Conklin ended up in handcuffs.
And in a police holding cell.
Like a criminal.
Again, for doing nothing more than exercising his freedom of speech.
The same right we celebrate our "fallen soldiers" and "Heros" for, when they lose their lives overseas protecting those same American rights.
But when we as Americans, choose to exercise those same rights right here in our own country, many times we're looked down upon, as being somehow unanerican.
I was the first to write about Ryan's arrest.
Ryan's story, along with a cell phone video of his arrest, went viral, with sites like The Free Thought Project picking it up.
Ryan inspired many to not only stand up for their rights, but also to record each and every encounter with law enforcement.
But despite Ryan's negative firsthand experience with rogue Monroe County, NY Sheriff Deputies, and the fact that he was falsely arrested, Ryan didn't hate cops.
He hated bad cops.
In fact, after Webster, NY Police officer Mike Chiapperini was shot and killed in a 2012 Cristmas eve ambush by an ex-con who set his house on fire, before opening fire on Chiapperini, and also shooting and killing a young West Webster, NY Firefighter named Thomasz Kaczowka, and seriously injuring Firefighter Ted Scardino, Ryan Conklin donated $2,500 to the West Webster, NY Fire Department.
Ryan Conklin didn't hate cops.
He hated bad cops.
And he supported good cops.
That's exactly what Ryan told Webster, NY cops in a YouTube video known as "Bird in a Tree", after they showed up to his house at 2:00 a.m., shortly after the story of his arrest went viral, and woke him and his son Alex up, accusing Ryan of playing some sort of electronic bird soundscape speaker on his property.
Which wasn't true.
It was a bird.
A real bird.
In a real tree.
Hence, Bird in a Tree.
"I support good cops, why do you guys keep harassing me?" Ryan tells the Webster, NY cops in the video.
Coming on the heels of his false arrest by Monroe County, NY Sheriff Deputy Phillip Baretela, the "Bird in a Tree" video was yet another example of police harassment which made Ryan even more passionate about speaking out against police misconduct and corruption, as well as encouraging people to record any encounter they have with police officers.
Ryan loved his GoPro cameras.
Like an American Express Card, he never left home without them.
He even gave me one as a gift.
Ryan would tell me that I inspired him to become outspoken against police abuse.
That meant a lot to me.
But with Ryan's outspokenness, came the haters.
And boy did Ryan have haters.
But he had more friends than haters.
Ryan had a lot of people that loved him.
Which is why police officer Tony Galante came to pay his respects to Ryan's wake, dressed in full uniform.
And it's why several West Webster, NY Firefighters came to Ryan's wake to pay their respects as well.
After Ryan read my story about his arrest by Monroe County, NY Sheriff Deputy Phillip Baretela, me and him forged a friendship.
The friendship centered around my work exposing police misconduct and corruption, which interestingly enough, Ryan told me he had followed for years, long before his own arrest.
Me and Ryan had our differences.
I didn't always agree with Ryan.
And he didn't always agree with me, or my at times "over the top, in your face" style.
But what I most admired and respected about Ryan actually had nothing to do with police accountability at all.
What I most admired and respected about Ryan was his love for his son Alex.
Ryan was a very proud dad.
And he loved his son very much.
Ryan was a single dad, and raised Alex on his own, with minimal help from anyone else.
Whenever I would meet Ryan for lunch, part of our conversation would always be about our children.
And as a proud dad, Ryan would light up when he talked about Alex.
He'd tell me about Alex starting college and about how smart he was.
He'd talk about how proud of Alex he was.
But it wasn't just talk.
Having met Alex on several occasions when I would visit Ryan, I saw firsthand what a well mannered, soft spoken, educated, and very respectful young man Alex is.
And Ryan deserves a lot of credit for that.
He did a good job raising Alex.
The other thing I most admired and respected Ryan for, was his love of animals.
In addition to donating supplies, including food, to animal rescue operations, Ryan loved his little Yorkie
I'll never forget the first time I visited Ryan at his home.
