Cambridge Cops: Panel to Review Gates Case

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas talks to reporters July 23, 2009 about the arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. a week ago. Haas said the department will appoint an independent panel to investigate and issue a report on the events surrounding the event. CBS

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Hass said that his department would review a panel of local experts and community leaders to review the events surrounding the arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., July 16.

He said the panel's membership would be announced in the next few days.

Haas said repeatedly that he regrets that the situation occurred, but also stood by Crowley, who he said has been "widely recognized" in the department.

"Sgt. Crowley is a stellar member of this department," Haas said. "I don't consider him a rogue cop in any way."

Still, Haas said, it would be a "mistake" not to take the opportunity to learn from the events of July 16 by appointing the panel and fully investigating the case.

"This department is deeply pained," Haas said. "It takes its professional pride very seriously."

The white police sergeant who arrested Gates in his Massachusetts home is a police academy expert on understanding racial profiling.

Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley has taught a class about racial profiling for five years at the Lowell Police Academy after being hand-picked for the job by former police Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, said Academy Director Thomas Fleming.

"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 told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The course, called "Racial Profiling," teaches about different cultures that officers could encounter in their community "and how you don't want to single people out because of their ethnic background or the culture they come from," Fleming said. The academy trains cadets for cities across the region.

In a news conference Wednesday night, President Barack Obama, who is a friend of Gates, criticized Crowley and the police department's handling of the case.

"I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry," Mr. Obama said. "Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three - what I think we know separate and apart from this incident - is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that's just a fact."

But today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to walk back some of Mr. Obama's remarks, saying the president was not calling the officer stupid, just remarking that cooler heads should have prevailed, reports CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod .

President Obama told ABC News earlier Thursday that he was "surprised" by the controversy generated by his comments.

"I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who's in his own home," the president said, arguing that Gates should not have been arrested.

(AP)
But Mr. Obama added that he has "extraordinary respect for the difficulties of the job that police officers do" and that it is his understanding that Crowley is an "outstanding police officer."

(Read more from CBSNews.com's Political Hotsheet blog.)

Crowley, 42, has maintained he did nothing wrong and has refused to apologize, as Gates has demanded.

Asked about Mr. Obama's remarks last night, he added, "When I talk to officers throughout the department during the course of the day you could see that they were really stunned by … taking those comments to heart. They were very much deflated."

In an interview with CBS station WBZ in Boston Thursday morning, Crowley also responded to the president's comments.

"I didn't vote for him," he said.

"I support the president of the United States 110 percent [but] I think he's way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts, as he himself stated before he made that comment," Crowley continued.



Watch WBZ's entire interview with Crowley




Gates, director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, has said he was "outraged" by the arrest. He said the white officer walked into his home without his permission and only arrested him as the professor followed him to the porch, repeatedly demanding the sergeant's name and badge number because he was unhappy over his treatment.

Crowley responded to Gates' home near Harvard University last week to investigate a report of a burglary and demanded Gates show him identification. Police say Gates at first refused, flew into a rage and accused the officer of racism.

Gates was charged with disorderly conduct. The charge was dropped Tuesday.

Crowley is an 11-year veteran of the force, Axelrod reports. He says he asked Gates to step outside for his own safety - standard practice since he didn't know if there was a suspect inside.

In his police report he said Gates replied, "Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside," reports Axelrod.

"There was a lot of yelling. There were references to my mother something you wouldn't expect from somebody who should be grateful that you are there investigating a reportable crime in progress, let alone a Harvard University professor," Crowley said.

Gates' supporters maintain his arrest was a case of racial profiling. Officers were called to the home by a woman who said she saw "two black males with backpacks" trying to break in the front door. Gates has said he arrived home from an overseas trip and the door was jammed.

Crowley did not immediately respond to messages left Thursday by the AP. The Cambridge police department scheduled a news conference for later Thursday.

Gates has said he was "outraged" by the arrest. He said the white officer walked into his home without his permission and only arrested him as the professor followed him to the porch, repeatedly demanding the sergeant's name and badge number because he was unhappy over his treatment.

"This isn't about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America," Gates said.

He said the incident made him realize how vulnerable poor people and minorities are "to capricious forces like a rogue policeman, and this man clearly was a rogue policeman."

The president said federal officials need to continue working with local law enforcement "to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias."

Fellow officers, black and white, say Crowley is well-liked and respected on the force. Crowley was a campus police officer at Brandeis University in July 1993 when he administered CPR trying to save the life of former Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis. Lewis, who was black, collapsed and died during an off-season workout.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who is black, said he was troubled and upset over the incident. Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons, who also is black, has said she spoke with Gates and apologized on behalf of the city, and a statement from the city called the July 16 incident "regrettable and unfortunate."

The mayor refused Thursday to comment on the president's remarks.

On Thursday, the White House tried to calm a hubbub over Obama's comments by saying Obama was not calling the officer stupid. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama felt that "at a certain point the situation got far out of hand" at Gates' home last week.

Police supporters charge that Gates, director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was responsible for his own arrest by overreacting.

Black students and professors at Harvard have complained for years about racial profiling by Cambridge and campus police. Harvard commissioned an independent committee last year to examine the university's race relations after campus police confronted a young black man who was using tools to remove a bike lock. The man worked at Harvard and owned the bike.

Related Coverage:

White House: Obama Didn't Call Officer Stupid

Prof. Gates, Cambridge and Racial Politics

Cop Who Cuffed Gates Tried to Save NBA Pro

Cambridge Cop: Gates' Arrest by the Book

Gates Devastated by Arrest, Says Daughter

Obama: Cops Acted "Stupidly" in Professor's Arrest

Black Professor Wants Apology over Arrest

Was Professor's Arrest 'Racial Profiling'?

Gates Speaks out about His Arrest

Charges Against Harvard Scholar Dropped

Profiling Charge In Black Scholar's Arrest
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