Mercy Came Knocking

Paul Bass PhotoA new teacher turned up at a training academy classroom to address New Haven’s police recruits the other day. He told a parable about the night he almost lost his life to a gun-toting driver of a Dodge Intrepid.

The parable ends with a remarkable act of mercy. The teacher left that part out.  For a reason.

The teacher told the parable to offer a lesson about how to be a cop. A “community” cop.

The teacher that day, Anthony Campbell, was both a cop and a reverend: A police sergeant. And a Yale Divinity School-trained Christian minister.

Sgt. Campbell turned up at the morning session of the academy the other day because, as of this month, he now runs New Haven’s police academy.

He takes over at a propitious time. New Haven aims to pump 100 new officers into the force over the course of a year as part of a mission to reignite community policing. As Chief Dean Esserman’s choice to run the academy on Sherman Parkway, Campbell will play a key role in that mission. He will oversee efforts to recruit lots more cadets, to find more of them right here in New Haven with the help of churches and employers. He has already brought in the housing authority to urge suburban cadets to take advantage of a new offer to buy specially low-priced homes in the newly rebuilt Brookside housing development. And the academy is reemphasizing the idea of walking the beat, getting to know the community, earning their trust.

On his third day in his new position he decided to start by visiting the morning session, usually dedicated to physical training, to speak personally with the current class of 28 recruits halfway through their course to prepare to hit New Haven’s streets.

Campbell asked everyone in the room to describe his or her personal story.

Campbell went first.

He told them about the day his career, and his life, almost ended, when a men fleeing police disobeyed Campbell’s order to get out of his car, then zoomed right toward him and caused a crash that sent Campbell 15 feet into the air. Campbell landed with a concussion and a devastating case of paralysis.

“I want you to understand what you’re getting into. This is not a job. It’s a way of life,” Campbell recalls concluding to the students.

“For me this is a ministry. I’m a Christian on patrol. Whether you expound or claim faith, each of you is putting on a bulletproof vest, a bad and a gun because you believe you can make a difference. You have faith. In many ways it’s a ministry for us all.”

That was one lesson. If he were preaching from the pulpit at church, he might have continued the parable to a second lesson contained in its mind-blowing and inspiring conclusion. He didn’t. He had a reason for not going there. In an interview in his director’s office at the academy, Campbell, who’s 39, told the rest of the story, expounded on his reason for restraint, and charted his remarkable path from son of a Harlem drug dealer to sergeant in charge of training the troops for New Haven Community Policing 2.0.

A Jesuit Detour

Everyone in the neighborhood knew about Campbell’s father’s profession when Campbell grew up, he said. His father had a lot of eyes working for him. He issued his son a warning.

“If I catch you in the street,” his father vowed, “I will kill you.”

Campbell knew all those eyes would be watching.

So Campbell worked hard at All Saints Roman Catholic school on 129th Street, then Jesuit-run Fordham Preparatory high school in the Bronx, and at the Jesuit high school. He got into Yale. He planned to study to become a Jesuit priest.

His mom was a corrections officer at Riker’s Island; at times she patrolled the prison while Campbell’s dad was incarcerated there.

Six months after Campbell graduated from Yale, his father took his wife’s service revolver and shot himself to death.

By then, Campbell was on a set of missions. During his undergraduate years, he decided that he’d become both an ordained minister and work in law enforcement, instead of becoming a Jesuit priest or a minister working with prisoners in jail. Two reasons changed his mind: He wanted to marry Stephanie, a fellow undergrad with whom he’d fallen in love. And his mother counseled him to work to help criminals and pursue justice some place other than inside prison walls. “When you’re in prison,” she told him, drawing on her own career, “you’re actually serving time.”

So Campbell applied to local police departments, a number of which accepted him. He chose New Haven, a city he’d come to love as an undergrad. He entered the training academy in 1998.

In addition to training for his badge, he eventually became certified in instructing other officers in how to detect and prevent officer suicides. His dad’s suicide inspired him to do that.

