Last week, for the fifth year in a row, East Lansing’s Human Rights Commission received an annual report from the East Lansing Police Department about complaints made against officers and about what investigation into those complaints determined.
This year’s report detailed a total of fifteen complaints and included instances of employees cheating on time cards, an off-duty officer driving drunk, an officer with uncontrolled rage, an officer joking around with pepper spray, and a case of excessive use of force that involved an officer tasing a suspect, leaving the suspect with a broken collarbone and broken rib.
The fifteen complaints summarized in the report also include complaints that were determined by police investigators to be unfounded.
The report provided to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) was provided in writing in advance of the meeting this year. Unlike in prior years, the report generated little discussion at the meeting. That was because the meeting was overshadowed by a more global finding of concern: that East Lansing residents who are Black are almost three times as likely to be stopped by ELPD officers than East Lansing residents who are white.
This year’s complaints report also came amid a radically changed landscape from a year ago, as we detailed in a report provided in advance of Feb. 3 meeting.
The fifteen complaints covered include six complaints made by citizens in 2020, four internally-generated complaints against ELPD employees in 2020, one complaint made to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and four internally-generated complaints against ELPD employees in 2019.
The reason the 2019 material was included in this year’s report and not last year’s along with citizens’ complaints? According to ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez, “There was a misunderstanding of what was being asked by the HRC in regards to 2019 HRC Administrative Inquiries.”
In the following reporting, we name officers when they have been the subject of multiple news stories and when investigation of a complaint about an officer was determined by police investigators to be “sustained” (that is, when the investigators agree there was wrongdoing) and the name is known from documents obtained.
ELPD received six complaints about officers from citizens in 2020:
Material released by ELPD doesn’t give any of the names of complainants, but we know from the details and prior reporting that citizen complaint #20-1 was lodged by Anthony Loggins Jr. against Officer Andrew Stephenson, and that citizen complaint #20-2 was made by Tito Gasito against Stephenson. Loggins and Gasito were similarly injured after being taken down to the ground by Stephenson.
We have extensively investigated and reported on these cases which, in conjunction, led to the sudden retirement of Police Chief Larry Sparkes, a great deal of public outcry, and Stephenson being investigated by the Michigan State Police, with his case ultimately sent to an independent prosecutor, who found no cause to prosecute Stephenson.
Charges were ultimately dropped against both Loggins and Gasito. Stephenson was put on desk duty in the detective’s bureau. City Council changed the law regarding “disorderly conduct” with the goal of reducing confrontations and the piling on of charges against people who resist police stops. ELPD also changed its policy on the use of the “head stabilization” technique that Stephenson used in both cases.
For the first time, this year’s annual report gave the 5-year history of complaints against officers who were subjects of complaints in 2020. That data shows that of all the officers who were subjects of complaints in 2020, Stephenson had more than anyone else, with five, including the two for use of force described in the report, one for a policy violation, and two for discrimination.
Citizen complaint #20-3 came from a Middle Eastern man who complained of feeling “harassed and racially profiled by the police officers that [he said] followed him” between 2017 and May 2020. Police investigation found that the man could not identify officers who allegedly harassed him. One officer was found to have used the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) system to look up information associated with the man’s license plate, but the officer could not remember running the tags. So, the complaint was marked “exonerated,” meaning that no wrongdoing was found.
ELPD’s report noted that the department has since changed its policy on use of LEIN, now only allowing “license plate queries to be conducted for articulable law enforcement investigations that can be documented by the officer.”
Complaint #20-4 came from a Black man who objected to a Hispanic woman officer and white man officer who stopped him because his vehicle matched the description of a suspect said to be armed and said to have threatened a woman. Investigation concluded that the officers had reason to stop the man, even though he turned out to be the wrong man.
Complaint #20-5 was made by a Black woman against a white woman officer who, the complainant said, “allowed a domestic dispute suspect to push her while the officers were present and working to resolve the confrontation.” Body camera footage “showed that the complainant was not pushed by the other party.”
Complaint #20-6 was made by a Black man against two officers, the arresting officer who was also a Black man and a jail officer who is a white female. Investigation showed that – contrary to the complaint of being arrested because of his race – the arresting officer did have cause to arrest him for trespass of a private residence.
However, the man’s second complaint, that Jail Service Officer (JSO) K. Johnston spoke inappropriately to him, was found legitimate by investigators. While the suspect was at the jail, the complainant “asked the JSO how they would feel if their kids were in this situation. The JSO responded by saying their kids would not be in a similar situation because they know how to act. When presented with the allegation that the complainant had only been arrested because of his race, the JSO responded by telling him not to play the race card and his actions were responsible for his arrest.”
