ORLANDO, Fla. – Just hours after the a jury found Markeith Loyd guilty of first degree murder, officers who worked alongside Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton came together for a cause she was passionate about.
Several years before her untimely death, Clayton volunteered with a youth mentoring group called “Dueling Dragons.” The goal of the group is to provide structure and inspiration for students in Orlando’s most crime-riddled neighborhoods. As the founder of the organization put it, “It’s hard to shoot someone you just spent a year with as your teammate.”
Orlando police officer Chris Chaplin said he worked alongside Clayton, witnessing firsthand how she helped impact the lives of those she crossed.
“I think it was the first police funeral that I went to,” Chaplin said. “When she smiled and gave her speeches to motivate you, you couldn’t help but feel good.”
Sargent Ravene Brinkley hopes to carry Clayton’s positive message to the youth group.
Brinkley said she first met Clayton soon after she graduated from the police academy, and was assigned to ride-along with her to get real-life field experience. Brinkley also said Clayton helped shape her into the officer she is today. She hopes a guilty verdict will give her family some peace.
“It made me feel I’m happy for the family because I know it’s been a long drawn out process for them,” Brinkley said.
Retired OPD officer Marty McClain is the general manager for Dueling Dragons. He said students who have since grown out of the program still reach out to tell him how much Clayton inspired them.
“A lot of the kids texted today when they heard the verdict. I mean that’s the type of lasting effect she’s had on people. I mean, she’s been gone almost four years now and they still remember her. Her beautiful smile and also the advice and companionship she gave the kids,” McClain said.
The youth groups’ end of season banquet was scheduled long before any indication a verdict would be reached. The timing allowed for several of her colleagues to process the verdict together.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina, who served as police chief at the time Clayton was murdered, said her impact will be felt for years to come.
“A lot of emotions in that room from some in there ... but it’s good. It’s all a part of (the) healing process. You know, the guilty verdict today is part of I guess you could consider it closure,” Mina said.
The Dueling Dragons mentoring group relies on donations. You can click here to help.