Update: Sgt. Helus' family members and Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub have released statements since this story was initially published. They have been included below in the original story.
Thousand Oaks, CA – The Thousand Oaks police chief has derailed a fundraising event aimed at helping the widow of a Ventura County sheriff’s sergeant who was murdered in the line of duty during a mass shooting in 2018.
Under the direction of Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Sgt. Helus’ own department also refused to be involved with the fundraiser.
Sgt. Helus, a 29-year veteran-of-the-force, was one of 12 people who were killed during the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks on Nov. 7, 2018.
The Los Angels Rams had already donated jerseys emblazoned with Sgt. Helus’ name in preparation for the event, KTTV reported.
The NFL team was also slated to autograph footballs with the fallen sergeant’s photo on them, and donors kicked in thousands of dollars to help fund the charity event.
But according to Fallen Officers Foundation Vice President Mike Randall, everything came to a screeching halt when Thousand Oaks Police Chief Tim Hagel learned that some of the speakers scheduled for charity event are Republicans, KTTV reported.
Randall said he initially received a text from Chief Hagel expressing his concern that those speakers would cause local political issues.
In a subsequent phone call, the police chief allegedly asked Randall why people who support President Trump were included in the bipartisan list of speakers scheduled to address the crowd.
"He basically said over and over in the conversation ‘this is not Trump country,’ that slogan 'Make America Great' is not favorable, popular, within 1,200 square miles, that we don’t want Republicans here,” Randall told KTTV.
“I could not believe it...We were totally floored by this comment, 'the only thing,' and I quote, 'the only thing you coulda made this worse, Mike, was to invite dick Cheney and Sarah Huckabee Sanders,' and I went...wow are you kidding me?" Randall recounted.
According to Randall, Chief Hagel told him that he needed to ax the Republican speakers, or else he would tell local politicians and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office (VCSO) to withdraw from their involvement with the Blue Bowl charity event, KTTV reported.
But Randall refused to comply with the chief’s order.
Chief Hagel later spoke with Sheriff Ayub, then notified Randall that they were pulling out of the event altogether.
"He goes 'yeah, this ain’t gonna work for us,'” Randall told KTTV. “I said you’re not gonna support this with the honor guard and he goes 'no we’re not bringing the honor guard, we’re not coming, we’re not going to be there, [we’re] not supporting it.’”
As a result, politicians and sponsors also abandoned the charity event, causing it to be postponed indefinitely.
Sheriff Ayub later released a statement blaming the organizers of the Blue Bowl for taking “a direction” that the VCSO didn’t support.
“The ‘Blue Bowl’ event was represented as a charitable flag football tournament to raise funds for the family of Sergeant Ron Helus. An event that would honor Ron’s memory and provide support to his wife Karen and son Jordan,” Sheriff Ayub said in the statement to KTTV.
“As the event began to materialize, we became concerned with the behavior of some of the organizers of the event,” the sheriff continued. “Although I believe the organizers had good intentions, the event was moving in a direction we no longer felt comfortable supporting.”
Singer Joy Villa, who was slated to perform the National Anthem at the Blue Bowl, said she was “appalled” when she learned why the event was cancelled, KTTV reported.
“You’re shutting down an event because of the way conservatives think, because I support the president?” Villa railed, according to the news outlet. “This is disgusting, I’m appalled, and in all my years being an out conservative, I’ve never seen something so despicable like this.”
The funds raised for the Blue Bowl event – somewhere between $9,000 and $10,000 – will be returned to donors, KTTV reported.
Although Chief Hagel managed to postpone the event, Randall said his foundation won’t back off its commitment to help Sgt. Helus’ family.
"Ron Helus was a true hero,” Randall told KTTV. “He saved lives that night. Did he run in and go 'Are you Republican or Democrat or independent, I need to know before I help you?' No, they don’t.”
“You’ve messed with the wrong foundation," he said.
In a press release on Wednesday evening, Sheriff Ayub explained why he decided to withdraw from the charity event.
The release also included statements from Sgt. Helus’ widow and son.
Sheriff Ayub noted that the VCSO has been involved in multiple successful fundraisers for the mass shooting victims and Sgt. Helus’ family in the wake of the attack.
“To date, every event has been successful, lifelong friendships have been established, and people of all faiths and all political views stood hand-in-hand because the focus was exactly where it needed to be - on the victims and their families,” the sheriff wrote.
