By Joe Johnson
A hero and inspiration to many, longtime Athens law enforcement officer Courtney Gale has achieved her lifetime dream of becoming a police chief.
The University of Georgia police lieutenant was recently hired as the top cop for Thomson, a small city in McDuffie County.
Gale earned local and even national recognition and admiration for her tenacity in battling back to fully recover from a near-death experience over a decade ago
Gale was a supervisor in the Athens-Clarke police robbery-homicide unit on Dec. 11, 2007, when she was moonlighting as a uniformed security guard at Kroger on Alps Road.
When she checked on a man’s bizarre behavior in the meat aisle, he attacked her with a kitchen knife and stabbed her a dozen times. The knife sliced her femoral artery, and authorities said she would have bled to death in the supermarket if a nurse who was shopping hadn’t been there to help stanch the bleeding.
The officer remained in a coma for two weeks and had several surgeries to save her leg, all while tethered to a respirator, a dialysis machine and feeding tube. She was released from the hospital 45 days later, then underwent intensive therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
Doctors called her recovery extraordinary.
In a matter of weeks, Gale went from wheelchair to a walker and then a cane. After completing supervised rehab, she continues to work out at a gym at least four days each week.
She made use of her long medical leave to earn a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Georgia, an accomplishment that has become a requirement to become police chief in many cities.
“My goal of becoming police chief has not changed,” she said. “I’m just picking up where I left off,” Gale told this reporter at the time.
Though her doctor deemed Gale ready to return to work in December 2011, police officials were not ready to take her back as an officer until she could demonstrate she had recovered the physical and cognitive abilities required for the job.
In the meantime, Gale was hired as a civilian police employee, assigned to the training division and assisting with re-accreditation - an independent review of the police department. Her responsibilities were increased when assigned as coordinator of the Leadership in Police Organizations program, a three-week course hosted by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
In June 2013, Gale was re-instated as an ACCPD sergeant with full police powers.
Gale was a supervisor in the Downtown Operations Unit, before taking a job in December 2017 with UGPD as a sergeant. In June the next year, she was promoted to lieutenant and served as shift commander over 16 patrol officers.
Thomson announced it had hired Gale as its police chief on June 18.
According to a city press release, Gale was selected from a field of 14 candidates, following a screening of applicants by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police,
The release touted Gale’s training, which encompasses more than 3,000 hours of professional continuing education.
Gale is scheduled to take the helm of TPD on July 26.