M.L. Elrick. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Detroit — The Detroit Police Department has launched a formal investigation into an incident involving two police officers who scuffled with a television news reporter, Detroit Police Chief James Craig announced Wednesday.
Craig said Internal Affairs investigators are probing the incident involving a sergeant, an officer, and WJBK-TV (Channel 2) news reporter M.L. Elrick, who jostled with the officers as he attempted to question City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. during a community meeting at a church.
“Preliminarily, it doesn’t appear excessive force was used,” Craig said at a press conference Wednesday.
But Craig said the incident warranted further investigation, including reviewing the entire footage recorded by the camera from the Fox affiliate, not just the portion shown on television.
“I want to know what took place prior to the contact with the reporter,” he said.
Craig said a sergeant involved in the incident has been removed from the City Council’s executive protection unit pending the results of the investigation but is continuing his other police duties. The officer involved will continue his duties on the unit, Craig said.
The confrontation occurred Tuesday night at a council community meeting held at Bethel AME Church on St. Antoine. The video shows two officers grab and shove Elrick as he tried to push a microphone toward Cushingberry as the councilman arrived at the meeting. Cushingberry walked past without a glance at Elrick and the officers as they engaged in a minor scrum.
Elrick followed a police sergeant down the hall demanding his name and wanting to know why he was grabbed by the officers who were there to provide security at the meeting.
According to Elrick, police didn’t interfere when Council President Brenda Jones arrived, nor with council members Andre Spivey, Scott Benson, nor Detroit Deputy Mayor Ike McKinnon. But Craig insisted Wednesday Cushingberry isn’t being given preferential treatment by his officers.
“He’s a target for (media) wanting to interview him,” Craig said.
Cushingberry has been under intense media scrutiny since he joined the City Council, including a traffic stop after Cushingberry and a friend had left a strip club at about 2:45 a.m. Jan. 7. Police said Cushingberry — a former state legislator and Wayne County Commissioner — had failed to signal.
Police reported they had to chase Cushingberry to get him to pull over, and when stopped they found marijuana and an open bottle of vodka in the vehicle. Cushingberry said the marijuana was medical in nature and belonged to his passenger. He said the alcohol was a stray bottle left over from a party two weeks earlier.
A police supervisor called to the scene ordered that Cushingberry be released after he was given a minor traffic ticket. Results of an internal investigation stated a number of findings including: that Cushingberry was uncooperative during the stop; that a burned marijuana “blunt” cigarette was found in the car. with four more found on his passenger; that the car smelled of marijuana and that Cushingberry attempted to flee the scene.
The supervisor is facing discipline for releasing Cushingberry, Craig said.
Cushingberry later said the stop was racial profiling motivated and apologized to his fellow members of the City Council for “driving while black.”
Meanwhile, on Jan. 21, it was reported that Cushingberry was being sued by a woman who said he mismanaged her late husband’s estate. This week, it was reported that Cushingberry will lose his law license for 45 days beginning Feb. 18 after pleading no contest to professional misconduct claims.