Archdeacon: Police chief learned the power of compassion from unique family

Spit upon, cursed, profiled, pulled over — those were some of the ignominies endured on the very same day in two separate states by the sons of Sinclair Police Chief Tom Thompson and his wife, Tiffany.

It was May 28, 2020, and in Conroe, Texas, 40 miles north of Houston, Romain Sato — the former Dayton Christian, Xavier University and longtime pro basketball star — was driving his truck through his gated community to the well-appointed home he shares with his wife, Christina, and their three children.

A scratch golfer, he was just returning from his regular weekly game with three aging retirees.

A patrol car pulled up behind him, and soon the flashing lights were on.

“He called me up later and he was really upset,” said Thompson, who has considered Sato his son since he and Tiffany — who already had two small children of their own — took him into their home, gained legal custody and fully embraced him as family after he’d arrived as teenager from the Central African Republic, a nation wracked by ethnic tension, violence and eventually civil war.

Sato — “just a wonderful, loving person,” Tiffany said — was and still is the complete antithesis of such strife and affront.

“My son doesn’t drink, he doesn’t cuss, he just raises his family, goes to church and golfs,” Thompson said. “He’s as pure as the driven snow. He doesn’t have an edge to him.”

And yet there he was that day, pulled over and being grilled just doors from his home.

“He said the police officer told him he looked like he might be a burglar looking to burglarize homes in the area,” Thompson said. “The color of his skin got him pulled over.”

That same day Thompson’s son, Brooks, who was working for an area police force at the time, was in downtown Dayton trying to keep peace during protests over the killing of George Floyd three days earlier by police in Minneapolis.

“After the George Floyd murder — and I don’t call it the George Floyd incident, he was murdered — we had several protests here,” Thompson said. “Our son was getting stuff thrown at him. He was spit on and cursed and called a racist.”

“And the majority of the people doing that were white,” Tiffany noted.

“Those people had no idea who his brother is,” Thomson said quietly.

Both incidents dismayed — but did not surprise — Thompson, who, like Tiffany, is fully committed to making life better for all segments of the community, especially those often overlooked or forgotten.

Thompson is the founder and executive director of Valens Solutions, a non-profit organization that works to secure employment, education, health care and other quality of life opportunities for immigrant communities and the underserved in the Miami Valley.

And after spending much of his life in law enforcement, he’s now at the forefront of re-imagining policing to make it more receptive and inclusive.

He’s been involved in the reforms that have recently been enacted for the Dayton Police Department, and he’s been brought in to lend his expertise to various police departments around the nation.

“Our job isn’t solely about arresting and being the boss and taking charge, though there is a time and place for all that,” he said.

“It’s about having the opportunity every day to interact with somebody and treat them with empathy and compassion. It’s about encountering people who are at their worst and totally changing the stars in their world.

“But when you have to be brave and make arrests, you do that, too, but you do it in a way that treats people like a human being.”

His approach has received full embrace on many fronts in the community, ruffled a few feathers among some of law enforcement’s old guard and sometimes stirred passionate — and productive — debate.

Eight months ago, Thompson was named the Director of Safety and Chief of Police at Sinclair. On Monday afternoon at 3:30, he’ll be the featured speaker at Sinclair’s Smith Auditorium (Building 12) as part of the school’s ongoing diversity series. It is free and open to the public. For a reservation, message

“I think it will be really powerful,” said Michael Carter, Sinclair’s Chief Diversity Officer, who will be on stage with Thompson. “I want people to hear all about his life.

“Most people don’t know about his family. That he has a Black son who happened to be a great high school and college player and played a long time as a pro.

“He’ll tell you how the experience he’s had with Romain — and now with Romain’s three children, his grandchildren — really shaped his view of race in America and how it’s now reflected in his policing.”

“We’re just going to have a very transparent and open conversation,” Thompson said. “For those (in policing) who really have open minds and open hearts and want to do things the right way, they won’t have a problem with this.

“But for the hardcore — those who really toe the thin blue line — there might be some heartburn over the things we get into.”

Some of his views go back to his days growing up the son of a minister who always opened up their home to “a bunch of international people.”

Much of it, though, has to do with the things he learned when Sato lived with him and Tiffany, and, maybe even more so, from some of the tough challenges Romain’s children sometimes have faced.

Thompson and his wife remain close to Sato and his family and have a second home next to them in Conroe. The three Sato kids spent all of July at the Thompsons Kettering home and photos of the trio are part of the framed collection — that includes daughter Madeson’s two kids from Anderson Twp.and Brooks’ three from Springboro — that is on display in the living room.

On the wall near the front door are the yardstick measurements of the ever-increasing heights of the grandchildren, including Romain’s 14-year-old son Ramsey, already 6-foot-2 and making his name as an AAU basketball player, musician, actor and honor student.

“They’re just such beautiful, precious children, but growing up in the world now, they’ve already felt the impact of racism and it just breaks my heart,” Tiffany said. “They have lots of good friends, but they’ve also been exposed to cruelty and judgment and they’ve been called the N-word.”

She said Romain’s three kids — his wife Christina is Mexican-American — must take precautions her other grandchildren, who are white, have not had to consider.

