Tom Duty, Criminal Justice


Name: Thomas Duty III

College: Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Major: Criminal justice, with two graduate certificates in criminal justice education, and public management and leadership

Age: 33

Classification/Year: Graduate School

Hometown: Jacksonville

Hobbies/interests: Sports in general but more specifically golf and football, law enforcement and criminal investigations.


How will you take ECU with you after graduation?
Reflecting on these years, I realize ECU gave me much more than a degree. It blessed me with lifelong memories, friendships and lessons that continue to influence me. My heart will always hold a special place for the purple and gold, a testament to ECU’s lasting impact on my life. From 2009 to 2013, my journey was marked by lasting friendships that remain strong to this day. Being part of the ECU Golf Club was a highlight where, as a team, we won three national championships, and I earned an individual title. These achievements were more than victories. They symbolized the hard work, teamwork and my passion in representing ECU across the country. The Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology was instrumental in both my undergraduate and graduate studies, providing a solid foundation for my career. Their mentorship was vital in navigating my career path.

Thomas Duty III began Sept. 7, 2016, ready to enjoy a day off from his job as an Emerald Isle police officer. He ended the day in a hospital where he was told he would never walk again.

“All of a sudden you go from being a cop, working out, running and doing all this stuff to lying in a hospital bed and it’s like, ‘what do you mean I can’t get up and walk?’ This is your new reality,” Duty said.

A boating accident left Duty a quadriplegic, but the 2013 East Carolina University graduate decided he would not quit. He’ll get his master’s in criminal justice with certificates in criminal justice education, and public management and leadership from ECU on Friday.

“After I got hurt and I’m in the hospital room lying in bed and I can’t move — I just had twin girls — I had to make that decision. Was I going to quit? Was I just going to give up or was I going to fight?” Duty said. “So I’ve got to fight and go. There’s no quit. You’ve just got to suck it up. I just said, ‘you know what? We’ve just got to figure out what the next step is. And what am I showing my girls? What am I reflecting to my family and my friends?’ There is no quit. I can’t can’t do it.”

Duty said the friends he met at ECU as an undergraduate student are still friends today. He helped lead the Pirate student club golf team to national championships and gave professional golf a try.

“Law enforcement just kept calling me,” he said. “I thought, I can make a bigger difference in law enforcement. And I like people.”

His father, Thomas Duty Jr., served in the Marine Corps, including deployments to Iraq. That produced a desire to serve through law enforcement in the now 33-year-old who grew up in Jacksonville. He plans to continue to serve, just in a different way now.

“By getting my master’s, it would set me up to be in a better position, not only long term, but in a position to where I could get into a higher role and possibly teach law enforcement or teach criminal justice — still do what I love but reflect that passion on other people,” he said.

As a distance education student with special circumstances, Duty said he received plenty of support from his professors at ECU.

“The professors here are top notch,” he said. “Obviously they’ve accommodated me. They’ve helped me. They provided me with not just criminal justice advice, but life advice, resume advice, how to write papers. I wrote police reports, but doing research papers, that’s a totally different style of writing, so they’ve helped me get back into this is how we do this again.”

Because of his physical limitations, Duty did most of his graduate work on his iPhone.

“I wasn’t able to use the computer. I can’t type,” he said. “I had to do PowerPoints, 30-page papers, all using my iPhone. It’s all I could do, but hey, you’ve got to get the work done.

Though a boating accident left him unable to walk, Thomas Duty III wants to continue to serve the law enforcement community by teaching criminal justice.

Though a boating accident left him unable to walk, Thomas Duty III wants to continue to serve the law enforcement community by teaching criminal justice.

“That’s what life’s really been about since the injury. How do I do this? How do I accomplish this? It may not be as straightforward as it used to be, but there’s a way.”

He’s maintained a positive attitude and is grateful for support from his father, his mother Karen and twin 7-year-old daughters Emily and Madelyn.

“I am blessed to have the support I have, the help I have,” he said. “There are a lot of people that don’t have the support that I have. And without them, my kids and my family, there’s no telling. They’ve been there every step of the way — no pun intended.”

His positivity and attitude are what he wants people to see, not the wheelchair he uses to get around.

“I like to reflect perspective on people so they can understand that life’s not easy, but it’s how you deal with it that makes you stronger on the other side,” Duty said. “It seems hard now, but there’s always a way. It just may not be the way that you think.”