Man delivers gift to Phoenix police officer who inspired his sobriety

Posted at 12:15 PM, Dec 29, 2021

PHOENIX — On Tuesday, Joshua Campbell had the chance to thank a police officer for changing his life for the better a little over three years ago.

In 2017, then-27-year-old Campbell was hooked on drugs and living out of his car after pushing away his friends and family.

"All I had were friends that used, and those aren't friends at all," Campbell said. "There was one Christmas, where I had actually claimed to have blown a tire...just to say I couldn't be there. And if they wanted to drive me or pick me up, I was like, 'I'm too far away, I'm sorry, I'll see you guys next year.' Just to go get high. It's a hole you dig that you don't even see the bottom."

Campbell eventually reached rock bottom in a Circle K parking lot. A police officer found him passed out, high behind the wheel and with drugs in the car.

Officer Damian Baynes of the Phoenix Police Department knocked on his window. He was called to the area after someone reported hearing gunshots. A gas station clerk pointed the Baynes in the direction of Campbell's car, which hadn't moved in hours.

"I tried to lie my way out of it, but the officer was pretty sharp," Campbell said. "He didn't believe any story I said, and at one point was like, 'Cut the crap, please tell me the truth.' And I did."

Campbell told Baynes he'd come from a good, supportive family but still fell into the trap of addiction. He'd lost the people closest to him and sold all his possessions to fuel his habit.

While being booked into jail, Baynes opened up as well, making a heartfelt admission that would change the course of Campbell's life.

"It was that he felt like he wasn't accomplishing anything as an officer," Campbell said. "He would see the same faces going through the system over and over and over, without any change, and he just felt helpless."

The words seared into Campbell's brain. They lit a fire of motivation that led him to enter a pretrial agreement. He'd go to rehab, achieve sobriety, and the charges were eventually dropped.

On Tuesday, the two men met again at the site of Campbell's arrest for the first time since that fateful day.

"This is obviously all about second chances, so when I see this place, that's all I feel, is that I got that second chance," Campbell said about his return to the gas station.

At 31, sober now for over three years, Campbell hugged the officer as his mom and dad teared up beside them.

During the meeting, it would be Campbell who had a message for his arresting officer.

"I'm here today to shake your hand and look you in the eyes to say thank you from the bottom of mine and all of my family's hearts for doing your job that day, and every day," Campbell said, reading a letter he wrote to Baynes. "You may not be able to help or save everyone you come across, but I want you to know and understand the value of what you gave back to me."

Campbell then presented the officer with a Christmas gift: A display frame holding his sobriety coins. There are three coins in the display so far, but there spaces for another 21, which he intends to send each year until the display is filled.

He also handed Baynes a picture from the night of the arrest, along with a recent photo where he's surrounded by family.

"There's a handful of people I've ran across after 20 years that I've had some moments, but not like this," Baynes said. "I'm so appreciative of today and that your family has been able to be here with you and see you through this journey. You should be very proud."

Campbell's goal is to make sure moments like the one he shared with Baynes are recognized more often, embracing his new life and hero one day at a time.

"Who (police) effect in positive or negative ways, they're not always gonna know that. They make splashes and the ripples do what they do to the people around them," Campbell said. "I just want him to know his waves make a difference, and that ripple? I'm one of them."

This story was originally published by Cameron Polom on Scripps station KNXV in Phoenix.