Professor imparts real-world skills

The last time 51-year-old retired FBI agent Jerry Clark held a gun was the day he decided to leave the job after 22 years of federal government service in June 2011.

Clark, however, has replaced one weapon with another – his gun with his white board marker. As an assistant professor in the criminal justice department at Gannon University, Clark currently shares his 27 years of experience in law enforcement with his students in the criminal justice program.

Born and raised in Erie, Pa., the blue-eyed, sturdily built Clark earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and his master’s degree in forensic psychology from City University of New York in 1985 – the only university that offered that program in the United States at the time, Clark said.

He then received a combined doctoral degree in public service leadership and criminology from Capella University in 2012.

“I took all that background in my 20-some years with law enforcement and added it to the Ph.D.,” Clark said. “And now I have both the practical and the academic experience.”

These qualities, according to Richard Moodey, Ph.D., chairman of Gannon’s criminal justice department, were what made Clark a perfect fit for the program.

“We were looking for somebody ideally who had law enforcement experience and the academic credentials,” Moodey said.

“He has been an outstanding member of the department and as a brand new person, he fit right in.”

For Alex Sibley, a senior criminal justice major, Clark is the perfect instructor for Investigative Concepts, a class Sibley is currently enrolled in.

“Everything he’s teaching he has gone through it,” Sibley said.

Sibley’s impression of Clark is shared by his classmate, senior criminal justice/political science major Jonathan Simmons.

“He offers a wealth of experience and insight to the class including stuff that I think the average professor wouldn’t know,” Simmons said. “He shows us stuff from different FBI files whether it’s from the FBI crime lab or how they perform ballistics tests or other cases he’s worked in or knows people who have.”

Clark’s field experience is not the only quality his students find inspiring.

“Dr. Clark is caring; he really goes the extra mile to make sure you pass his class and that everybody understands it,” Sibley said.

Clark also shares his students’ love and enthusiasm for being in the classroom.

“I really enjoy the students and I feel like they have energy that they give me when I’m presenting in class,” Clark said. “I really get a thrill when I know that they’re learning something that I’ve been able to do my entire career so I really enjoy it.”

Prior to joining the FBI, Clark worked as a naval criminal investigative service special agent in the Philadelphia Division, and a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent based in Cleveland.

As an FBI agent, Clark was based in Dayton, Ohio, before he transferred to the Pittsburgh division to Erie.

Clark’s most notable achievement during his work as an FBI agent was solving the Erie Collar Bomber case, also known as the Pizza Bomber case, of 2003.

“That’s without question the most interesting case anybody will ever come across in their entire lifetime,” Clark said. “I was very lucky to have been involved in it and solve it.

“I was really proud to do this case.”

The case mostly revolved around Brian Wells, a pizza delivery man, who robbed a bank with a bomb fastened to his chest. Wells, Clark said, who was found to be involved with the other masterminds of the plot, was tricked into believing the device was not real. However, it detonated and killed him instantly.

Clark had been on the scene of the incident on Aug. 28, 2003, just 40 feet away from Wells.

“To watch that happen was very surreal; I hadn’t seen anything like that before,” Clark said. “I mean nobody really had so that was a life-changing moment.”

According to Clark, Wells had been working with Marjorie Deihl-Armstrong and several others to rob $150,000 from a PNC Bank in Erie, in order to kill Deihl-Armstrong’s father and allow her to inherit his money. However, Wells had stolen only $8,702 of the needed $125,000.

According to Clark, the Pizza Bomber case was one of the first bank robbery cases to be classified as an FBI major case. Other major cases include the Oklahoma City Bombing case and the 9/11 attacks.

The case involved seven people – four of them are deceased, two are serving life sentences and the other one received immunity and was never charged.

“There were very interesting twists and turns throughout that whole case,” Clark said. “The whole investigation had to determine whether Wells was a hostage or was actually involved in part of the conspiracy.”

During a recent presentation about the case, Clark said that he could not have solved the case without the help of the dedicated law enforcement departments he worked with.

