CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The white police sergeant accused of racial profiling after he arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home was handpicked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits about avoiding racial profiling.
Friends and fellow officers - black and white - say Sgt. James Crowley is a principled cop and not a racist.
"If people are looking for a guy who's abusive or arrogant, they got the wrong guy," said Andy Meyer, who has vacationed with Crowley and coached youth sports with him.
Gates accused the 11-year department veteran of being a race-baiting authoritarian after Crowley arrested and charged him with disorderly conduct last week.
Crowley confronted Gates in his home after a passerby reported a possible burglary when she saw Gates fumbling to open his front door.
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," and has demanded an apology.
On Wednesday, in response to a reporter's question, President Obama entered the dispute when he said police "acted stupidly" during the encounter.
Crowley has said he has no reason to apologize and, yesterday, told a radio station that 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."
Yesterday, Obama himself stepped back, 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."
Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas, in his first public comments on the arrest, said yesterday that Crowley was a decorated officer who followed procedure. The department is putting together an independent panel to review the arrest, he said.
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 and reliable.
He joined the Cambridge Police Department 11 years ago. For five of the last six years, he has volunteered alongside a black colleague in teaching 60 cadets per year 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 Lowell Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, to be an instructor.
Crowley's encounter with Gates is not his first with a high-profile black man, although on the prior occasion he was lauded for his response.
He was a campus officer at Brandeis University in suburban Waltham when he was summoned to the school gymnasium in July 1993 after Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis collapsed of an apparent heart attack.
Crowley, an emergency medical technician, put his mouth to Lewis' and tried to breathe life back into the fallen athlete.