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Posted on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Former WCC counselor Ronald Bridgeforth sentenced after 40 years on the lam

By Cindy Heflin

After more than 40 years as a fugitive, Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth stood in a San Mateo County court Friday, waiting for a judge to decide his fate.

Would the man who worked for many more years as a beloved counselor at Washtenaw Community College under the alias Cole Jordan go to prison for a crime his lawyer said was committed in a moment of bad judgment during Bridgeforth’s “reckless youth?”

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Ronald Bridgeforth, center, with his attorney Paul Harris and wife, Diane, in court in November.

When the answer came, it was good news. Bridgedforth, now 67, was sentenced to a year in the county jail on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon for firing twice at a San Mateo County police car in 1968.

With good behavior, he’ll likely be free in six months, said his lawyer, Paul Harris.

Bridgeforth could have faced five years in prison. Supporters broke into applause when the sentence was pronounced, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Before the sentencing, Bridgeforth read a statement apologizing for his actions and asking the judge to recognize his record of community service and let him continue to help troubled youths.

“Mine was a misguided and reckless act that endangered everyone’s life,” Bridgeforth said. “… My wife and I have led lives filled with service and purpose. We have educated ourselves and used those tools to educate hungry minds and to heal broken spirits. We have toiled daily to right the wrong I have committed. … Today I am asking you to give me a chance to continue this work of service to the community.”

Bridgeforth saga

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About 100 supporters came to the courthouse for the sentencing, Harris said, but only 39 could fit into the courtroom. Among them were two people Bridgeforth had counseled at Washtenaw Community College. They both gave emotional statements to the court, Harris said.

One of them, Zachary Baker, told the court he was homeless and about to drop out when he went to see Bridgeforth. The meeting changed his life, he said. “He listened to me in a way that no one ever had before.”

Baker said he credits the fact that he is about to graduate from the University of Michigan to Bridgeforth’s caring and compassion. “Had he been in jail the day I needed help, my life would not be what it is today. I ask for your mercy.”

In imposing the sentence, Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak said Bridgeforth appeared remorseful and was truly rehabilitated, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Harris said he was satisfied with the sentence. He noted that Bridgeforth was also ordered to serve three years probation and 300 hours of community service in Alameda County working with at-risk youth. He said the community service order was a direct result of the chief of probation in the county asking that Bridgeforth be assigned to work there because of his skill in helping troubled youth.

Bridgeforth was also ordered to pay a fine of $8,500.

The crime occurred Nov 5, 1968, when Bridgeforth and two other people who were working with young people in San Francisco acquired stolen credit cards with which they tried to purchase clothing and toys from a White Front discount store, Harris said.

The clerk became suspicious and called police. As Bridgeforth and the other two men tried to flee, a police car blocked their vehicle’s path, Harris said. Bridgeforth got out of the back seat and fired two shots at the police car. Officers fired back, and Bridgeforth was hit in the foot, and all three were arrested.

Harris said Bridgeforth’s two accomplices, who had prominent African-American lawyers, pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and served one year in jail. Bridgeforth pleaded guilty to a charge of assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon, and fearing a life in prison, fled before sentencing.

Bridgeforth went to Africa for a year and then came back to San Francisco, eventually making his way to Michigan and WCC.

He began his career —under the alias Cole Jordan —at WCC as a custodian. In 1993, he received a master’s degree in counseling from Eastern Michigan University, and in 1998 he became a WCC counselor and faculty member.

Last November he came forward to take responsibility for his actions, saying he wanted to set an example for his two sons, now in their 30s.

Contact Cindy Heflin at 734-623-2572 or email her at or follow her on Twitter.



Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

No- the lesson is really not that is you look a bit deeper. The lessOn is that some people have the inner strength to realize they've done wrong and without the actions of the legal system, run their life in such a way that they prove to themselves, and others, that they are reformed. 1968 was a very troubled, angry time. Was is right what he did? Absolutely not. Has he lived a productive and non-law breaking life since then? Appears so. Most who seem to commit such crimes continue to do so until they are caught. He did not. I applaud his honesty, and his stepping forth to face this process (and media!) . I can only imagine how difficult this has been for him and his family.

Don B. Arfkahk

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 2:48 a.m.

The lesson here is not that if you run for 40 years you can largely get off the hook - the lesson is that if you work for 40 years to redeem yourself and help others - paying your debt to society many times over - you will be punished severely for your honesty. I like this - helping at-risk youth does nothing to benefit me, but I stand to make money off jailing people due to my investments in the private prison industry of Michigan's future.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 11:32 a.m.