“I want to make it clear that I was part of a team,” Clark said. “Everybody’s heart was in the right place.”

Clark’s heart has been in the right place ever since he was a little boy when he dreamed of being an FBI agent.

“I loved law enforcement and I felt that the FBI was the highest level of law enforcement that you could do,” Clark said. “For me, it was what I viewed as the ultimate.”

Clark wanted to combine his interest and degree in forensic psychology – the study of the mindset of criminals and those prone to engage in criminal activity – and his desire to become an FBI agent together. He knew he wanted to be a profiler and use his degree to do psychological profiling and the FBI had the ability to have him utilize his skills.

“It’s so competitive and you have to really set yourself apart from other people,” Clark said. “There are so many people that tried to apply, but I was fortunate enough to get in.”

Clark spent his whole career as an FBI agent in violent crime, which covered cases involving kidnapping, bank robberies and fugitives.

“It was the best job I ever had, really,” Clark said. “I loved going to work every day and it was exciting because every day was different.”

Clark, however, also found his calling as an assistant professor in the criminal justice department at Gannon.

“I thought, ‘What other thing you can do that would be better than to take all these years in law enforcement and then bring them into a classroom and help kids understand not only the book they have to know but the practical side of law enforcement as well,’” Clark said. “I wanted to share the practical experience I gained in my 27 years in law enforcement with students who will be the next generation of crime fighters.”

Clark’s favorite classes when he was sitting on the opposite side of the desk as a student were the ones taught by professors with practical background in their fields.

According to Moodey, Clark shares his passion and field experience not only with the students, but with the entire department as well.

“One of the things he brings to the program is recognition of what’s really on the cutting edge of law enforcement these days,” Moodey said. “He also brings a career in federal law enforcement as an ex-FBI agent. He knows that world from inside out as well – which adds to his teaching experience.”

In addition to his daytime job at Gannon, Clark is also a full-time husband and father of two children – a boy, 15, and a girl, 12.

According to his wife, Danielle Clark, the couple had known each other as early as high school, as they both grew up in Erie. Years later, they became close friends while working at Hamot Behavioral Health in the early 1990s.

Danielle Clark, and adjunct professor in the psychology department, said she had never thought of her marriage to Jerry Clark in terms of being married to an FBI agent. She was aware of the nature of his duties but said she believed that the agency placed a premium on safety and that missions could be aborted if needed.

“Lots of occupations have the potential for placing hardship on a couple,” Danielle Clark said. “We took things day by day and focused on what was important to us like family, safety and enjoying life.”

Danielle Clark said she didn’t remember feeling fearful about a specific activity of her husband during the Pizza Bomber case. However, her life at the time was not without worry.

“I was concerned, given the length of the investigation and frustrations that went with it, about the effect of the chronic stress,” Danielle Clark said.

Jerry Clark recently published a book he co-authored with veteran Erie Times-News investigative reporter, Ed Palattella, titled “Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery.”

Palattella said during a recent presentation that the book summarized the roles of the conspirators and tied all the clues together.

“It was a game of telephone with a bunch of sociopaths,” Palattella said.

Clark and Palattella developed their relationship during the investigation of the case in 2003.

“I was always trying to know what he knew, he was always trying to know what I know,” Palattella said. “And we both weren’t telling each other.”

Clark said writing the book was a process that helped him sort all the information pertaining to the case from its inception in 2003 until the conspirators were finally convicted after a lengthy process in 2010.

“It got me to put all of it together and make sense out of all those years and what happened and why it took so long,” Clark said.

Danielle Clark said that even though her husband is considered “retired,” he is busier than ever before – albeit in less hazardous ways.

“While I tease him about ‘honing in on my gig’ – since I was at Gannon first – I am ecstatic that he can utilize all of his experience in a fulfilling second career,” Danielle Clark said. “So not only did all of his life’s work and experience lead him to where he is now, but we as a couple have come full circle from our days of working at Hamot together.

“Sort of sappy, but we like it.”

 

HIBA ALMASRI

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