The JSO’s comments were deemed by police investigators “unprofessional in nature” and the JSO received “disciplinary measures.”
ELPD employees lodged four complaints against other ELPD employees in 2020:
The material on 2020 internal complaints does not tell us the names of those investigated, but in several cases indicate findings of wrongdoing.
In the first “internal” complaint, #20-1, a white female officer was found to have “improperly deployed her OC [pepper] spray towards another officer while in the Report Room of the police department.” She sprayed another officer’s pant leg, not in a hazing incident, but in the course of “a good relationship” where “the act was done in direct result of the joking around that was occurring.” She was found in violation of policy and was disciplined.
Internal complaint #20-2 was lodged by two officers “with concerns regarding another officer,” namely a white male officer who made “extremely angry verbal and text comments…regarding the ongoing policing reforms at ELPD and on being counseled after being told to terminate a vehicle pursuit.” The officer was so angry that he “lashed out by striking the steering wheel of the patrol car with his hand…hard enough to significantly bend it.”
His communications were found to have been “made in private to fellow officers. The statements all concerned the lack of the aggressiveness of law enforcement in general. The officer clearly did not support the national and local policing reforms being enacted at ELPD. These frustrations manifested in his actions and statements found during the investigation.”
He was found to have committed a policy violation and, “Unrelated to the disciplinary action, this officer resigned from ELPD.”
Internal complaint #20-3 involved an Hispanic woman PACE officer who left work about 30-40 minutes early without permission and without noting the early departure time, which meant “she submitted for pay during the time she was not on duty.” She was disciplined.
Internal complaint #20-4 was similar – a white male Jail Service Officer was found to have submitted for about 30-45 minutes of “overtime that was not worked.” He was notified of an investigation and resigned his position at ELPD.
ELPD employees lodged four complaints against other ELPD employees in 2019:
These are the four complaints we are hearing about a year later than expected. In the first, #19-1, a white male officer was found to have been arrested for drunk driving “in northern Michigan when his vehicle became stuck in a ditch.” This was a policy violation, and he was disciplined. He also resigned from ELPD in 2019. (His name was not provided in the report.)
Internal complaint #19-2 involved a white female police administration staff who accidentally “disseminated two unredacted police reports to the public when they were meant to remain private.” We reported this case in 2019, and we knew of it because of the accidental release of material was to the ELPD’s media list. Investigation found no “malicious intent” and resulted in a new system meant to avoid this happening again.
Internal complaint #19-3 involved a rare “sustained” excessive use of force complaint; in almost every case, complaints about excessive use of force are found by police officers to be unwarranted. A white male officer “had arrested an individual for attempted theft of a moped and was in the process of placing him in the backseat of a patrol car. The subject was handcuffed behind his back and ran from the officers just prior to getting into the patrol car. The officers pursued him on foot. Once close enough to the subject one officer deployed his Taser. The probes struck the subject and caused him to fall to the ground resulting in injury.”
According to the police reports on this case, obtained by ELi via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the suspect, a white male, ended up at Sparrow Hospital with a broken collarbone and broken rib. We can tell from the more detailed FOIAed report that the Officer who fired the taser was Chad Stemen and his report indicates that, as he was chasing the suspect, he noted another officer “on the ground near some bushes” and that he wasn’t sure how that officer “ended up on the ground.”
Stemen explained his use of the Taser by saying that, “Due to the totality of circumstances,” including the other officer being “on the ground, it was necessary” to use the Taser “in order to gain immediate control of an escalating situation of the escaped custody, fleeing felony suspect.” But the police investigation found “the officer violated training guidelines” in this use of force, and the officer was disciplined.
Internal complaint #19-4 arose from “a social media post to Twitter accusing an officer of threatening to hang a subject by his neck.” Review of footage by ELPD investigators found that, while the Black male accuser was in the backseat of a patrol car for a weapons violation, he had tried to use his cell phone. When he was being stopped by a white male officer from using his phone, the officer said, “I will hold on to your neck” while he “was holding onto his ‘shoulder/trap muscle area.’” Ultimately, “The inquiry did not find any use of force policy violations.”
One complaint went to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
A Black man complained that, “on or about April 1, 2018[,] he was the subject of racial profiling by an East Lansing police officer.” ELPD “reviewed daily activity reports, reviewed camera footage, and spoke with officers working around the date indicated by the complainant. No evidence of this behavior could be found,” so the case was dismissed because of a determination of “insufficient evidence to proceed.”
ELPD leaders have been making presentations about complaints against officers each year at HRC since 2017, and you can read ELi’s reporting on the presentations in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Find ELi’s last eleven months of reporting on policing archived here.
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