Missing a hand, missing his calling: Man with disability denied graduation from police academy

One hand couldn’t keep Chance Anthony from catching touchdowns, but one hand is keeping him...
One hand couldn’t keep Chance Anthony from catching touchdowns, but one hand is keeping him from catching criminals.(WAVE 3 News)
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 11:40 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2021 at 12:05 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The only kid on the Breckinridge County High School football team with one hand chose to play receiver.

“When I was born, the doctors told my parents they would miss it more than I would,” Chance Anthony said. “It’s something I never had, so I never really had it to lose.”

Selected as the most inspirational high school football player in America, Anthony won the national Rudy Award. What are the chances a guy missing half of his right arm could fulfill his dream of being a police officer like his dad?

“They would look at you and say, ‘How can he do that?’” Anthony said. “‘How can you be a one-handed receiver? How can you be a one-handed police officer?’ People had doubts but once you had the opportunity to show them this is what I’m able to do, I’ve been able to succeed.”

Succeed, indeed. Anthony passed the tests to get into the police academy and then met or exceeded expectations in everything he was tested in by putting up scores in the 90s or 100, as well as winning the Physical Fitness Excellence Award and the Coordinator’s Award with commentary: “If Mr. Anthony continues his duties as an officer with the same dedication and performance standards he has displayed at the academy, he will be a great asset to his agency.”

“He shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations,’” Anthony said. “So, it was done.”

After his basic training, graduation certificates were signed by outgoing Department of Criminal Justice Training Commissioner Alex Payne and new Commissioner Nicolai Jilek, the winner of the Rudy Award was rudely interrupted halfway through graduation.

“They say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna take a bathroom break — 15-minute bathroom break,” Anthony recalled. “And I’m pulled into the commissioner’s office, and I’m handed a letter that says there are inconsistencies in your files between what staff members have reported, and what was reported to your agency, and so you’re not gonna receive your certificate today.”

Anthony thought he passed everything, but his completed pass got intercepted. Then, they asked him to fake it.

“Says, ‘I know what just happened — we’re gonna ask you to walk the line anyway so it does not interrupt the graduation ceremony,’” Anthony said.

In a letter from DOCJT commissioner Nicolai Jilek, he said Anthony was “unable to successfully demonstrate safe and effective performance” in areas like:

- shoot with a support hand

- defend against a left-handed attacker

- defend against an attacker if his functional hand is injured

- perform disarm techniques

“They’re stealing from the kid,” retired DOCJT commissioner Alex Payne said. “They’re robbing him. They’re taking something that he earned. He passed every standard in place at that academy at the time — no ifs ands or buts.”

Anthony appealed the denial of his graduation certificate and lost. The hearing officer ruled that “while Anthony was able to engage in defensive skills and firearm training using numerous modified techniques adapted to his disability, he was unable to perform a number of the physical skills in the manner taught.”

“He completed every single task he was graded on at DOCJT academy,” Anthony’s attorney Thomas Clay said. “He was listed as a graduate, and in fact he was entered into the DOCJT computer as a graduate. They tried to change that later, falsely I might add, tried to change it, put in there he departed, which he did not depart, that was not true.”

Chance’s attorney was referring to an email chain within the DOCJT where they had trouble changing Anthony’s status as graduated. Staffers asked questions like, “I don’t believe he failed any of the academic exams. Is it possible to override the final score?”

WAVE 3 News requested an interview with Jilek, but instead received a statement that read DOCJT “has a responsibility to ensure trainees are able to protect themselves and their community and to meet all state mandated requirements” which “provide the necessary skills to prepare officers for real life scenarios in order to protect the diverse communities they serve.”

“Most of the mistakes that police officers make out here that’s going to endanger their careers, their safety, safety of others,” Payne said. “They’re made with their hearts and minds, not their physical ability or lack thereof,” Payne said.

One hand couldn’t keep Anthony from catching touchdowns, but one hand is keeping him from catching criminals.

“I don’t know why it’s happening,” Anthony said. “I don’t. It’s really weird to me that they would push so hard for me to not be on the road at a time that nobody wants to be a police officer right now.”

While all of this was under appeal, Anthony was allowed to work on the Leitchfield Police Department where he was named Officer of the Year. He had to turn in his badge when he lost.

His appeal is now in circuit court.

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