Sgt. Clinton J. Cunningham, 37, a police officer in Philadelphia and later Newtown Township, Delaware County, died Monday, March 19, from a cerebral hemorrhage at Bryn Mawr Hospital. He was married and the father of four young children.
Sgt. Cunningham died a day after he collapsed while working out at the Ellis Athletic Center in Newtown Square. He was rushed to the emergency room, but never regained consciousness.
On Tuesday, Township Police Chief Christopher Lunn posthumously promoted him from officer to sergeant. "He had earned it," Lunn said. "He was due to be promoted on April 2. It was something already happening, but we did it a little early due to the circumstances."
Sgt. Cunningham began his career in 2005 with the Philadelphia police force. He was assigned to the First District in South Philadelphia, where his grandfather Thomas Cunningham served and his brother Jeffrey now serves. He received 19 awards for bravery, heroism, and merit between 2006 and 2013, according to Police Department records.
On March 10, 2007, during a fire call, he saved a woman's life. "Without any regard to your personal safety, you forced open the locked front door and entered the location on your hands and knees to minimize your exposure to the thick smoke. After a brief search, you found a disoriented elderly female in the kitchen and escorted her to safety," the commendation for heroism read.
On April 27, 2010, during a call for a domestic disturbance, an agitated man attacked Sgt. Cunningham and his partner with a big shard of broken glass. "Seeing that your partner was in imminent danger of serious bodily injury, you drew your service weapon and discharged one round, striking the offender," the commendation for bravery read. The man surrendered and was taken into custody.
In 2013, he joined the force in Newtown Township. Just a week before his death, Sgt. Cunningham was voted by his colleagues as the township's 2018 Walt Wolff Award recipient for Officer of the Year.
Sgt. Cunningham's father, Thomas, said the award ceremony attended last week by the entire family "was one of the happiest days of our lives."
The award recognizes a police officer who displays behavior that makes the department a better place; supports colleagues; encourages teamwork; demonstrates organizational commitment; leads by example; takes initiative; demonstrates ethical behavior; and exemplifies the virtues of professionalism and dedication.
"He was a role model to all the officers in the department," Lunn said. "He was an excellent police officer, but an even better person."
Lunn said Sgt. Cunningham had an engaging presence. Because of that, he was one of the first officers the chief hired.
"It was because of the way he handled himself in the interview," Lunn said. "He was very well thought-out, and all his answers to questions revolved around providing good service to the community."
Sgt. Cunningham was an organ donor. "He's continuing to save lives," Lunn said.
Sgt. Cunningham was born and raised in Southwest Philadelphia, where he graduated from West Catholic High School. He was an avid basketball and baseball player at James Finnegan Playground, the local recreation center.
He earned a bachelor's degree at Chestnut Hill College and was completing a master's degree at St. Joseph's University, both in criminal justice. A former Philadelphia resident, he resided in Newtown Square with his wife, Kelly, and their children. He was an active member of St. Anastasia Parish.
As a mark of respect, police officers from Newtown Township and Philadelphia on Thursday escorted Sgt. Cunningham's body from the hospital to Frank C. Videon Funeral Home in Broomall.
"[My sons and I] knew that the police brotherhood would protect him, they wouldn't have let me go alone, and it meant the world to me," Sgt. Cunningham's father said. "We're certainly very, very proud."
"He was just a very humble, spiritual person," his father said. "He didn't need notoriety. He did his job as a policeman, a father, and a good son."
In addition to his wife, father, and brother, Sgt. Cunningham is survived by children Kerrilynn, Devon, Clinton "C.J," and Sean; his mother, Suzanne; brother Thomas; and nieces and nephews.
A viewing from 9:45 a.m. until noon Saturday, March 24, will be followed by a Funeral Mass at St. Anastasia Church, 3301 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square. Interment is in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for donations to the Cunningham family. The Newtown Police Officers Association will administer it. By Thursday the fund had collected $124,536 toward a $135,000 goal.