Deputy awarded for inspiring trust with migrant workers

Growing up, Ramon Soto-Lopez dreamed of becoming a police officer and changing the perspective the public has of law enforcement.

Last fall, Migrant Legal Aid awarded Soto-Lopez for his distinguished and outstanding work in preserving justice and dignity for Michigan farm workers.

No one should have to undergo the treatment farm workers underwent at a Chester Township farm last year, Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker says.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office was called out to a scene where a farm boss was lashing out at migrant workers on the farm. He was spitting on them, threatening them, and assaulting them, according to police. (The man was charged with assault and battery.)


Many of the laborers did not speak English. Aside from the language barrier, there was a barrier of trust, Kempker says.

Dep. Soto-Lopez was able to break down both of those barriers.

“Ramon worked extremely hard on this case, conducting interviews with the migrant workers there at that farm,” the sheriff told the Ottawa County Board of Trustees last fall as he commemorated Soto-Lopez’s work and the award it garnered him from Grand Rapids-based Migrant Legal Aid.

The workers were hesitant to trust anyone from a system that had seemed to have failed them for so long. Soto-Lopez was able to change that.

“They put their trust in Ramon. They put their trust in the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. And they put their trust in the legal system,” Kempker says.
Ottawa County Sheriff's Dep. Ramon Soto-Lopez
It is exactly the reason Soto-Lopez got into law enforcement in the first place.

Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where he was born, was a crime-ridden town that was critical of police. Soto-Lopez dreamed of becoming an officer and changing that perspective.


His family moved to the United States in 2006 where they struggled financially and moved several times — from Florida to New York to Chicago and finally to Michigan.

“My biggest struggle was learning English,” Soto-Lopez says. “The language was very complicated, and this affected me personally and academically.”

However, his mother encouraged Soto-Lopez and his brother to continue their education. He joined a high school police academy.

In 2012, he graduated with outstanding academic achievement awards and enrolled in GRCC.

In 2016, he began work at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. He is a school resource office, crisis negotiator, and crime scene technician.
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