Citizen Petition Demands East Lansing Police Officer Stephenson Be Fired

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Still from a body cam video showing ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson with his knee on the neck or upper back of Anthony Loggins Jr., who is at that point in handcuffs, during an arrest on Dec. 29, 2019. A citizen petition is calling for Stephenson to be fired, but a state police investigator said he acted appropriately.

In the wake of release of videos showing East Lansing Police Officer Andrew Stephenson’s involvement in the arrest and facial injury of Anthony Loggins Jr. in December of last year, a group of citizens is calling for Stephenson to be fired.

The online petition, organized by Anna Fisher, was started on Friday afternoon and in less than 24 hours had reached over 125 signatures.

Specifically addressed to Interim Police Chief Steve Gonzalez, the petition calls on people to “Help prevent future harm to Black and Brown men in this community by signing to terminate Officer Stephenson from [the] East Lansing Police Department.”

Stephenson, who is white, used what ELPD has called a “head stabilization technique” on both Loggins and another black man, Uwimana “Tito” Gasito, six weeks apart.

In both cases, the men arrested ended up with injuries to their faces from contact with pavement. In both cases, Stephenson was on top of them when the injuries occurred.

The Feb. 13, 2020, post by Tito Gasito showing his injuries following a take-down during an arrest including a “head stabilization” by ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson.

Review of the arrests of Loggins and Gasito by Michigan State Police Lt. Erik Darling, performed at the request of ELPD, led to “exoneration” of Stephenson. His techniques were said by police to be appropriate in part because, investigators said, the arrested men’s reactions constituted resisting arrest.

Special investigation by ELi found that Stephenson was involved in 5 of 12 complaints made by citizens against ELPD officers from January 2018 through February 2020. That figure of 42 percent is cited in the citizen petition, which also notes – as ELi’s reporting has – that most ELPD officers have no complaints against them.

The petition was launched two days after the City of East Lansing finally released mostly-unredacted videos of the Loggins arrest – allowing us for the first time to see what City and Police officials saw when they suddenly decided, in view of these videos, to call for a state-level investigation of Stephenson for possible criminal charges.

Interim Chief Gonzalez has not responded to an email question sent to him earlier today about the petition.

Videos show Stephenson’s actions

While video released in the case of the Gasito arrest did not capture Stephenson’s actions, the video of the Loggins arrest shows a sudden and fast take-down of the 62-year-old man.

The arrest happened after police stopped Loggins for failure to use his turn signal and determined that Loggins was driving an uninsured car with a suspended license. The video shows Loggins sat back down in his car and challenged the officers to “come and get me.”

The video taken from Officer Austin Nelson’s body camera shows Stephenson using his knee to holding Loggins’ neck down for some time after Loggins’ is handcuffed. (The following video, showing Nelson’s body cam footage, may be upsetting to some viewers.)

In his ELPD report produced in response to Loggins’ complaint about how he was treated, ELPD Sergeant Tom Blanck found that “Ofc. Stephenson, while affecting the arrest, did have his knee on [Mr. Loggins’] upper back while assisting in affecting the arrest but there was nothing outside of ELPD’s training guidelines in doing so.”

Interim Chief Gonzalez has said ELPD is reviewing the use of such techniques.

The video taken from Stephenson’s body camera of Loggins’ arrest shows the wound to Loggins’ head immediately after the take-down, although Stephenson soon pulls Loggins’ hood over the wound, effectively obscuring it from view.

A still from the body cam of Officer Andrew Stephenson showing him pulling Anthony Loggins Jr.’s hood up and showing the wound to Loggins’ head.

The bump on Loggins’ face is shown later, when he is seated in the back of a police car. The video from Stephenson’s body cam shows more of the encounter. (The following video may be upsetting to some viewers.)

As seen in this video, while Stephenson is taking Loggins in handcuffs to the police car, Stephenson asks him, “Why you tried to bite me?”

Loggins forcefully denies this, shouting, “Man, I didn’t try to bite nobody – what the fuck you talking about? You a liar! You a liar!”