“Our oldest grandson was going out for a jog and his mom told him not to put his hood up. That really hit me,” she said.

“And when his younger brother went out, his mom told him if his ball went in somebody’s yard, he should not go after it.”

But Tiffany was struck the hardest when she was sitting at the table alongside her then-8-year-old granddaughter who was playing a game online, then stopped and suddenly asked:

“Grandma, what’s a racist?”

Helping each other grow

When Sato came to Dayton Christian 23 years ago from Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, I remember him recounting — then through an interpreter — a little about his life there.

He told how his family lived in a small, tin-roofed place the size of a one-car garage. He said civil unrest made the streets so unsafe that sometimes he didn’t go to school for months at a time.

Sato started playing basketball at 14 and, when he showed real promise, the head of the local basketball federation who had a connection to Dayton Christian arranged for him to come to the school.

When there was difficulty finding a home for Sato — who spoke five languages, but not English — the Thompsons volunteered.

Tom was a Dayton Christian alum and Tiffany was a West Carrollton grad and also the daughter of a minister. The couple already had Madeson, then 8, and Brooks who was 5.

“I was very young, just 26, and it took me a while to mature and realize the incredible obstacles Romain had to overcome,” Tiffany recalled. “I was pretty tough on him far as learning English and doing homework.”

Tom told how his wife fastened 3-by-5 notecards to everything in the house — a lamp, the table, a chair and so on — to show Romain the English word for the object.

“For two years the two of them were up almost every night until 2 or 3 in the morning, working on his school work and studying for the ACT,” he said.

Sato said he’s forever grateful for the Thompson’s unwavering love and dedication:

“My dad and mom did everything they could to help me. It’s amazing how they transformed my life. They never treated me differently. I wasn’t some Black kid from Africa, I was just their son. There is no black or white with them. That’s what I love about them.”

Tom helped coach Dayton Christian’s basketball team, and Sato was an instant star. He averaged 26.4 points and 15.6 rebounds as a senior and was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball in 2000.

Three years ago he was enshrined in the school’s hall of fame.

In his four years at Xavier, the 6-foot-5 swingman started every game and finished with 2,005 points and 892 rebounds.

A second-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs in 2004, he spent a season on injured reserve and then played 12 years of pro ball in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain before retiring. He was the Italian League MVP in 2010 and led four Italian teams and then his last team, the 2017 Valencia (Spain) Taronges, to league titles.

Back here, Tom and Tiffany have been champions, as well.

Just this past year, Tom said Valens Solutions worked with over 1,000 people. It wasn’t just immigrants, he said, but people who were devalued, addicted and “had just been kicked around.”

Tiffany was in the nursing field and saw a real shortage of nurses of color. Tom saw the same need in law enforcement.

Through their non-profit, they have given scholarships to begin to address such deficiencies.

Tom said two of their recipients recently graduated from the police academy. One had been an officer before in Ghana, but the other from Rwanda had not.

“He had witnessed the genocide,” Thompson said. “His dad had been imprisoned. Family members were slaughtered. He watched his city burn down.”

“His story is unbelievable!” Tiffany said.

And it’s even more so now, Tom noted:

“We hired him and the guy from Ghana to be officers at Sinclair.”

A national connection

After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Thompson worked his way up through the Miamisburg police department until he was the assistant chief. He then became the assistant city manager in Miamisburg, before returning to policing with the Kettering Health Network.

Over the years he said he’d seen how connected Sinclair was to Montgomery County at large: “They were just so dedicated to serving marginalized communities, so when the opportunity came up, I wanted be a part of it.”

Now he’s involved in a lot more than just that. He’s part of the Welcome Dayton initiative and he serves as a consultant and a speaker for the Massachusetts-based organization called Law Enforcement Action Partnerships.

That has brought him in contact with several police departments nationwide.

Some of his pronouncements to other cops might surprise you.

“Police departments need to clean house,’ he said. “Some people like to paint it as, ‘Look, there’s only a few bad apples.’ But I don’t think that’s accurate.

“While most of my peers have fantastic hearts and truly want to do the right thing, there are some we’ll admit amongst ourselves who shouldn’t be a cop because they don’t know how to talk to people or how to treat people. Sometimes they’re too rough.

“And let’s say there are one in 20 guys like that — and I’m being conservative — so if you have 1,000 police and correction officers in Montgomery County, that would come out to 50 who shouldn’t be cops.

“And let’s say those 50 interact with 1,000 people each in a year. So that’s 50,000 touches from some that their own people think shouldn’t be police officers.

“So all of sudden that 50,000 in a year doesn’t just look like a few bad apples.

“It looks like we have a problem we should fix. Sure it’s an uncomfortable subject, but it’s up to us — people in leadership like me — to do a better job enriching our troops by exposing them to diverse events, interactions and conversations.

“Really, that’s the best thing for everybody, not just police officers.

“If you befriend a person of color or an immigrant or just someone who is different than you, the knowledge that comes from that can be powerful and so enriching.

“And I think it’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to bridge the gaps in the community and our society.

“We’ve got to try everything we can.”

That’s what Monday’s presentation is about.

And hopefully, one day, that may lead to fewer people spit upon, cursed, profiled and pulled over.

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