Longtime Florida Keys law enforcement officer Donny Barrios is promoted to station commander for Marathon. TOM WALKER/Keys Weekly

By Tom Walker

“Donny Barrios can walk into a room of 50 strangers and walk out having made 50 friends,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said on Jan. 30 while promoting Barrios, who was flanked by Tiffany, his wife of 25 years, and brother Robert. 

Barrios, 47, previously the director of internal affairs and professional standards, will be station commander at the MCSO Marathon substation, serving under Capt. Don Hiller, the District 4 & 5 commander.

“I’ve known Donny for over 20 years,” Hiller said. “He’s a great guy and has contacts all over the place. He’s going to bring a lot of experience and leadership to the district.”

Ramsay, who presented Barrios with his declaration of promotion, said although it is “tough to pick the right person” for such a crucial spot in his chain of command, it is also his “favorite part of the job.”

In addition to being heavily involved in the Keys community, Ramsay said, Barrios has a genial, friendly demeanor. 

Ramsay handed Barrios a gold wreathed lieutenant’s badge, one of only eight in an agency of over 200 sworn law enforcement deputies, and said, “I know you’ll continue to do the great things that are happening in Marathon. Congratulations; today is your day, sir.”

Born in Key West, Barrios began his career as a 16-year-old Conch with the Key West Police Department Explorers Program. Graduating from Key West High School in 1995, Barrios attended Pasco-Hernando Community College, receiving his Florida law enforcement certification. At the time, there were no open positions at Key West Police Department, so Barrios held one of the most unsung positions in any agency — communications officer. 

That September, Barrios hit the road as a patrol officer, assigned to the midnight shift for the next four years. He also worked as a bike patrol officer and field training officer, mentoring younger trainees for the KWPD.

Policing in paradise might seem a dream job, but Barrios soon experienced the harsh realities of his chosen craft. In April 1997, he was on a routine bar check at Rick’s entertainment complex in the 200 block of Duval Street. A garbled radio transmission indicated there was an unknown problem at the former Rumrunners/Hide-A-Way Bar, now the location of Teasers, just up the block.

“I could barely understand what they were saying because the music was so loud,” Barrios recalled. Instead of waiting for clarification, he sprinted down the pavement, weaving through a crowded, late-night Duval Street to the front of the bar.

“People were just running out screaming, ‘There’s a shooting! There’s a shooting!’” Barrios recalled this week. 

As he entered the chaos, a bouncer said he had the assailant’s gun and directed him to a man  being pinned against the bar by a group of good Samaritans. On his approach, Barrios had to step across one of four victims lying on the floor as more good Samaritans administered CPR. Unfortunately, that victim later died. Three others would recover from their gunshot wounds and the shooter, Jeffrey Wade Wallace, would receive a life sentence.

After cuffing the man, Barrios recovered 98 9-millimeter bullets in his possession.

“I would have done more if (I had) not been stopped,” the man, who would later enter a plea of not guilty by insanity, told another officer.

Two years later, Barrios became a motorcycle officer and traffic homicide investigator.

Raised navigating the waters surrounding the Keys, Barrios joined the marine unit in 2002. After a later stint as a recruiting officer, he was promoted to road patrol sergeant in 2015 and, as all new sergeants do, found himself back on the midnight grind.

In 2019, Barrios retired after a 24-year career as a KWPD officer.

But he still had gas in the tank and joined the Sheriff’s Office in June 2019.

“I’m looking forward to working with a very productive group of young deputies,” said Barrios, who will be responsible for about 30 deputies, including detectives, in Marathon.

Aspiring to the position of district captain, Barrios is slated to attend the prestigious Southern Police Institute Command Officers Development next week.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the long haul,” he said.