He also signed up for Yale Divinity School, hitting class and the books during the day while walking the downtown and Wooster Square beat from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

After a couple of years he found himself back at the police academy, working for then-Director Kay Codish. It was the heyday of New Haven’s first community policing plunge. He helped Codish develop training and outreach programs to connect cadets to the community and, in the case of a new citizens academy, to invite the public in to learn how the police department runs.

One March night in 2006, Campbell was working an extra-duty job policing a construction site on East Street. His life would never be the same after that night.

“Oh God”

Police would later theorize that the four occupants screeching off I-95 at Long Wharf in a black Dodge Intrepid from Bridgeport that night came to town on a gang initiation ritual. That one of them had to spill blood.

They would never know for sure. But blood did spill.

Officers tried to stop the Intrepid driver. He refused to stop. They chased him and blocked the car in near where Campbell and a fellow officer, Robert Hayden, happened to be working the extra shift at East and Chapel streets.

Campbell and Hayden approached the scene. Campbell noticed that the officers had their guns drawn. “I knew,” he recalled, “that something was wrong.”

Campbell ran to the car. He spotted a sawed-off shotgun inside.

Suddenly the driver accelerated and drove right at Campbell. Campbell leaped out of the way.

The driver steered the Intrepid onto Chapel, then onto Wallace Street. He landed in front of a padlocked gate by the construction site. He had nowhere to go.

Campbell ran up to the car from the other side of the gate.

“Get out of the car!” he yelled. “Put your hands up!”

The driver responded by flashing his high beams. Then he gunned the engine.

“Oh God,” Campbell recalls thinking. “I know I’m too close to the gate.” Even though he was still standing on the other side of it.

He backpedaled, with his gun still drawn. “That’s the last I remember.”

He learned later that the driver had driven at top speed into the gate. He smashed it so hard that the gate whipped open—and slapped Campbell 15 feet into the air.

“The gun went in one direction. I went the other. I came down on my head.”

He lay unconscious on the ground. And the driver was putting the car in gear again to drive through the now-opened gate, right at Campbell.

Hayden, fearing for Campbell’s life, fired his gun into the passenger side of the car. The driver swerved toward Hayden, who got out of the way. The driver then crashed his Intrepid into two cop cruisers, and proceeded toward I-95.

He ditched the car by I-95 and fled, running across I-95, with two officers running after him.

Cops stormed the area, backed up by a police canine and a state police helicopter. Eventually, they caught all four of the car’s occupants, including Mark Andrews, the driver who almost killed Campbell.

The Rest Of The Story

Campbell concluded by telling the cadets that he was out for 18 months, his right side paralyzed. He limped; he didn’t walk. He couldn’t use his right arm. He couldn’t play with his young sons. He was offered the opportunity to retire. He decided to fight his way back on duty instead.

He wanted to let the cadets know what they were getting into.

The point of that day’s sermon: “If I retired under disability, the spirit in which Mark Andrews hit me wins. Bad things do happen to good people. That doesn’t mean you give up.”

“I’m a minister. My ministry is setting an example of leadership, of bringing real community policing. I can’t think of a more profound ministry. They are raw material; it is up to us to teach them their job is not to police a community; it is to be part of a community, to teach a community to police itself. All of our arrests come from the community. That is why crime is down” since community policing reemerged this year, he said.

Campbell the father and husband struggled after Mark Andrews hit him with the Intrepid. He collected $800 a month on disability (65 percent of his average earnings over the last few years); it was hard to support his wife and (then) two kids (now three) on the money. He lived on borrowed money; that caught up with him, when he eventually had to declare bankruptcy. He struggled to regain his motor functions. The trauma took a toll on his wife and kids, too, he said. He did eventually make it back to the force, and emerged as the top pick to run the police academy after David Sydnor retired several weeks ago.

Before his return to active duty, back in May of 2007, Campbell limped into state Superior Court. A jury had found Mark Andrews guilty of assaulting Campbell and trying to kill Hayden, as well as possessing the sawed-off shotgun. Campbell agreed to testify at Andrews’ sentencing hearing.

