The Strange Career of Sgt. Al Powell

Reginal VelJohnson is probably best known for his role as Carl Winslow in the sitcom “Family Matters” (where he played a cop) or Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard and Die Hard 2 (where he played a cop) or Det. David Sutton in Turner & Hooch (where he played a..wait for it..cop). The following article is an attempt to string together all of actor Reginal VelJohnson’s film and television roles in which he plays a police officer. I did skip some very small roles that were either too obscure or cases where trying fit them into the narrative would stretch an already thin premise.

Al Powell was born in Queens, New York in 1952. His father was a restaurant manager, while his mother stayed home to raise Al and his four younger siblings, three brothers and a sister. There was little in Al’s childhood that hinted at the extraordinary events to which he would be witness later in life; he went to school, played with his friends, and watched the Yankees play every summer.

After graduating high school, Al did two years at Empire State College, but had to drop out and return to Queens to help support his family after his father was injured on the job and had to quit the restaurant business. In 1972, Powell met his future wife, Harriette Rhodes. They married two years later and in 1976 their first child, Eddie, was born. A year later Harriette gave birth to a daughter, Laura, with a second daughter, Judy, arriving in 1979.

In 1982, after of a string of unsuccessful jobs, Powell enrolled in the police academy. He graduated the following year and was assigned to the 1st Precinct. He had a small but memorable encounter with the so-called “Ghostbusters” in 1984, during the so-called “Gozer Incident.” Powell was responsible for escorting the Ghostbusters from jail to the mayor’s office.

Later that year, tragedy struck. While responding to a report of suspicious activity, Powell accidentally shot a child carrying a water gun. Though he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the police department, he was vilified in the tabloid press and shunned by other officers. Powell suffered intense feelings of guilt and depression and was tempted to quit the force.

It was around this time that Harriette realized Powell’s true calling was to be a cop, and so she suggested they move to another city across the country where he could start over without the stigma of the shooting accident. With the help of a cousin, Michael “Big Mike” Tucker, Powell managed to get a job as a cop in Los Angeles. It was a low-level position that kept Powell away from the streets, but that suited him. His nerves were still frayed from his time in New York.

In 1988, Powell responded to a bizarre report that terrorists had attacked the Nakatomi Plaza Building. At first everything seemed fine, but as he started to drive away, a corpse crashed onto the hood of his patrol car. Though he didn’t know it yet, Powell had just encountered the handiwork of a man who was to become one of his best friends, John McClane. By the end of the night, Powell would draw his gun for the first time in years to save the life of his new found friend.

Following the Nakatomi incident, Powell found himself once again in the public eye. While some hailed him as a hero along with John McClane, journalists soon dug up the story of the shooting in New York. At the same time, the deputy police chief, Dwayne Robinson, and other members of the police force resented Powell’s interference during the Nakatomi incident and, unable to take out their anger on the press darling McClane, instead made life miserable for Powell.

Three months after the Nakatomi incident, Powell, once again depressed and desperate, came up with a new plan: he would change his name and move his wife and family to a new city where they could start their lives over again.

Taking the name Carl Winslow, he and his family moved to Chicago, where a friend once again helped Powell get a job as a police officer. Harriette got a job as an elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle and was later promoted to Chief of Security.

Of course, Powell’s former colleagues in the Los Angeles police department knew his whereabouts, and in summer 1990 he was temporarily transferred to Los Angeles for three months to participate in an Internal Affairs investigation of then-police chief Dwayne Robinson. This investigation would eventually clear Powell’s name and reputation in the department, but once it ended in late August, he chose to return to the new life he had created in Chicago.

However, during his time in Los Angeles, Powell once again helped his friend McClane, providing a pivotal piece of evidence that led to the defeat of the terrorists in the infamous “Cancelled Christmas” attack on Washington Dulles International Airport.

Powell’s life in Chicago as “Carl Winslow” was not as low-key as he might have hoped for. While his past remained buried, he and his family found themselves living next to an eccentric young neighbor with a penchant for science. The young man’s inventions were often a source of consternation to Powell, and varied from incredibly functional jetpacks to elixirs that gave one the personality and abilities of Bruce Lee.

Eventually, life did settle down for the Powells. The kids went to college and moved away, his daughter Laura even marrying the eccentric neighbor boy. Eventually Al and Harriett decided it had been long enough and they could move back to Los Angeles, where the weather was nicer and they had more family. Powell even changed his name back (though his children chose to keep the Winslow name).

Powell was able to get a cushy job at the LAPD once again, having become something of a legend on the force over the years thanks to his role in the Nakatomi incident. Years later, he ran into his cousin Big Mike again while dealing with a hostage situation at a Buy More in Burbank.

Now approaching age sixty, Powell plans to retire in 2012 and spend more time with his grandchildren. His nerdy, nerdy grandchildren.

By Poe Ghostal, creator of Poe


  1. There is a biographical gap where Al Powell featured in an episode of “Chuck”, another hostage sitaution.

  2. So how does the ‘three kids between 1976 and 1979’ fit with Powell’s statements to John McClaine in their first meeting in 1988 that his wife was working on their first?

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