Keeping hope alive: Jared Dennis’ journey from loss to recovery
Building Hope Summit County
Jared Dennis — physically chiseled, emotionally steady and intensely forthright — believes all things happen for a reason.
Jared shared the rocky details of his life over the past four years, including a drunk on duty charge, intense public criticism and the loss of his job, kids and house.
His story is often dark and complex, but to his credit, he lays it bare.
“Everyone has their truth,” he said. “And this is mine.”
A former sergeant with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Jared said he had long been trying to amicably separate from his first wife, whom he had married in 2003 and had four children with.
On July 27, 2016, he “got firm” and asked for a divorce.
“Her truth was that there was a domestic violence incident, and I was charged,” Jared said.
The charge, which was later dropped, triggered a warrant for his arrest.
“I made an agreement that I would turn myself in the next day,” Jared said. “I went home with the commander and ended up drinking too much that night. He drove me to the jail the next day, where I failed a blood-alcohol level test and was fired immediately for being drunk on duty.”
Because of the charges, he wasn’t allowed to see his family, which also meant he no longer had access to his home.
“I went from being the sergeant of investigations to losing my entire support system within 48 hours,” Jared said. “I felt like I’d lost pretty much everything.”
Stripped bare of support, he said hope was all he had, and hope never left him.
Trauma takes a toll
A Colorado native who grew up in Arvada, Jared said he was wild as a kid and didn’t always want to be a cop.
“I became a cop because I met a cop who was really kind to me,” Jared said. “As a kid, I would skateboard all the time. I was kind of a smartass, and that attitude always dug me a hole. But this cop was different — always friendly and kind to me, like he somehow believed in me.”
After high school and some college, while casting around for professional direction, Jared remembered the kind cop from his youth. He became an EMT, knowing the education and experience would be a good steppingstone to becoming a police officer.
He moved to Summit County in 2004, beginning as a road officer for the Silverthorne Police Department for two years before moving to the Sheriff’s Office in Breckenridge and becoming a detective three years later, a position he held for 10 years before he was fired.
Jared is now a detective with the Dillon Police Department, where he says the leaders are “extremely supportive of my journey.”
After having been there himself, he said he now has more empathy for people on the other side of the law.
It’s a big reason Jared praises the creation of the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, which is run through the Sheriff’s Office and responds to calls like suicide threats and welfare checks with skilled mental health professionals.
“The SMART concept is great for the public, and it’s done a lot to de-escalate emergency situations,” Jared said. “I don’t think we provide the same support for people within the profession, and I think that’s the case across the board. I think everyone benefits, including police officers, when we can reduce stigma around access to mental health support.”
He’s optimistic about changes going forward. The Dillon Police Department just initiated a new program that offers officers easier access to mental health resources. That includes support for substance use, he said.
“As a cop, I think we tend to minimize our problems with alcohol because it’s a legal and socially acceptable outlet,” said Jared, who no longer drinks. “If someone had a problem with alcohol, it was pretty much ignored.
“We also tend to minimize trauma. It’s seen as a weakness if you say you need to see a counselor. So we mask it, tuck it away. But no person is built to deal with tragedy over and over again. If you’re empathetic — as you should be — it takes its toll. We see death all the time; we either mask it or we take it in.”
The long road back
As hard as the past four years have been for Jared, he said he’s become mentally and emotionally stronger. And he has a broader perspective of the criminal justice system and the important role mental health support should play.
Jared eventually gained full custody of his four children. Together with his wife of two years, Taneil, and her daughter from her first marriage, the blended family of seven lives in Dillon.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done getting my kids back,” he said. “But nothing was more important to me.”
He’s reminded daily of the importance of family and the love of a good partner in Taneil, whom he calls his “rock.” He knows he’s made mistakes, but “keeping hope alive has brought new opportunities” to his life, he said.
CrossFit Low Oxygen is one such opportunity.
“We bought this gym during COVID,” he said. “We knew if we could make it through that, we could make it through anything.”
With 80-plus members, a healthy number of walk-ins and 40 classes per week, the Frisco gym hums with activity.
One of those walk-ins was Ian Acker, executive director of Fit to Recover, a nonprofit gym and community center in Salt Lake City for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol. While visiting Summit County in July, he bought a five-day pass to Low Oxygen, and the pair hit it off, talking about the importance of exercise to mental wellness and recovery.
Jared and Taneil traveled to Salt Lake City in October to learn the Fit to Recover curriculum.
“I was blown away by that gym, those people, the energy, the support they have for each other,” Jared said. “Talk about fate. How much more fate could it be that a guy from Utah with a recovery gym randomly comes in here, and we strike up a conversation about how to bring this powerful recovery program to Summit County?”
In November, Jared began providing free weekly classes to support people in recovery, and he plans to add women-only recovery classes when the pandemic eases.
“Now we have the opportunity to really influence people, give them a safe place, a healthy outlet, a place where they can be accountable not only to themselves but to each other, a place that’s run by a cop who understands, who’s been there, walked in their shoes,” Jared said.
Taneil also is excited about the possibilities.
“We want everyone who walks through the door to feel comfortable and like we are family,” she said. “We want to know you and your kids and your dogs, and we want you to reach out when you’re having a dark day. We want this place to be your reprieve, your safety, your support.”
Masked CrossFit members trail in and out of the gym while Jared and his wife talk, and he can’t help but offer a high five or a hug, a testament to his dedication to the community he’s built since taking over in March.
“We’re all imperfect,” Jared said. “We’re all going to make mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with having certain weaknesses. Identifying them and working on them is what makes us stronger.”
“Hope is in all of us,” he said. “We just need to look in that direction.”
Editor’s note: This is a shortened version of a story written by Suzanne Acker, a special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. Read Jared Dennis’ full story and watch a video interview with him at BuildingHopeSummit.org/about/hope.
• Building Hope Summit County peer support line: 970-485-6271, Option 2.
• Substance use recovery meetings: SummitRecovery.org
• CrossFit Low Oxygen Fit to Recover classes: 443-480-0218 or CrossFitLowOxygen.com
• Building Hope Summit County therapy resources: BuildingHopeSummit.org/resources/therapy-resources
• Free online support group with addiction counselor Michelle Marzo: firstname.lastname@example.org
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