Detroit — The city’s Inspector General James Heath will investigate Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr.’s interactions with police during a Tuesday night traffic stop that sources said involved alcohol and marijuana.
The investigation was announced Friday afternoon, shortly after Cushingberry and other council members spent the day interviewing candidates for the Detroit Land Bank and Public Lighting authorities. The results of the investigation will be shared with Mayor Mike Duggan, the City Council, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and the public, the office said in a statement.
This is the first Inspector General investigation involving an elected official since the office was established in 2012, officials said.
The office was created under the new city charter to investigate claims of waste, fraud, abuse or corruption in city government on the part of elected and appointed public officials and city employees. The Inspector General is also authorized to investigate charges of misconduct on the part of contractors and vendors as relates to business they do with the city.
Under the charter, Heath is empowered to subpoena witnesses, take testimony and request documents. Heath can recommend that an official he deems guilty of misconduct be removed from office but the final decision rests with the Detroit City Council.
Heath can also turn over his findings to the Wayne County Prosecutor.
Cushingberry said he was pulled over because he’s black — a claim disputed by police. He declined further comment on Friday, adding only that he “welcomes” the investigation.
At the council table Friday, Cushingberry asked colleagues to “please forgive me” if they were “embarrassed by the driving while black incident.”
“There’s an ongoing investigation about it,” he said. “I hope that all of you would let that investigation be completed.”
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said race wasn’t a factor in the traffic stop and one of the two officers involved is African-American.
A police supervisor’s handling of the incident also prompted a separate internal investigation within the police department. The supervisor allowed Cushingberry to drive away with only a traffic ticket after police sources familiar with the situation say the councilman led Detroit Police Special Operations officers on a chase near a northwest-side strip club. There was an open intoxicant in his car and a heavy scent of marijuana was present, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Although Cushingberry has not given The News his account of the events, the story he’s provided to other Detroit media outlets differs from the police version.
The 61-year-old Detroiter said there was only an empty bottle of rum in his back seat, and that, while his passenger had a medical marijuana card, the drug was not smoked in his car.
Police sources say Cushingberry was pulled over about 10 p.m. Tuesday because he almost ran his car into officers, who were on an investigative detail near the intersection of Livernois and Northfield. The councilman did not stop as the officers ordered, sources said, and a chase ensued.
When Cushingberry finally stopped, officers smelled marijuana and spotted an open intoxicant in his car, two police sources said. There was a passenger in the car who had a medical marijuana card, but the scent led officers to believe it had recently been smoked, sources said.
Cushingberry drove away again, and another chase ensued, the sources said. A second squad car was called in to help. Cushingberry stopped and was belligerent and uncooperative, pulling out his City Council identification card, a source said.
Craig said the officers followed proper protocol by alerting their supervisor that they’d just stopped a public official. When the supervisor, a sergeant, arrived on the scene, he allowed Cushingberry to go after a ticket was issued for failing to signal.
The officers, angered that their supervisor did not allow them to arrest Cushingberry, informed police officials about the situation, a police source said. That was what launched the investigation into the actions of the supervisor.
Craig said the traffic stop was legal, although because no charges have been filed, he declined to give details about what officers found in Cushingberry’s car. The chief also said he won’t seek charges against the councilman.
News of the incident broke the same day Craig released a Plan of Action that outlined how the city intends to fight crime and revamp the police department in 2014. Among the stated goals: Making police supervisors more accountable for their actions.
In a statement released Friday, Orr said that he will reserve comment until the police investigation and findings are complete.
“There is much to be done to make Detroit a strong and vibrant city again and I will continue to with Mayor Mike Duggan, Council President Brenda Jones and City Council members to keep our attention focused on meeting the City’s needs and improving services for all of its nearly 700,000 residents,” he said.
Jones echoed Orr, saying that although Cushingberry’s traffic incident is a “distraction,” she’s focused on city business and the new council’s transition.
“This is a personal matter,” Jones said. “This is a police issue. It’s being investigated.”
Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said allegations, if true, are “one more hit” to the council’s reputation.
As far as Cushingberry’s claim of the incident being racially motivated, Jenkins added: “In a city that’s 80-plus percent African American, the chances of an African American being stopped is huge.”
“The question is, was the officer’s conduct appropriate?,” she said. “And thus far, I haven’t heard anything that put the officer’s conduct in question.”