The Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office will not prosecute East Lansing Police Officer Andrew Stephenson for an alleged use of excessive force relating to a December 2019 incident, the office announced this morning.
“Prosecution is denied because Stephenson was acting within his authority as a police officer in trying to subdue a person who was resisting lawful arrest,” reads the released report from Steven Hiller, Washtenaw County’s Chief Assistant Prosecutor.
On December 29, 2019, Stephenson was alleged to have used excessive force on Anthony Loggins Jr., a Black man, during a traffic stop-turned-arrest. Loggins lodged a complaint with ELPD a few days later, but it did not come to light until this March when ELPD realized that Stephenson, who is white, had been involved in two similar cases.
The second instance of alleged use of excessive force by Stephenson came in conjunction with the February 9, 2020, arrest of Uwimana “Tito” Gasito, also a Black man, outside the 7-Eleven downtown. That case was not under review by the prosecutor, Stephenson’s attorney Mike Nichols said, as Stephenson has been cleared in that case. (It was referenced in the special prosecutor’s report and notes that Michigan State Police ultimately recommended not charging Stephenson.)
Special investigative reporting by ELi in March showed an atypical history of complaints against Stephenson by men of color, and a citizen petition called for him to be fired.
Local George Floyd protests focused attention on the Loggins case because Stephenson was seen in bodycam videos putting his knee on Loggins’ head and neck area.
The Washtenaw prosecutor’s report released today states that the action was justified because Loggins allegedly bit Stephenson. The report says that Stephenson’s actions represented “a reasonable use of force in order to protect both the officers and [Loggins] from greater injury that could have resulted from a prolonged struggle.”
Ruth Beier – who resigned her position on City Council and as Mayor in mid-July – had repeatedly suggested from her Council chair that Stephenson’s bite claim was false – suggesting that it was made up by Stephenson to justify the actions that resulted in Stephenson injuring Loggins.
Beier came under sharp fire from police supporters for these claims.
In the long path to today’s announcement, Michigan State Police originally cleared Stephenson, but Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon requested the Attorney General’s office to assign a special prosecutor after Siemon’s office realized there had been critical miscommunication about the case.
Originally, Jackson County Prosecutor Jerard Jarzynka was assigned as the special prosecutor. Then about a week later, for no stated reason, it was announced that there was a change and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie would serve in the role.
At the time Stephenson’s attorney, Mike Nichols, expressed concern about the switch from a Republican prosecutor to a Democrat.
This morning, Nichols relayed relief from Stephenson.
“Andrew [Stephenson] and I talked at about 8:30 and he sounded like he was 300 lbs lighter.” Nichols said in a text message Thursday, responding to a request from ELi for comment. “I just encourage the ELPD and the city council to publicly support him. He’s been through hell and the sleepless nights he’s endured are something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Nichols also called today’s press release from the City of East Lansing on this matter “disappointing” and said “the city’s leaders need to grow a pair and support this officer before they have no officers to support.”
ELPD officers have been steadily (and successfully) petitioning Council to approve their purchases of retirement service credits – something that will allow them to retire earlier – and the City has had trouble attracting applicants for the Chief position currently being staffed by Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Captain Chad Connelley have not applied for the position, which is unusual when a chief vacancy arises.
All this suggests Nichols may be right when he has said that the City is not acting in a way that will result in retaining its police officers.
Chuck Grigsby, elected yesterday to the Chair position of the East Lansing Human Relations Commission, says he wasn’t expecting Stephenson to be charged.
“I was not optimistic,” Grigsby told ELi today, speaking generally about the criminal justice system charging police officers.
Grigsby said he has met with City Manager George Lahanas and Interim Chief Gonalez and was told Stephenson will be assigned to desk jobs or similar roles for “a few years” upon his return to duty. Grigsby is hopeful this can be a chance for retraining.
Grigsby said that at this point he’s more focused on doing things that are more proactive and less reactive in ELPD — like changing training practices to include more time on learning about inherent bias and de-escalation techniques and less time at the shooting range.
Grigsby’s desires fit with the general plan of police “realignment” that Lahanas and the City are said to be attempting right now.
In May, Council passed a resolution calling for a Study Committee to advise Council on formation of an Independent Police Oversight Commission, an idea blasted by the Police Officers Association of Michigan. That Study Committee has still not met, and the new Council has yet to name the last member for it.