State Police Send Warrant Request to County Prosecutor on Stephenson Investigation

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Tito Gasito at the May 31 George Floyd protest in Lansing. Gasito has alleged he was assaulted by ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson.

A spokesperson for the Michigan State Police informed ELi today that a warrant request has been transmitted from the state police to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office on the matter involving alleged excessive use of force by ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson.

According to Lt. Brian Oleksyk, Public Information Officer for the state police, “MSP has dropped off the warrant request yesterday June 10, 2020 to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.”

He declined to provide more information about the matter. 

According to the Michigan Attorney General’s website, “If law enforcement thinks their investigation has gathered enough evidence, they will submit a warrant request to the prosecutor with suggested criminal charges. The prosecutor may ask law enforcement to do further investigation. If there is sufficient evidence, the prosecutor may authorize an arrest warrant.”

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon has not yet responded to a request sent this morning asking for information about the content of the warrant request and about next steps in her review of Stephenson’s action for criminal liability. We do not know whether she will authorize an arrest warrant.

In the meantime, according to City Manager George Lahanas, Stephenson “has been transferred into the ELPD Detective Bureau.” This means he is not on street patrol.

This transfer for Stephenson happened sometime before Tuesday, when Lahanas and ELPD Interim Chief Steve Gonzalez informed Human Relations Commissioner Chuck Grigsby and local activists Farhan Sheik-Omar and Edmund Rushton of this fact in a closed-door meeting.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Farhan Sheikh-Omar leading the June 2, 2020, protest at East Lansing City Hall.

Why did everything about the investigation into the two excessive force complaints against Stephenson stop in early May and suddenly restart in early June?

ELi has spent the last week trying to sort that out. It appears that somewhere along the way, a ball was dropped between East Lansing, the state police, and the county prosecutor.

It also appears very likely that the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25 and the resulting national and local protests contributed to focusing the local prosecutor’s attention on this case.

What led up to the state police becoming involved:

In December 2019, Stephenson’s actions during an arrest led to the injury of Anthony Loggins Jr.’s head and face. Loggins lodged a complaint with ELPD, but an investigation by ELPD led to the conclusion that the involved officers had done nothing wrong:

“The officers acted professionally throughout the entire encounter and were very courteous with [Loggins] during times he was not being resistive. The recording showed officers acting professionally during the entire encounter and within the ELPD Training guidelines.”

The public was not made aware of that case.

Then, on February 9, 2020, Stephenson’s similar take-down maneuver during an unrelated arrest led to the injury of Uwimana Tito Gasito’s head and face. Gasito went public with his allegation of being assaulted by ELPD officers.

Tito Gasito’s Facebook post of Feb. 13, 2020.

An investigation by ELPD into Gasito’s allegations concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to show excessive use of force by Stephenson.

On approximately March 10, ELPD administrators say they watched the tape of the Loggins arrest and suddenly realized that Stephenson was at the center of both incidents. Because members of the public and some members of Council were still angry about the determination in Gasito’s case, the finding that Stephenson had injured another black man 6 weeks before Gasito’s arrest was explosive.

The City Manager then directed the City Attorney, who was functioning as prosecutor in the Gasito case, to drop the charges against Gasito.

Additionally, according to City Manager George Lahanas, “ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes made the decision to send [the matter] to MSP [Michigan State Police] on March 13, 2020. The police report and all video footage was sent.”

Two days later, special investigative reporting by ELi showed Stephenson had a history of complaints by men of color. Sparkes retired that day, and Steve Gonzalez was named Interim Police Chief.

The state police’s report made a key false claim – and City officials didn’t follow up:

In early May, Lt. Erik Darling of the Michigan State Police finally returned his investigation’s results. He completely exonerated Stephenson.

Significantly, in his report, Darling claimed: “This matter was already reviewed for criminal liability by the Ingham County Prosecutors Office and their determination was to issue charges against [Loggins] and not against any of the officers involved. I agree with that conclusion.”

But we now know that wasn’t true. Siemon’s office hadn’t done a review of complaints against officers in this case at that point.

County Prosecutor Carol Siemon told ELi last week, “when our office reviewed the December warrant request, there was no information that there was a use of force complaint, nor were the dash cam or body cam videos included.”

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon

Her office only looked at written materials from ELPD that supported charging Loggins.

Interim Chief Gonzalez explained at City Council this week that the standard procedure has been for ELPD to provide the Prosecutor’s office with a link to video about a case only if the prosecutor requests it, and that request was not made in this case. He said ELPD and the prosecutor’s office are rethinking that policy now.

The state police’s spokesperson has not answered questions from ELi about why Darling claimed in early May that the prosecutor had reviewed the matter for criminal charges and had decided not to press charges against Stephenson.

In any event, since in early May the state police had said the county prosecutor had decided not to take any action, and the county prosecutor didn’t say otherwise, City Manager George Lahanas decided then there was nothing the City or ELPD could do. That’s what he told Council and the public several times.

How the use of force complaint finally made it to Siemon’s office

Siemon told ELi today that the reason the City sent the materials to her office last week is because she asked for them.

“I notified the city when I belatedly realized that it was represented that we had” already reviewed the complaint about Stephenson, Siemon said by email today. “We only review warrant requests and none was submitted for any of the officers so I am confused why it was thought that we had specifically reviewed the officer(s).” 

Lahanas confirmed that his office sent the materials to Siemon’s office on June 4 with a request for a review because her office reached out to ask for them. Lahanas told ELi yesterday, “It was sent at that time because we were notified that they had not done a video review of the use of force.”

In the midst of nationwide and local protests over policy brutality, Siemon decided last week to drop the charges against Loggins and look at what Stephenson’s actions show.

The Lansing George Floyd protest on May 31, 2020 (photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi).

Siemon has said she’s trying to figure out what went wrong here.

On June 8, Siemon told ELi, “We will work with the MSP to clarify processes and are working with a number of stakeholders to help ensure that  any allegations of police misconduct are referred to the appropriate agencies for the various types of review that may occur.”

She added, “In light of local and national police use of force concerns, I am working with other partners to move Michigan to a more consistent and effective use of force policy and practices to provide meaningful and standard reviews of community/individual complaints.”

Meanwhile, Lahanas appears unwilling to take any disciplinary action against Stephenson unless the prosecutor gives him reason.

Yesterday, Lahanas reiterated this in an email to ELi: “We have to base employment decisions on investigation results.”

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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