From the video supplied, Stephenson does not appear to have been reacting to any bite during the arrest.

But after he has Loggins in the car, Stephenson’s own body cam video captures him pulling off his glove and pulling back his jacket sleeve, showing a red mark on his wrist. Stephenson then tells another officer that Loggins tried to bite him.

ELPD Sgt. Blanck’s investigation on this says that Loggins “denied having tried to bite anybody and in fact said he couldn’t because he didn’t have any teeth. He does not have teeth in the upper part of his mouth, however does have very pronounced teeth on his bottom jaw.”

Mayor Ruth Beier has said procedures will change for use of force review:

Shortly after the public learned that Stephenson had been found to have been involved in similar injuries of two black men in a six-week period, and that the state police were being asked to investigate, Mayor Ruth Beier answered questions at the March 11 Council meeting.

Photos by Gady Caldwell for ELi

City Attorney Tom Yeadon (left) and Ruth Beier at the March 11, 2020, meeting of Council.

She explained that it was only after “more people” beyond Blanck looked at the Loggins arrest video “more slowly, in slow motion” that they became disturbed by what they saw – disturbed enough to call for the dropping of charges against Gasito, a different man, in a case that happened six weeks later.

Said Beier, “We had one officer investigating the first complaint [from Loggins], another officer investigating the second complaint [from Gasito], and the hands did not talk to each other.” She said Police administrators will now “look at every body cam, not just look at the report” when there is use of force by an officer.

Actions by City officials may lie ahead – but not soon enough for some

ELi reported earlier this week that City Council is moving towards establishing a committee to advise them on creation of an Independent Police Oversight Commission. The public hearing – and likely a final vote – on this measure is expected on May 26.

On Tuesday, May 19, City Council will also discuss the problem of people like Gasito being stuck with arrest records even after charges against them are dropped.

Meanwhile, City Manager George Lahanas has said, in response to public dissatisfaction with this situation, that no additional action will be taken regarding Stephenson because, “from a labor perspective, that issue has been decided.”

Gary Caldwell for ELi

City Attorney George Lahanas at the March 11 meeting where the December 2019 incident was revealed.

Lahanas had not said publicly in advance of the state police findings that the City’s and Police Department’s actions would be limited by the findings of a state investigation. (Before being promoted by a previous City Council to City Manager, Lahanas was the City’s Human Resources Director.)

Asked what he wants to see happen, East Lansing resident and Human Relations Commissioner Chuck Grigsby told ELi today, “I would suggest that the City Manager require the Police Chief (or acting Chief) to suspend this officer from all community-related policing duties for one calendar year. In addition, I would recommend the requirement that the officer receive additional training in the areas of Bias, cultural sensitivity, as well as de-escalation training, and updated tactical strategies within the calendar year of suspension.”

Grigsby also wants to see action on expunging arrest records, officer retraining, data collection and attention to possible racial profiling, “as well as the review and restructuring of East Lansing’s Police Department’s use of force continuum.”

Raymond Holt for ELi

East Lansing resident and Human Relations Commissioner Chuck Grigsby speaking at the Feb. 27, 2020, Council meeting.

Grigsby shared with ELi his indexing of questionable actions in the videos (see it here), and expressed his frustration:

 “Since the Gasito case, I have not seen any members of the Council address, nor provide any solutions to address this volatile issue presented to them by their community. From an HRC member and a citizen of East Lansing’s perspective, it is clear that there is evidence of racial profiling, the use of excessive force, lack of use of de-escalation strategies, and zero independent oversight to address the community concern now in an addition to the oversight committee.”

Grigsby concludes, “We have plenty of information and facts right to make decisions. I beg the Council to rise to the occasion, do the work, and take the opportunity to do the right thing. It is time to show the people of color in East Lansing, action rather than words.”

See the five videos released by City of East Lansing here.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our current reporting on East Lansing Policing. See it here.

Find an overview of our reporting on police oversight here.
  
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