Law enforcement officers understand the risk of their profession as do their loved ones at home who offer soulful prayers from quiet corners in hopes of never receiving the solemn phone call nor the ill-fated knock upon their door.
Yet it came for Danielle Maples and her three precious little boys, all under the age of 5.
She is the wife, and her beloved youngsters are the sons, of Cleveland Police Department officer Justin Maples, an eight-year veteran who died in the line of duty last Sunday evening while answering a call for support of a Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
Maples’ brother in uniform was in pursuit of a suspect who later was charged with automobile theft, felony evading, reckless endangerment, evading arrest, possession of Schedule VI drugs and driving on a suspended license. Backup is a standard practice among law enforcement professionals. But its dangers too often lie concealed among a slate of unknowns.
The 35-year-old Maples died when his patrol car crashed on South Lee Highway as he was en route to the call for assistance. He was doing what law enforcement professionals do best. He was trying to help others.
A painful closure came to this tragedy Thursday when beloved family members, friends and hundreds of fellow officers from dozens of communities and neighboring states gathered to say goodbye to their fallen comrade. Their gesture of condolence was one of great respect for a good man who believed in the work he did for others.
Justin Maples went far beyond the efforts of the average patrolman.
He served as president of the Cleveland Fraternal Order of Police. He was a member of the Cleveland SWAT team. He was a 5th degree black belt in Jiu Jitsu. He was currently attending Bethel University. And he was a Christian who practiced his faith as a member of The Crossing Church in Chattanooga.
Cleveland Chief of Police Wes Snyder knew his officer well and fittingly described him in three words, “... respectful, loyal and dedicated.”
“That’s how he conducted business ... with the public and with his fellow officers,” Snyder said in paying tribute to a man who served as a pinnacle of professionalism.
Snyder knew his officer understood the risks. He accepted the harsh reality that danger lurked each minute and every hour throughout his shift.
“... Justin was doing what he wanted to do,” Snyder offered. “His father and family understood his desire to be a police officer and supported his efforts throughout his career.”
The longtime police chief added, “Each officer here realizes the dangers we face every day. Justin was well thought of.”
The pain will never go away, but it will soften. Loved ones will remember his smile. Fellow officers will point to his courage and compassion when training young recruits for the start of their own careers. Friends will tell others of the hero in uniform who made a difference by daring to be different.
In the words of State Rep. Eric Watson, whose longstanding respect for law enforcement is understood far and wide, “He was truly one of the good guys and he will be greatly missed in Bradley County.”
Justin Maples will be missed by all — by friends he never met, by observers from afar who appreciated his many good deeds and by anyone whose life was made just a little better by the strong hand and humanitarian outlook of this endearing public servant.
Words fail when bringing comfort to Danielle Maples and the couple’s young treasures — Jace, 5, Jacobi, 2 and Declan, 15 months; and to anyone who knew Justin as friend, colleague and confidante.
But this much we can say. Justin Maples was a good man, a gallant police officer and someone who believed in doing what is right.
Truly, he will be missed by those who knew him, those who loved him and those who called him friend.
But his memory lives on. His legacy is everlasting. And his devotion to duty will inspire others to follow the same path of courage and commitment.
Rest in peace, Officer Maples.
Yours is a true badge of honor.
(Editor’s Note: To donate to a trust set up by friends of the Maples family, visit the bank or mail to: United Community Bank, Attn. Officer Justin Maples Family Benefit Fund, P.O. Box 3150, Cleveland, TN 37320).