We posted at the same time! Well said! ( and without typo's!)

Stan Hyne

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

It would seem the judge made a good decision, as about half the people wanted more punishment and half wanting less.

Michael K.

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

Manslaughter in Ypsi gets probation to 3 to 7 years. That becomes 5 max with good behavior. That is called discretion and proportional sentencing. His accomplices were guilty of the SAME CRIME he was just by being participants. All sounds fair to me, based on who this man is. He could have stayed a janitor and been a herion junkie, as one of my high school classmates is. Decisions and personal responsibilify have consequences. I never saw so many blood thirsty, punitive people in my Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement classes, with all cops, ex-cops, and future cops. These are the same people who complain about excessive taxation and government. Time to solve problems at the root with opportunity and education. A lot cheaper than imprisoning 20% of the population.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

Did he commit a crime? Do we have laws and punishments for committing crimes?


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

Part of the difference between being caught and placed in jail at the time and being caught ( or turning himself in) after 40 years is he has had the chance to redeem himself and apparently has. While there is not much chance to redeem yourself in jail.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 10:46 p.m.

So if i kill someone, then hide and become a cop that makes it ok, not hypocritical and wrong?

Jim Walker

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

So, his six months to a year in the county jail will help society how ?????? James C. Walker, Ann Arbor, MI


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

It won't. 10 to 15 years in a state penitentiary will send a message that committing attempted murder is a serious crime even if you run away and hide for over 40 years.

T Wall

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

I met Cole (Ronald Bridgeforth) in 1985 in a basketball program that my son was involved in. To this day, I have always considered him a friend. He is one of the most caring, loving, giving persons on this earth. Even today, I would want him as a neighbor. He always spoke in a soft voice to his own children and the many children he coached. As humans we should all learn from this experience that none of us has the ability to judge other people. This is a perfect example of a waste of taxpayer's money. Ronald should be allowed to continue doing community service, not be locked up behind bars.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

I'm sure that the wife and children of the officer that this "caring, loving, and giving" person tried to MURDER might have a different viewpoint. And as a society, not only do we have the right to judge people for their actions, but also an obligation as well. That is why we have a court system. Your kind and gentle friend chose first to try and rob a family of a husband and father, but then also demonstrated that he's a coward by running away and hiding. And he should be rewarded for getting away with it? Until he has served the punishment prescribed by our laws for attempted murder, he is nothing but a coward and a criminal in my eyes.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

Lets not let his wording make us forget he was a 23 year old adult when he attempted to gun down a police officer while commiting a felony. Its not as if he was 15 and rioting or something. He is and always should be remebered as a violent felon. Time does not change the facts of his actions.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

It seems a lot of commentors are really on the side of vengeance rather than rehabilitation. The man appears to have paid his debt to society. He's done much good for his community over the past several decades--more good than he ever could have inside of the prison system. It's likely he's done more good in his lifetime than many of the commentors on this board calling for a more severe punishment. Shooting a police officer is a terrible (and yes, illegal) thing and if Bridgeforth had basically lived his life doing negative things or even simply doing nothing of note, I might be inclined to agree with many of the commentors calling for his head. The fact is, no one was actually hurt and Bridgeforth has more than made up for the transgression. Just remember that those who show no mercy deserve none themselves.

John Hritz

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

Nicely stated!


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

From the SFGate article, the police officer said "I've encountered a lot of violent people, but in my experience, Mr. Bridgeforth was the most violent". Are you kidding me!!?!? I wish this guy could have went on a ride-along in Compton or Detroit and got an Uzi shoved in his face, then he'd know people that were violent. P.S. I think most of you are missing the point people supporting Bridgeforth are trying to make, they aren't saying he shouldn't go to jail because it was so long ago, the point is that this man has done a lot of good with his life helping others. And if you've never met him, you definitely don't know how humble the guy really is. I'm sure the sentence would have been different if he had gone on to get a masters in business and became a stockbroker. Whatever though, I'm sure he's happy with the sentence considering it could of been 5 years.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

Look, I agree that it's man should be praised for his good works. But he should also be punished for his attempted murder of a police officer (and yes, when you use a deadly weapon on another human being that IS attempted murder even if you miss). And he should be punished the same way now as he would have been before he willfully decided to evade justice. How he has lived his life is irrelevant to the seriousness of his crime. Can't do the time, then don't do the crime. 6 months for trying to kill someone is disgusting.