But when it came to the Blue Bowl, things changed.
“I initially gave my approval for support of the event organized by this out-of-state group,” he said. “As we drew closer to the actual event, they seemed to become more focused on political agendas, and less and less so on the victims and their families. I felt it was in the best interest of the department, the victims, and our community to not directly participate in the event.”
Sheriff Ayub alleged that the organizers of the Blue Bowl subsequently “launched a vicious and calculated social media campaign” against his office and Chief Hagel.
The sheriff argued that Chief Hagel has “been both professionally and personally involved with all those impacted by the Borderline tragedy,” and that he also attended every funeral service and nearly every fundraising event held in their honor.
“His focus has been and continues to remain on what is best for those impacted by this tragedy and what is best for Ventura County,” Sheriff Ayub wrote.
Sgt. Helus’ widow, Karen Helus, said that the VCSO has been extremely supportive of her and her family since her husband’s death.
“I am saddened and disappointed that a charity fundraiser has turned into politically charged national news story,” Karen’s statement read. “Since the tragic events of last November, I have intentionally avoided relating political causes to the loss of my husband. Unfortunately, the politics surrounding this flag football event turned into a distraction from the cause it was meant to highlight.”
She noted that she has personally met with President Donald Trump on multiple occasions, and that she continues to “respect and support him due to his unwavering support of my family and all law enforcement.”
Sgt. Helus’ son, Jordan Helus, also defended Chief Hagel and the VCSO.
“[Chief Hagel] is not a rogue chief of police and he is in no way any of the negative things some members of the community [the one he continues to love and support] are calling him,” Jordan said. “Knowing him personally, he is a kind hearted man who does not deserve to be treated in any other fashion as such.”
Jordan echoed Sheriff Ayub’s statements regarding the “agenda” of the Blue Bowl, and noted that it seemed to change “from honoring the fallen, to becoming a political platform to speak and express personal views.”
“The VCSO has no issue with freedom of speech coming from any political affiliation, but the purpose of the event was not to discuss politics on a stage that the deaths of 12 people created,” he wrote.
Jordan also noted that he does not believe the Blue Bowl organizers did “anything wrong” when they invited “individuals from a variety of political views, beliefs, and mindsets” to the charity event.
“Where they went wrong, was taking conversation between them and the VCSO out of context and try to paint Tim Hagel as the villain,” he declared. “There was no villain. No one was in the wrong. The focus of the event changed and the VCSO no longer wanted to be affiliated with the newly perceived focus of politics.”
“The only wrong done was slander on the part of the organizers,” he wrote, adding that he supports the VCSO’s decision to withdraw from the event.
“My hope is that this was all a huge miscommunication and that the Blue Bowl organizers did not intend for the event to turn into a political stage,” Jordan concluded.
Sgt. Helus was among the first law enforcement officers to respond to the scene of the Borderline Bar & Grill mass shooting.
“When he heard gunfire, he went in and that’s something [we] would expect from Ron,” Ventura County then-Sheriff Geoff Dean said at the time, according to KCBS.
"He was willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of others," Sheriff Dean noted, according to NBC News. "He ran into danger — he didn't walk."
Sgt. Helus was shot multiple times after he entered the building, and was later pulled to safety by a California Highway Patrol trooper, CBS News reported.
The 54-year-old sergeant was rushed to a local hospital, where he died at approximately 2 a.m. on Nov. 8.
The gunman murdered 11 other people during the attack, and wounded 10 to 15 more, Sheriff Dean said, according to CNN.
The attacker was later found dead inside the bar.
In December of 2018, Sheriff Ayub announced that one of the six rounds that hit Sgt. Helus during the mass shooting was fired by a fellow officer.
The mass shooter fired the other five rounds that struck the sergeant, then turned the gun on himself, USA Today reported.
The round fired by a fellow officer struck Sgt. Helus in the heart, killing him, Sheriff Ayub said.
Former Sheriff Dean described Sgt. Helus as a “hardworking, dedicated” public servant, CBS News reported.
"It's so tragic losing Ron," Sheriff Dean said, according to CNN. "We go to the gym together, work out together. It's horrific and terrible and it saddens our hearts."
The married father-of-one had given nearly three decades of his life to his department, and planned to retire in about a year.
"He went in to save lives, to save other people," Sheriff Dean said at the time. "He was totally committed, he gave his all, and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero.”