In the wake of criticism of the Cambridge Police Department by President Obama, the police sergeant who arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. says he's dismayed by the president's remarks — and insists he did nothing wrong.
Gates was arrested at his home last week after someone saw him forcing open his own front door, mistaking him for a burglar. Police responded to a 911 call and Sgt. James Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct after a verbal altercation.
The story of his arrest had started to die down, but on Wednesday night, Obama breathed new life into the controversy by weighing in in response to a reporter's question.
Admitting that he didn't have all the facts in the case — the police report says Gates was yelling and disorderly — Obama still offered a pretty strong opinion, saying the police had acted "stupidly."
That comment ricocheted around the country on news programs all day Thursday. Police unions got upset about it. Political opponents seized on it.
Then Crowley spoke up on a Boston talk show.
"Well of course, he's the president of the United States, and I support the president to a point — I guess," Crowley said. "I think it's disappointing he waded into a local issue that plays out here. He said he didn't know all the facts, and he certainly doesn't based on those comments. I just think it was very disappointing."
Crowley, 42, is married with three kids and coaches youth basketball. Fellow officers, a public defender and state politicians have been coming forward to vouch for him, calling him a nice guy and a good cop, and saying they strongly doubt that race played a role in his actions.
In fact, Crowley is a racial profiling awareness instructor. He says the department took a hard look at his actions in this high-profile case.
"We have a professional standards unit that conducted an inquiry right after this event," he said. "Had I deviated from that which was acceptable and standard policy, I would have been corrected for it; I would have been disciplined for it."
Crowley says the Harvard scholar repeatedly accused him of racial bias, shouted over his words and insulted him. Crowley insisted that he remained calm and professional with Gates — and repeatedly warned him that he was becoming disorderly.
"He was arrested after following me outside of the house, continuing the tirade even after being warned multiple times — probably a few more times than the average person would have gotten," Crowley said. "The second warning was with me holding a set of handcuffs in my hand — something I really didn't want to do. The professor could have resolved the issue by calming down or going back in the house."
Gates' attorney says Crowley is exaggerating about how upset Gates was and fabricated parts of his account. And Gates, speaking on CNN, has depicted Crowley as an out-of-control officer.
"What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable all people of color are, and all poor people, to capricious forces like a rogue policeman, and this man clearly was a rogue policeman," Gates said.
Prosecutors dropped the disorderly conduct charge against Gates on Tuesday.
State Sen. Anthony Galluccio, a former Cambridge mayor, said he knows both of the men, and "I don't believe that their behavior was rooted in race."
He said he went to high school with Crowley, and he knows Gates. He's trying to set up a meeting between the two men.
Galluccio said he's reserving judgment.
"Is it a crime to act like a jerk? No. But if you look at Crowley's reports, there's some meat on that bone," he said.
Late Thursday, the Cambridge police chief spoke out in support of Crowley, saying his actions were "consistent with his training" and without bias.
This isn't the first time Crowley has been dragged into the media spotlight. Sixteen years ago, he was the first police officer to arrive on the scene when Celtics basketball star Reggie Lewis suffered a massive heart attack.
Crowley said he wasn't thinking about whether Lewis was black or a celebrity. Crowley performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but was unable to revive Lewis.