Police Oversight Commission Pushes City Council to Take a Stand on AG Charges Against VanAtten

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The East Lansing Independent Police Commission is calling on Attorney General Dana Nessel to drop all charges against DeAnthony VanAtten. Courtesy photo State of Michigan

The East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission passed a motion Sept. 7 that urges East Lansing City Council to denounce the charges leveled at DeAnthony VanAtten by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

On April 25 of this year, VanAtten was shot by ELPD officers in the parking lot of the Lake Lansing Meijer after ELPD received a call about a Black man entering the store wearing a face covering and carrying a gun. The 20-year-old ran from the store pursued by officers who then fired several shots in the Meijer parking lot, with two of the bullets striking VanAtten

In August of this year, Nessel charged VanAtten with seven felonies and one misdemeanor, a decision about a dozen people voiced their opposition to at the Sept. 6 meeting of East Lansing City Council. Commenters included several members of the Oversight Commission.

Dylan Lees for ELi
Kath Edsall, a member of the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission and East Lansing School Board, spoke at the Sept. 6, 2022 city council meeting. She introduced the motion approved Sept. 7, 2022 by the Oversight Commission.

First presented by commissioner Kath Edsall at the regular commission’s meeting held the day after council met, the motion in its final form requests that city council ask Nessel to drop the charges against VanAtten with a provision that, if she chooses not to do so, council will request the question of prosecution be returned to Ingham County.

Mayor Ron Bacon is a city council liaison to the commission and, at the Wednesday meeting, he offered his support of such a measure. But he also had words of caution. 

“This warrants a response,” he said. “But the work that’s left to be done, we need to be sober about it.” 

Bacon added the commission, established in 2021, is “setting precedent” for how incidents like this are handled in the future, so it is important to get it right this time.

The commissioners spent the majority of the meeting hashing out how to present their position to council, who they hope will then reach out to Nessel. 

“I want her to know I’m pissed,” commissioner Sharon Hobbs said as the group debated how strongly to word their request.

Commissioner Shawn Farzam, among others, argued that more community pressure could encourage Nessel to drop the charges against VanAtten. 

After debate, the commission passed the motion unanimously. The matter now goes before the city council. (Council next meets at 7 p.m. today, Sept. 13, in the Hannah Community Center for a discussion-only session. The next regular voting meeting will be on Sept. 20.)

The Oversight Commission also questions ELPD’s use of force policies.

There was general agreement among commissioners that, in addition to passing along their concerns to council and the Michigan AG, that ELPD needs to reevaluate policies and training procedures.

Dylan Lees for ELi

Officers enter the East Lansing Police Department.

Commissioner Amanda Morgan said Nessel had made it clear by not charging Jose Viera and James Menser, the two ELPD officers who fired shots on April 25, that it was OK to “shoot and think about it later.”

Commissioner Noel Garcia Jr., a former Lansing police officer, addressed ELPD Captain Chad Pride, who was in attendance, and urged him to make sure outside experts are also investigating ELPD’s use of force in the April 25 incident.

Public commenters urge the commission to take action.

Following a one-hour public discussion at the East Lansing City Council meeting the night prior, more people spoke at the Oversight Commission to address the issue of East Lansing police policy and the April 25 incident. 

Karen Hoene, a member of East Lansing’s Human Rights Commission, submitted a petition signed by 33 East Lansing residents calling  for the commission to convene a special session to address police training and procedure, particularly around use of force policies.

Dylan Lees for ELi

Karen Hoene of the East Lansing Human Rights Commission speaking to City Council on Sept. 6, 2022. She presented a petition to the Oversight Commission during the Sept. 7, 2022 meeting.

Per Ordinance 1503 that established the Oversight Commission, if residents present a petition with more than 20 signatures, the commission must hold a public meeting about the issue at hand. Hoene’s petition specifically asked for experts on police training to weigh in on ELPD’s policies as they relate to the policing of Black, indigenous and other people of color. 

The commission agreed to hold a special meeting with details to be decided in the coming months. 

In other discussion, chair Erick Williams read a letter of resignation from commissioner Benjamin Hughes. The email explained Hughes no longer has time to dedicate to the Commission.  The commission will review applications to fill the vacancy later this fall.

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