Published July 23, 2009
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The white police sergeant accused of racial profiling after he arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home was hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits about avoiding racial profiling.
Gates accused the 11-year department veteran Sgt. James Crowley of being an unyielding, race-baiting authoritarian after Crowley arrested and charged him with disorderly conduct last week.
Crowley confronted Gates in his home after a woman passing by summoned police for a possible burglary. The sergeant said he arrested Gates after the scholar repeatedly accused him of racism and made derogatory remarks about his mother, allegations the professor challenges.
Gates has labeled Crowley a "rogue cop," demanded an apology and said he may sue the police department.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas, in his first public comments on the arrest, said Thursday that Crowley was a decorated officer who followed procedure. The department is putting together an independent panel to review the arrest, but Haas said he did not think the whole story had been told.
"Sgt. Crowley is a stellar member of this department. I rely on his judgment every day. ... I don't consider him a rogue cop in any way," Haas said. "I think he basically did the best in the situation that was presented to him."
Haas said Crowley's actions were in no way motivated by racism.
On Wednesday, President Obama elevated the dispute, when he said Cambridge Police "acted stupidly" during the encounter.
Obama stepped back on Thursday, telling ABC News, "From what I can tell, the sergeant who was involved is an outstanding police officer, but my suspicion is probably that it would have been better if cooler heads had prevailed."
Crowley didn't immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press on Thursday.
He has said he has no reason to apologize and, on Thursday, told a radio station Obama went too far.
"I support the president of the United States 110 percent," he told WBZ-AM. "I think he was way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts, as he himself stated before he made that comment."
The sergeant added: "I guess a friend of mine would support my position, too."
Friends and fellow officers — black and white — say Crowley is a principled police officer and family man who is being unfairly described as racist.
"If people are looking for a guy who's abusive or arrogant, they got the wrong guy," said Andy Meyer, of Natick, who has vacationed with Crowley, coached youth sports with him and is his teammate on a men's softball team. "This is not a racist, rogue cop. This is a fine, upstanding man. And if every cop in the world were like him, it would be a better place."
But Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, once the top civil rights official in the Clinton administration and now, like Obama, the first black to hold his job, labeled the arrest "every black man's nightmare."
The governor told reporters: "You ought to be able to raise your voice in your own house without risk of arrest."
Those who know the 42-year-old Crowley say he is calm, reliable and committed to everyday interests like playing softball and coaching his children's youth teams.
"He's a guy that you hope shows up for the game because he adds some levity. He's a team guy and he hangs out after the game," said Joe Ranieri, who plays softball with Crowley in suburban Natick.
Dan Keefe, a town parks official who knows Crowley from his work coaching youth swim, softball, basketball and baseball teams, said: "I would give him my daughter to coach in a blink of an eye, and I can't say any stronger opinion than that."
Crowley grew up in Cambridge's Fresh Pond neighborhood and attended the city's racially diverse public schools, including Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. His brothers Jack and Joseph also work for the police department. His third sibling, Daniel, is a Middlesex County deputy sheriff.
Now married with three children of his own, Crowley lives about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the city where he works.
He joined the Cambridge Police Department about 11 years ago and oversees the evidence room, records unit and paid police details.
For five of the past six years, Crowley also has volunteered alongside a black colleague in teaching 60 cadets per year about how to avoid targeting suspects merely because of their race, and how to respond to an array of scenarios they might encounter on the beat. Thomas Fleming, director of the Lowell Police Academy, said Crowley was asked by former Cambridge police Commissioner Ronnie Watson, who is black, to be an instructor.
"I have nothing but the highest respect for him as a police officer. He is very professional and he is a good role model for the young recruits in the police academy," Fleming said.
David Holway, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, lives in Cambridge, had a brother on the force there and said Crowley is from a "tremendous family."
"Everybody in the community loves this guy. All his peers love him," Holway said. "Everyone speaks highly of him."
Crowley's encounter with Gates was not his first with a high-profile black man, although on the prior occasion he was lauded for his response.
He was a campus cop at Brandeis University in suburban Waltham when was summoned to the school gymnasium in July 1993 after Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis collapsed of an apparent heart attack. Crowley, also a trained emergency medical technician, not only pumped the local legend's chest, but put his mouth to Lewis' own and attempted to breathe life back into the fallen athlete.
"Looking back on it, he was probably already gone," Crowley said Thursday during an interview with WEEI-AM in Boston. "But I did to him what I would do to anything else in that situation."