Driving in Atlanta with his two retired NYPD sons Wednesday, Clinton Dodson asked if they missed the action that came with being police officers.
One day later, they found out just how much they did.
Axel Dodson, 45, of Bay Shore and brother Kenny, 60, of Mahwah, New Jersey, were among four men credited Thursday with preventing a “national tragedy” when they prevented a fire at the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.
The siblings, who were visiting the Atlanta area to spend time with their father and sister Yashi, a teacher in Cobb County, had stopped at the landmark home for a photo when they saw a woman attempt to light a fire before fleeing the scene.
“My brother looks at me and he goes, ‘What do you think? Should we chase after it?’ ” Kenny recalled at an NYPD event recognizing their heroics Saturday. “ ’Let's get it.’ ”
Kenny Dodson, who spent most of his career as a housing cop and retired more than 25 years ago, stepped on the accelerator of their rented bright red Tesla. They followed the woman along Atlanta's Auburn Avenue, where the slain civil rights leader was born nearly 95 years ago.
Axel, who worked primarily out of Queens during his NYPD tenure, jumped out of the passenger seat and chased the suspect, later identified by Atlanta police as 26-year-old Laneisha Shantrice Henderson, down a nearby driveway, apprehending her at a fence to the rear of the property.
“I’m not out here trying to be Superman,” a modest Axel said back on Long Island Sunday. “It all happened really quickly. It was very unexpected.”
Born to different mothers 15 years apart, the Dodson brothers say they have a very close relationship. Kenny recalls graduating from the NYPD Academy in 1984 and 4-year-old Axel trying on his police hat. After that, his little brother was always asking to see his handcuffs. Kenny just knew Axel would follow in his footsteps, which he did, after first serving in the Marine Corps.
NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell called the men “American heroes” Saturday as he and First Deputy Commissioner Tania Kinsella presented the Dodson brothers with an Outstanding Citizen Award.
“They saw something, they reacted,” Chell said. “No hesitation. Protect and serve and save a part of American history.”
King was born in the 1895 two-story Queen Anne-style house on Jan. 15, 1929. His family moved out of the home, which his grandfather purchased in 1909, when King was 2, according to the National Park Service, which operates the house as a historic landmark. Tours of the home have been given since soon after King’s assassination in April 1968, but were suspended in November as it undergoes extensive renovations, the park service reported.
Those plans might have been drastically altered if not for the Dodsons' actions, and those of two other men visiting from Utah. The other men told police, in an interview captured on a body camera and released to the public, that they thought Henderson, who was charged with attempted arson and interference with government property, was watering bushes when they first saw her outside the home. They eventually noticed she had a gas can and watched as she emptied its contents on the front porch.
“You could really smell the gas,” Kenny said.
The Dodsons hadn’t planned on visiting King’s birthplace but decided to stop by after first going to nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his funeral was held more than 55 years ago.
Both Dodson brothers said Sunday that they have reflected a lot on King’s life and message in the days since their unexpected visit.
“The whole thing was very symbolic,” Axel said. “He was for equality, justice and us getting along. And we had two Black guys and two white guys working together in his honor, for his home.”
And for siblings, who never served together as police, it was an opportunity decades in the making.
“I do miss the job,” Kenny said. “I miss the guys, the camaraderie that we had. And to have that for one day with my brother, it was great.”