East Lansing’s first and only African-American police chief, who led the department for nearly a decade including during the 1999 MSU riots, will be remembered at a memorial service Saturday.
Lawton Connelly served as East Lansing’s police chief from 1991 to 2000 and was known for community policing efforts and working with neighboring police departments.
He died November 15 of heart failure while at Sparrow Hospital at 78.
During his tenure, Connelly led a police force in the March 27-28, 1999 riots when up to 10,000 people tore through downtown East Lansing and the campus of Michigan State University after the MSU men’s basketball team lost in the Final Four in that year’s NCAA Tournament.
He became East Lansing’s first African-American police chief on September 30, 1991, which was something he was “definitely very proud of,” his son Lawton Connelly, Jr. said.
Connelly joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1963. During his 28 years there, he worked his way up from corporal to sergeant, then to lieutenant and captain and finally, inspector.
While with the Philadelphia Police Department, Connelly began going to night school at Temple University in Philadelphia and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1980. He went on to get his master’s degree from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 1993.
“He also completed a police executive program at Harvard University,” Lawton Connelly, Jr. said. “So education was always very big with my father.”
Following his work in Philadelphia, Lawton moved to East Lansing after accepting the chief position, where he remained even after his retirement in 2000.
Connelly stayed in East Lansing following his retirement from police work in 2000.
He was heavily involved with the Kiwanis Club in East Lansing, which he joined in 1992, and served on its Board of Directors.
“He was very active in volunteer work of all kinds. We had a lot of food distribution, and early on, he was involved in that,” Robert Ward, who met Connelly when they both served as directors, said. “He was a highly respected person, and he was always very positive.”
Connelly was also active in his church, Union Missionary Baptist Church. He was a member of the men’s ministry, men’s bible study and was a part of the church’s security team.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Connelly was one of 17 children. He was born Jan. 30, 1940 to parents Drusilla Connelly and Earl Connelly, Sr.
Source : Madison O’Connor, “East Lansing’s first African-American police chief to be remembered at memorial“, Lansing State Journal, December 11, 2018.