August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit officers suspended during probe of drug raid evidence

Detroit— Six members of a Detroit police narcotics unit that raided a suspected drug house have been suspended after a surveillance video captured them taking away a box they never logged as evidence.

The investigation is part of a larger Internal Affairs probe into the now-disbanded Narcotics Section, which was retooled last month after allegations surfaced claiming major problems in the unit.

One sergeant and five officers have been suspended with pay while Internal Affairs investigators try to determine what was inside the box taken from the raid, said Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

“At this point it’s just an allegation,” Craig said. “The video is part of our investigation.”

The raid happened in February at a house on the city’s west side, although Craig said the incident came to his attention a few weeks ago. “When we found out, we immediately ordered an Internal Affairs investigation,” he said. “We added it to our overall investigation into the Narcotics Section, which is ongoing.”

The owner of the raided house said it was a medical marijuana dispensary. “That’s what he claimed, although we haven’t determined that for sure,” Craig said.

Dozens of marijuana dispensaries opened across the state after voters passed the Medical Marihuana Act in 2008, but the Michigan Court of Appeals later ruled they were illegal. Detroit police have raided several dispensaries in recent years.

One of the rooms at the west side house was equipped with a video camera, which captured officers taking away a box. Whatever was inside the box was never added to the search warrant return, Craig said.

Internal Affairs began investigating the Narcotics Section in May, after allegations of several problems came to Craig’s attention. The alleged wrongdoing included a sergeant who had failed to turn in 32 pieces of drug evidence confiscated from hospitalized suspects, and another sergeant who falsified evidence tags for items seized during drug raids, including three flat-screen TVs, a laptop computer and an Xbox 360 video game system.

Lt. Charles Flanagan, who headed the narcotics unit at the time, reported the sergeants, who took the drugs and other items in 2011 before he assumed command of the unit.

Days after the investigation was launched, Flanagan, who is white, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming he was the victim of racial discrimination and subjected to a hostile work environment for reporting what he allegedly had uncovered.

Deputy Chief Daryl Brown, who ran the Narcotics Section when the alleged violations occurred in 2011, recommended Flanagan be transferred from the unit, although Craig said he told Flanagan he wasn’t going to act on the recommendation. Brown, who is African-American, is currently in charge of the Criminal Investigations Bureau, which oversees Narcotics.

Craig has ordered several shakeups. The first came in early June when he overhauled the Organized Crime Section, which is responsible for the Narcotics Section.

Last month, Craig disbanded the Narcotics Section, which was replaced by the Major Violators Section. The new unit investigates only large-scale drug dealers, while street-level cases are handled by the precincts. About 50 former narcotics officers were sent to precincts citywide, leaving 23 officers in the new unit.

Flanagan, who is now head of the department’s Vice Squad, feels the shakeup was a way to get him out of the drug unit, said his lawyer, Mike Rataj — a claim Craig has disputed.

ghunter@detroitnews.com