Former Madison police Capt. Cheri Maples died Thursday morning, months after suffering life-threatening injuries in a bicycle crash. She was 64.
Maples, who struck the side of a van while riding her bicycle in September, died after going into distress from a systemic infection, according to a post by Eileen Harrington on Maples’ CaringBridge website.
A 20-year veteran of the Madison Police Department, Maples also co-founded the Center for Mindfulness & Justice with her friend Maureen Brady in 2009.
“Cheri would want to tell each one of you how moved and grateful she has been for your love, prayers, kindness, generosity and every kind of support,” Harrington wrote. “Yesterday morning, she said to me, ‘I have lived such a good life.’”
At the non-sectarian Center for Mindfulness & Justice, Maples was a dharma teacher, keynote speaker and organizational consultant and trainer.
Once a finalist for Madison police chief, Maples joined the department in 1984 and became the captain of personnel and training. She retired in early 2005 after being passed over for the chief and assistant chief positions.
The Police and Fire Commission chose former Police Chief Noble Wray for the post over Maples and current Police Chief Mike Koval after a protracted selection process.
“She was a pioneering and progressive spirit in championing police work toward a greater embrace in our role as guardians and protectors, and clearly one of those who modeled and broke the glass ceiling in advancing the role of women in a traditionally male-dominated profession,” said Koval, whom Maples had supervised.
After leaving the department, Maples, who held a law degree and a master’s in social work, was an administrator for probation and parole services in the state Department of Corrections and a Wisconsin assistant attorney general.
Koval said Maples had an “incredible sense of empathy and understanding, particularly for the underserved and underdog.”
Steven Spiro, who knew Maples for 20 years through the SnowFlower Sangha Buddhist community in Madison, recalled her “great smile” and said she loved baseball, sailing and traveling the country on her motorcycle.
While Maples’ death came as a surprise, Spiro said, “She died, what you would say, a really good death. She was ready to die. She was not afraid to die. She was really an example of a person having a lot of equanimity and gratitude.”
At 31, Maples transitioned to the field of policing, bringing with her experience as a community organizer, peace activist and advocate for victims of domestic violence.
In a 2003 Capital Times article, Maples credited former Police Chief David Couper for helping her feel welcome in the department as a woman, and as a lesbian.
“Although many of my leftist friends firmly believed I sold out with my choice to become a cop, I believe just the opposite,” she said at the time. “I believe we depend on the police to give meaning to the values a democracy is dependent upon for its survival.”
At the time of her promotion to captain in 2000, Maples was only the third woman in the police department’s history to fill a top command position.
Last September, Maples hit the side of a van after failing to stop at a stop sign on the Capital City Trail at Syene Road in Fitchburg, authorities said. The crash left her with life-threatening injuries, eventually paralyzing her from the chest down.
Twenty years ago in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Maples recalled her realization as a child to the challenges that race and class can put on people.
“The best police officers are the ones who have the strength to take charge, to walk the line and find a way not to shut down,” Maples said. “To still do the job with an open heart.”