HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Huntsville Police Chief is defending the department's decision to accept a controversial cadet into the Huntsville Police Academy.
WHNT News 19 learned that Isaac Holdsambeck, who as a youthful offender was sentenced to 1 year in jail after a deadly wreck in 2010, is now on his way to becoming a Huntsville Police Officer.
Chief Mark McMurray says he believes Holdsambeck has changed since the day when the then-19-year-old was driving with some friends in Hampton Cove and wrecked. Mohammad Fulladi, 16, died as a result of his injuries; three others were injured. At the time, police said Holdsambeck had been drinking, and his Blood Alcohol Content measured at .15 which is nearly twice the legal limit for an adult 21 or older. Reports also indicated he tested positive for THC, a chemical found in marijuana, and had been going more than 100 miles per hour when the crash happened. The wreck happened on prom night, near the waterfall at the Hampton Cove entrance.
Holdsambeck was charged with reckless murder and assault. That charge means there was no criminal intent, a legal analyst said previously.
Many of Holdsambeck's supporters rallied around him as a judge granted him youthful offender status before the sentencing in 2012. That meant he would forfeit a trial by jury in favor of a lighter sentence and sealed records. It also made his record eligible for expungement over a period of time.
Now, Chief McMurray says Holdsambeck is doing everything he can to pay back society for previous sins. That includes trying to become a police officer.
"If you look at what he has done since this occurred, he continued his education, continued to go to college. He has received a paramedic license. He wants to serve the public in any way possible," said McMurray. "He wants to use his skills to serve the public, and that's really one of these features we look for."
McMurray believes Holdsambeck has felt the weight of his actions and grew up quickly. Now, he said the cadet wants to turn grief into good.
"Ever since this event occurred in his life, he has been wanting to pay back society," McMurray said. "Isaac himself was almost killed during this incident. He came very close to losing his life as well. I think it's changed the way-- he grew up very quick. And you can see that."
We asked the chief if he understands why all this could make people concerned.
"I also understand that there's no police officer we hire that's perfect, including myself when I was hired," he stated.
The chief believes at the time the wreck happened, Holdsambeck was a kid who made mistakes that unfortunately cost him and those who were in the truck with him, things they can not get back. He explained it like this: "Most of the people we hire do make mistakes when they're juveniles. That's part of growing up." He paused. "Drinking alcohol is probably one that every juvenile has experimented with. That happens."
It's that sentiment, along with the cadet's desire to serve, that Chief McMurray says make Holdsambeck a good candidate to be an officer. He said he hopes the cadet graduates.
"Isaac has a story," he said. "Maybe one day, he will share that with you. Maybe he will share that with some high school students to keep them fro making the same mistakes he has made."
But it wasn't an immediate "yes" from the department upon Holdsambeck's first application: the cadet has tried multiple times to be accepted.
"Every time, we tell him, 'You need more education. You need to show commitment. You're right there at the top of your class,'" remembers McMurray. "And he pulled through this time."
Still, unnamed Huntsville Police sources have told WHNT News 19 they are not comfortable with Holdsambeck's position in the academy, worrying that this cadet could be a liability and undermine the credibility of the department.
McMurray said Holdsambeck is prepared for scrutiny but he feels the cadet earned his place in the cadet class. Now, he wants to see him given the benefit of the doubt. McMurray said Holdsambeck passed a background investigation, physical ability tests, a written examination, multiple board interviews, a drug screening, a polygraph examination, and more.
"Just like I can all 19 of those still in the process, I have the utmost confidence in very one of those cadets," he stated.
The law allows for the second chance Holdsambeck is taking.
Mark McDaniel, a Huntsville attorney, has represented many young defendants similar to Holdsambeck. He said anyone granted youthful offender status has been given a chance to start fresh as an adult.
"It's a chance for a person to have another shot," he explained. "When a judge grants youthful offender status, what they're saying is, 'You're not going to have a criminal record walking out of here.' Nobody's even going to know what happened to you. You're going to be treated like a juvenile."
McDaniel said that by sealing records and possibly even expunging those eligible for that, youthful offender status allows children to grow up without the harsh reality of a criminal record.
"If you're judged guilty of a felony, you lose your civil rights. You lose your right to vote. You can't get certain licenses in the right. If you're judged 'youthful offender,' even if the underlying charge is a Class A felony, the charge becomes 'youthful offender.' The file is sealed, and you do not have a criminal record. It's just like anybody else applying for a job," he explained.
We asked him about officers' concerns that allowing Holdsambeck to be a police officer could be a liability for the department.
He said Holdsambeck's past, because he's been deemed a youthful offender, can not be used against him in a court of law if he were to be an officer called as a witness.
"A defense lawyer could not cross examine someone and ask them if they were a youthful offender. First of all, a judge wouldn't allow it. Secondly, no defense attorney would know better than to ask that question. We all know that's not an adjudication of a crime involving moral turpitude. That's not grounds to impeach someone," he said.
McDaniel explained that Holdsambeck, having a clean record due to his youthful offender status, is just like any other job applicant now and should be treated as such.
"I think this individual shouldn't be treated any differently than any other individual trying to get a job anywhere," he reasoned.