“They’re going to get to the point where there won’t be a question about defunding police, because no one’s going to want to work in that department anymore.”
That’s what attorney Mike Nichols says about East Lansing City Council members’ ongoing comments about his client, Officer Andrew Stephenson.
Stephenson has become the subject of investigations following his role in the injuries of two Black men during arrests six weeks apart. A special investigation by the Michigan State Police exonerated Stephenson, but now Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon has asked for the Attorney General to appoint a Special Prosecutor to review the case.
Nichols says he strongly respects Siemon, but he has questions about the way the situation has been handled, and he’s looking into that. ELi reported that Siemon and the City of East Lansing have claimed a miscommunication problem as the cause of the back-and-forth decisions over whether Stephenson may have used excessive force.
It’s not yet clear what prosecutor will be named but Nichols says we can expect it will be a prosecutor from a county nearby, because that’s what’s called for under state statute.
Nichols usually defends not police officers but individuals arrested by the police, and he has high praise for the professionalism of Stephenson and ELPD in general: “They’ve got some well-trained, smart officers, both at the street and administrative levels.”
He said defending Stephenson in this case was “just too important to me” not to take the case, and said that Stephenson is paying him out of his own pocket.
Nichols describes his client as a good, 34-year-old man with a wife and family and over nine years of service with ELPD.
“This kid has lost years of his life with just the anxiety and having people talk about him” in the media and at City Council. “He’s just getting caught in this wave, this movement, and I feel badly for that…. We can’t let our desire for change and to be agents of change sweep up this man’s career and life.”
Mayor Ruth Beier has openly expressed doubt over Stephenson’s claim that he was bitten by Anthony Loggins Jr., the man injured by Stephenson’s actions in a December 2019 arrest. Footage from Stephenson’s body cam recorded him accusing Loggins of having tried to bite him.
But Nichols says he thinks Beier is wrong, and believes that Loggins did indeed try to bite Stephenson.
He sees evidence for this in the mark Stephenson’s body cam captures on his arm and the fact that Stephenson has chosen to have his blood drawn repeatedly to monitor whether Loggins may have infected him with a disease. (Nichols said he would not name the disease out of respect for the privacy of Loggins and Stephenson.)
“The biting thing is almost irrelevant,” Nichols said today, “but I believe him not only because you can see the mark when he takes his glove off on the video,” but because “I don’t think Stephenson would be going to the doctor multiple times to get blood drawn” if the claim wasn’t legitimate.
Asked to comment on ELi’s finding that Stephenson has been a subject of at least five complaints by men of color since the start of 2018, an unusually high number, Nichols responded, “I can tell you Andrew Stephenson has said he doesn’t pull people over because they’re black.”
Stephenson was not the officer who pulled over Loggins; he arrived as back-up. Said Nichols, “I’m not sure that Andrew was totally thrilled with the fact that his colleague made that traffic stop, but they are trained to back people up and follow their training, and that’s what he did.”
Nichols has watched the videos of the arrest and says he sees consummate professionalism.
“I’ve seen law enforcement agencies all over the state, with cops that act like complete pricks,” he said. “To the citizens of East Lansing, I would say, in the main, law enforcement officers here are pretty professional and polite, especially with students. I have seen a lot of people around the state who probably should not be cops – who act like pricks and abuse their authority. That’s not what we’re talking about here.”
Nichols says Stephenson would “be the first to tell you” that George Floyd’s death, caused by Minneapolis police, “was murder.”
Does Nichols think his client may have implicit racial bias?
“I think all of us white privileged folks have implicit bias,” Nichols said. “It’s part of the human condition. The question is what do we do about it. And this is where I think the national conversation should be – it’s not just the police, it’s everybody. We have a socioeconomic system that still creates greater barriers for people from poor backgrounds and [who have] skin colors other than white. I believe that. Is it just Andrew Stephenson? No.”
He said Andrew Stephenson would tell people he is a white guy from Northern Michigan who tries to get bias out of his head at the start of his shifts and who works hard to follow his training.
Nichols said he’s thinking of speaking at City Council next week because “I’m frustrated and I’m disappointed about Ruth’s comment” about Stephenson possibly making up claims against Loggins.
“I think if the council is not careful, they’re not going to have a choice – they are going to lose that department. And the people of East Lansing should understand that.”
He added, “Let’s be very careful about how we treat this department. Yes, let’s discuss and get changes and make sure everyone is sensitive to issues of race. But, by God, it’s a pretty good department. And I feel strongly about that, and that’s a message I really wanted to get through…. I don’t want those officers to quit, or people not to want to come work for ELPD.”