Andrews faced 45 years in jail, 10 of them for the assault on Campbell.

Campbell asked Judge Joseph Licari Jr. to shave five years off the sentence.

“As a Christian, I believe in the miracle of forgiveness, and this is what I extend to the man who hurt me as I was trying to protect his life and the lives of others in the New Haven community,” Campbell told the judge, according to this contemporaneous account by the Register’s Randall Beach. “God has been merciful to me and has spared my life in a situation where I could have been killed; this is an act of grace. As grace has been given to me, I in turn bestow my grace and forgiveness to the man who nearly took my life.”

Judge Licari agreed to shave off the five years. Andrews went to jail for 40 years, not 45.

An investigator from the state’s attorney’s office was incredulous.

“Why are you giving this piece of garbage your mercy?” Campbell remembered him asking.

Because, Campbell responded, “somebody extended that mercy to me.” That somebody, he said, was Jesus.

“Nobody wins” if Andrews were to spend even more time behind bars, Campbell concluded. “Yes, justice prevailed. But I wound up paralyzed for almost two years, bankrupt, credit shot. My wife had to struggle because of that. And a man goes to jail for 40 years. He had an 8-month-old son growing up not knowing his father. A mother lost her son to the prison system.

“But amidst all that, there can be some mercy.”

Campbell was asked this week why chose not to teach that lesson of mercy to his class of cadets.

He said he does want the rookies to wrestle with the question—on their own. He doesn’t want to force-feed it to them.

“That’s a personal decision,” he said of his request to Judge Licari. It wasn’t an easy decision. Campbell’s cadets may find they, too, may have to make a mercy call one day when they hit the streets.

Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
James Baker
Lloyd Barrett
Maneet Bhagtana
Paul Bicki
Paul Bicki (2)
Sheree Biros
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
Sydney Collier
Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
David Coppola
Roy Davis
Joe Dease
Milton DeJesus
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Robert DuPont
Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
Bertram Etienne
Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
Paul Finch
Jeffrey Fletcher
Renee Forte
Marco Francia
William Gargone
William Gargone & Mike Torre
Derek Gartner
Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
Dan Hartnett
Ray Hassett
Robert Hayden
Robin Higgins
Ronnell Higgins
William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
Racheal Inconiglios
Juan Ingles
Paul Kenney
Hilda Kilpatrick
Herb Johnson
John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
Peter Krause
Peter Krause (2)
Amanda Leyda
Rob Levy
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Juan Monzon
Chris Perrone
Ron Perry
Joe Pettola
Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
David Rivera
Luis & David Rivera
Luis Rivera (2)
Salvador Rodriguez
Salvador Rodriguez (2)
Brett Runlett
David Runlett
Allen Smith
Marcus Tavares
Martin Tchakirides
Stephan Torquati
Gene Trotman Jr.
Kelly Turner
Lars Vallin (& Xander)
John Velleca
Holly Wasilewski
Alan Wenk
Stephanija VanWilgen
Matt Williams
Michael Wuchek
David Zannelli
David Zaweski

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posted by: PH on September 28, 2012  5:44pm

Campbell has a great life story and seems like a level-headed man.  I hope he can instill some of that reason, calmness and perspective into the new cops he is training.

posted by: Wildwest on September 29, 2012  9:54am

I can attest to his character, there couldn’t be a better person to be in charge of training new cops. I’d love to see Anthony running the NHPD one day after Esserman decides he has had enough.

posted by: ramonesfan on September 29, 2012  11:55pm

<< “Nobody wins” if Andrews were to spend even more time behind bars, Campbell concluded >>

You’re a good guy, Mr. Campbell, but I beg to differ with you.  Anyone crazy enough to attack half a dozen cops can’t be rehabilitated.  I doubt if Andrews will see the error of his ways during the course of his time in prison.  For our safety, Andrews ought stay in prison until he is a harmless, feeble old man.

posted by: HhE on September 30, 2012  12:11am

So catching bad guys really is God’s work.  I’ve long thought that.