Don B. Arfkahk

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

The world is a better place with him in jail. While he remains there, at-risk youth will go without his counseling and end up addicted to heroin and/or robbing convenience stores. Someone may even end up shot! This is a good thing.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

And of course all theses things will come to pass just as you say because we all know thus is the only guidance councilor who exists on Earth

Don B. Arfkahk

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Correct. Heroin addiction and robberies are in my best interest. I have invested venture capital in the soon to be legal private prison industry here in Michigan, and stand to make a fortune off crime.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

And with him at work we do not have these problems.....correct?


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

"Harris said Bridgeforth's two accomplices, who had prominent African-American lawyers, pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and served one year in jail. Bridgeforth pleaded guilty to a charge of assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon, and fearing a life in prison, fled before sentencing." The two accomplices, whether or not they had "prominent African-American lawyers" or not, only committed credit card fraud. They did not shoot at police officers, hence they did not receive a charge of "assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon". Bridgeforth fired the gun, and hiding out for over forty years, regardless of how he spent his life during that time, should not excuse him from serving his time. As eye_b00gerz said: "The only difference between what he did and murder is that he had bad aim."


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

He shoulda been sent to the slams for a looooong time.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

This man has been a wanted fugitive for over 40 years and he just gets sentenced to jail for 1 year. Out in a few months. He even committed a pretty bad crime too. This is ridiculous. And how on earth was an alias created and he received such prominate job. Background checks???


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Actually, the only difference is that he did not kill anybody. Pretty big difference.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

Did he commit a crime? Do we have laws and punishments for committing crimes?


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

I did not realize that being good at hiding and changing your name exempted you from having to serve your sentence for the crimes you committed. I am certain there are millions of people that committed criminal acts during their "reckless youth"....and paid their debt to society. If only they knew that running and hiding was a better option!!!


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

Guilty as charged....serve your sentence.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

I believe our justice system should be about both justice and redemption or rehabilitation. Only those who cannot be rehabilitated (redeemed) should remain in prison as a way to protect society. Punishment for its own sake helps no one.

Silly Sally

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

After 40 years of an exemplary lived life, why should he serve any more time than his "partners" who happened to have good lawyers? He has punished himself enough. lacing him in jail will not help society. He was not caught, but rather he turned himself in due to a guilty conscience. Let him return to Michigan Today.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

Guilty conscience after 40 years. Yeah right! He lied and cheated a whole lot of people, including WCC. He was a wanted figitive. What was so great about that. He committed a serious crime. What a FAKE and a FRAUD.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

Why should he serve more time than his partners? That's easy (forget the "good lawyer" stuff"). They stole credit cards he fired a gun at people.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 11:57 a.m. can he serve ANY more time when he served none ( or so it appears ) ? He knew he was wanted for 40yrs and hid.With that being said I think the sentence was appropriate. He is taking it like a man. Sky...taking a pot shot at cops 40yrs ago when he was 17 and then leading a productive life is a hell of a lot different than killing someone. Keep in mind I'm more than likely ( wish I could spell probably ) one biggest anti soft on crime people out there


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

17? He was 23, very much an adult. (it happened in 68, 44 years ago and hes 67)

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

Ronald Bridgeforth has redeemed himself. Enough said.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 10:55 a.m.

This man should not have to serve ANY more time. His life has been exemplary...


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

@DanAA, you say you would have a different opinion if his crime had been murder? He pointed a gun at a person and pulled the trigger. The only difference between what he did and murder is that he had bad aim.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

@Skyjockey43, it is a combination of did he pay for his crime as well as is he rehabilitated. I think jail time should not be imposed, but I agree the probation and community service should be imposed so he can pay back to society. What will putting this man behind bars do for society? I would have a different opinion if his crime had been more egregious (murder or sexual assault), and do not condone his actions of shooting at a police officer (or anyone for that matter), but after over 40 years, and with his record, let him pay his debt to society without imposing more costs on the tax-paying public. He is obviously not a danger to society anymore.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

I see. So in your view I could go out and kill someone, but as long as I hid away from the police and lead an exemplary life, my crime should just be forgotten? That's what we should tell all the inmates currently in prison. It's not that your crimes were reprehensible, it's just that you should have not gotten caught! Who says crime doesn't pay?