May 25, 2013

Savannah minister helps all sides in crime battle

— SAVANNAH (AP) — The Rev. Michael Gadsden doesn’t care who he helps or when.

To the newest victim advocate in the Chatham County District Attorney’s Victim Witness Assistance Program, it is just the helping that counts.

“My calling is to help people,” Gadsden said. “I found this was a way for me to turn my career into outreach and ministry.”

The Charleston native, 42, came to Savannah with his wife, Kimberly, in 1995 mostly to be closer to her family. The father of five — and grandfather to two — held a number of jobs before finding his fit.

He has been a licensed minister for more than 25 years, an ordained minister since 1993, and is pastor at the New Vision Ministries, a relatively small, non-denominational church off Ogeechee Road.

Gadsden admits he long had an interest in law enforcement, but concedes he had no desire to be shot at. Working with his godfather, Savannah-Chatham Police Capt. Henry Wiley, and cousin, the Rev. Matthew Southall Brown Sr., he joined the volunteer chaplain corps about eight years ago.

He has volunteered with the victim-witness program for years and got on full-time in March when an opening occurred.

Cheryl Rogers, a veteran Victim-Witness program official who has directed the program for two years, said Gadsden brings a “fresh perspective of having reached out to victims and witnesses at crime scenes” in his role as police chaplain.

“He has a heart for victims and witnesses,” Rogers said.

She said Gadsden joined with advocate Rosa Simmons on the Chatham County Superior Court Major Crimes Division, which prosecutes the most serious crimes, to offer an “immediate outreach to victims of violent crimes” as part of the program’s effort to expand its involvement even before cases get to court.

That expansion will not duplicate the crime-scene response, but will match an advocate with victims more immediately and frequently before an arrest is made, Rogers said.

Gadsden said his original motivation was “just to help victims get over their victimization.”

He now sees an expanded involvement in the near future in the Savannah Need Relief victim program scheduled for June 29 as part of the Victim-Witness Survivors of Homicide Support Group working with police, firefighters and others to head crimes off before they occur by working with potential offenders

He said his skills honed as a preacher can work hand-in-hand with helping crime victims.

“That’s what it is all about,” Gadsden said. “It’s about serving people. It’s about serving victims.

“I get with the victims. I get with the perpetrators. I get all sides.”