San Leandro teen overcomes disabilities to fulfill dreams of becoming a cop

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (Allie Rasmus) -- It's a popular career goal for many kids  - to grow up to become a police officer.

      One Bay Area teen overcame his severe physical disabilities to achieve that goal  - in an unconventional way.

        KTVU's Allie Rasmus shares his story, and the inspiring way an entire police department decided to help him.
        Charlie Cleberg loves to play video games. "He just flies around the wii with his toes and his feet, twisting and turning the buttons," said his mother, Kathy Cleberg. "He games with people all around the world, who have no idea they're playing with a foot gamer."

        Charlie was born premature, with a long list of disabilities. "Cerebral palsy. He has Turette's. He has epilepsy. He's completely tube fed."

        Charlie also has a steel rod holding up his back, and partial paralysis of his upper body, but through perseverance he's learned to adapt.  

        When his parents adopted him as an infant, doctors said Charlie would not live past his first birthday. But 16 years, and 16 surgeries later, Charlie proved everyone wrong.

         "Cognitively, Charlie is very intelligent, actually," said Kathy Cleberg. "He's already  finished all his algebra, pre-trig classes, got A's in all of them."

         Charlie uses his toes to write and type up his homework.

         But what makes his parents most proud, is his outlook.

        "In fact, almost every day, Charlie's said to me, 'mom, today is the best day of my life,'" said Kathy Cleberg.

        "That's pretty amazing. Because Charlie, in my opinion, has had what I would consider, a lot of bad days."

          Charlie spends a good deal of time at the George Mark Children's House in San Leandro. It was at a fundraiser for George Mark, that Charlie met some of his childhood heroes.

          "From the time he was may be 8 or 10-years-old, he'd hear a  siren and say what's that?! Let's go look!," said Kathy Cleberg.

           Charlie's always wanted to be a police officer. "He said to me, mom, I would never be able  to make it through the police academy. I can't physically do what needs to be done," said Cleberg.

           His mom's response: "Don't give up. If this is your dream. Keep your  dream. And I told Randy that," said Cleberg.

           "I said, well, maybe we could put him to work," said Lt. Randy Brandt, San Leandro Police Department. "i went back and spoke with our chief about it."

          Lt. Randy Brandt says everyone in the department who met Charlie was so impressed with his drive and perseverance, they came up with a plan to have him help them as a volunteer, such as handing out fliers and greeting people in community events.

          Charlie also played a pivotal role in helping train officers. "He was actually a roll-player, he was a hostage  during one of our SWAT exercises," said Lt. Brandt. "As long as we can think about things to do, I think he'll do them."

           Six months later, San Leandro Police invited Charlie to their promotion ceremony - to help lead the Pledge of Allegiance. "He'd practiced.. ladies and gentlemen please rise and join me in saluting the flag."
At the ceremony, San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, surprised him, by making him the department's first-ever honorary police officer.

            "We actually did a shadow box, said Lt. Brandt. "We had an honorary badge made. His own name tag on there. A little American flag on it, just like a uniform we would wear."

             "Just be around him, and think that we have our daily challenges, and his challenges are that much greater, but he's able to navigate through them."

             "I was pretty surprised," said Charlie Cleberg. KTVU's Allie Rasmus asked him, "how happy did it make you?..  Very happy," replied Charlie.

          "I cried," said Kathy Cleberg. "I couldn't believe it. I feel like crying now even thinking about it. I was so touched that they would be willing to do that for him to help his dream come true."

          "This has nothing to do with just showing up, and getting a uniform and never seeing us again," said Lt. Brandt.

         "That night, he immediately followed up by saying what's my next assignment? When am I going back to work."

         Lt. Brandt  plans to put Charlie back to work, whether to create computer-generated materials, or help distribute fliers.

        The people who love Charlie, know exactly how he'll succeed. "Being kind, doing the best you can, said Kathy Cleberg. "Not giving up, taking your knocks and getting up again."