ELi has learned that the East Lansing City Manager formally opened a search on May 4 for the next Chief of Police for East Lansing.
This news comes as the City of East Lansing has just today released ELPD video from the December 2019 arrest of Anthony Loggins Jr. – video recordings withheld until now “due to the pending court proceeding” against Loggins at the request of the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.
Mayor Ruth Beier said at City Council last night that the tapes would be released this week, following a series of questions from Edmund Rushton.
Rushton was one of several citizens who attended the virtual meeting by telephone as Council debated the question of how to create a citizen oversight board for complaints against the police.
The December 29, 2019, arrest of Loggins involved a “head stabilization” by ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson that led to Loggins’ face and eye being injured and his being transported by ambulance to a hospital.
Loggins, a black man, filed a complaint against the arresting officers a few days later, and in March, ELPD sent the case file and videos to Michigan State Police for investigation. Stephenson had been found to have used the same maneuver and similarly injured another black man just six weeks later in a case that led to public outrage.
Amid the turmoil of the March 2020 discovery that Stephenson had an unusual record of complaints made against him, ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes suddenly retired. Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez took on the role of Interim Chief.
Earlier this month, Lt. Erik Darling of the Michigan State Police determined that Stephenson’s use of force in both these instances was justified.
But that finding has not sat well with some Council members and citizens.
Council member Jessy Gregg said about it last night, ““The use of force that is authorized is different than the use of force that is appropriate.”
But City Manager George Lahanas told Council that by electing to have Michigan State Police investigate Stephenson, “from a labor perspective, that issue has been decided.” Stephenson has been fully reinstated.
At Council last night, numerous speakers said East Lansing can’t wait for a new oversight commission to start fixing problems in policing.
Responding to questions from ELi yesterday, Gonzalez indicates he is not waiting.
He wrote by email, “The COVID 19 pandemic has delayed many of our training efforts during the past two months. However, our Use of Force Team is currently in the process of reviewing techniques and tactics in an effort to find areas of needed improvement. Once it is safe to bring officers back together in training groups we intend to refresh and retrain in a variety of topics.”
Gonzalez has also implemented a record-keeping change to prevent problems like the one that occurred this year when police administrators did not realize Stephenson was the subject of two very similar complaints.
“As has been our long standing policy, anytime a use of force is employed by an officer, the officers involved are required to complete a police report documenting the action,” Gonzalez says, but “We have added the requirement that notification of a use of force be made to police administration by the on duty supervisor before the end of their shift.”
This will mean that top brass “review the use of force in very short order to ensure it was justified, proper, and within policy and law.”
Additionally, “With respect to complaints against employees we have instituted a system where the Chief of Police must be notified that the complaint has been filed prior to it being assigned to an investigator. This will allow the Chief to review the initial complaint thereby ensuring the ability of the Chief to direct the investigation as necessary or intervene when appropriate.”
Gonzalez confirmed that his hope is still to seek accreditation through the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, a process that includes opportunities “for both community members and elected officials to be heard. . . . The process of becoming accredited can be a very heavy lift for an agency and may require significant operational and policy changes.”
Until ELi asked, Lahanas had said nothing publicly about having opened a search for the new Police Chief – which it turns out he did the same day the Michigan State Police findings were released. Who to hire will be his decision as the City Manager.
The job ad produced indicates that “customer service is a core value of the organization and an expectation of an engaged citizenry. The Chief will be an effective communicator with all community stakeholder groups and have a clear understanding of political considerations, while remaining apolitical.”
Lahanas tells ELi, “In terms of making a decision, that will depend in large part on the candidate pool and the Stay Home order.”
ELi has a special section dedicated to our current reporting on East Lansing Policing. See it here.