Ryan gave me a tour of his beautiful house.
As we walked up the stairs to the second floor, we entered a brightly painted bedroom with a beautiful girl's canopy bed fit for a princess.
It was Sophia's room.
I was blown away.
Here was this heavily tattooed, rough looking man, hated by so many, and yet he loved his Yorkie so much that he made a room for his little girl Sophia, complete with photos, pillows, blankets, lamps, plush toys, and a closet full of little outfits for his Sophia!
Ryan Conklin loved his little dog Sophia so much.
He would take her everywhere, as you can see in the photo above.
And Sophia would always look so beautiful.
Always groomed and with her nails painted.
Sophia was daddy's little girl!
I know she misses Ryan.
PHOTOS OF SOPHIA'S ROOM
Ryan also loved birds.
He spent on average $400.00 a month in wild bird food which he kept in the more than a dozen bird feeders in his back yard.
I visited Alex a couple of nights ago.
"My dad was a great man who was loved by many," Alex said.
"The one thing that no one, even his enemies could ever deny is how great a father he was." Alex told me.
"I am honored to be able to say that Ryan Conklin was my father, he was my idol, my mentor, and my best friend."
Then Alex turned to me and said; "My dad's in the living room if you'd like to go see him."
At first taken back by those words, it took me a few seconds to process what Alex had just said to me.
I followed Alex into the living room, and we stopped in front of the fireplace mantle.
And there in front of me, just about at eye level, was Ryan's cremated remains, in a black urn.
It all felt so surreal.
Those who knew Ryan will remember his sense of humor, which I quickly learned during my visit, that apparently even after his death, it still seems to live on.
"Yep, my dad always said he wanted to be cremated," Alex said, as we stood in the living room, looking at the black urn.
"He would tell me that way I would always be stuck with having to carry him, and move him around," Alex said, adding, "I told my dad, of course I will dad."
We both smiled and chuckled.
Father and Son; Alex with his dad Ryan
I usually don't acknowledge the haters.
Trust me, I have my share.
But I'm going to make an exception here.
Just this once.
Earlier I mentioned someone very close to Ryan posting some very disturbing things about him.
Ryan's own sister.
She wrote a post on Facebook which read in part; "Ryan died like the coward that he was."
While I won't publish her comment in its entirety, as frankly it's very disturbing, I do want to say this, to Ryan's sister and to everyone else who didn't like him.
Look in the mirror.
LOOK IN THE MIRROR!
How fucked up is your own life, and how much do you hate yourself, for you to sink to the lowest of lows, and post some sick twisted shit about a person who is no longer here?
Who even says something like that, less than three weeks after someone has passed?
Ryan wasn't a coward.
Was he perfect?
Of course not.
Was Ryan free of sins?
Of course not.
So who the fuck are you, any of you, to speak ill of someone who has passed on?
At the time of this piece being published, Alex had to contact police to have Ryan's sister removed from his home after she showed up and refused to leave.
Thankfully, Alex told me that Webster, NY Police were very professional and respectful.
Sad how people behave, especially at a time like this.
Even more sad when it's family.
To all the police officers and law enforcement officials who I have no doubt are rejoicing at the news of Ryan's death, and some who even exchanged high fives, you're the last ones who should be rejoicing.
Mental illness is very real.
And very sad.
It destroys individuals and their families.
And suicide is something that will forever haunt and affect family members.
I know this firsthand.
But then again, you police officers should also know this firsthand, since your profession ranks among the top in suicide rates.
People can say whatever they want about Ryan Conklin.
They can say he was different.
But in a world where deadbeat fathers and animal abusers are a dime a dozen, Ryan cared so much about two of the most precious gifts in this fucked up world we all live in.
Children and innocent animals.
And for that I respect him.
Ryan Conklin was a good man.
Goodbye my friend.
Me and Ryan at Henrietta Hots restaurant, where he was arrested by Monroe County, NY Sheriff Deputy Phillip Baretela
PHOTOS OF SOPHIA