February 19, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Internal probe finds Detroit officer didn't use excessive force on reporter

Detroit — A Detroit Police sergeant will return to his job guarding the City Council after an internal police investigation found he didn’t use excessive force by restraining a television reporter who was attempting to interview Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry last month.

Sgt. Robert Mitchell had been reassigned while Internal Affairs investigated the Jan 28 incident at Bethel AME Church on St. Antoine prior to a City Council community meeting, when a WJBK-TV (Channel 2) camera captured the sergeant grabbing reporter M.L. Elrick as Cushingberry walked by.

After the television station aired footage of the encounter, Detroit Police Chief James Craig launched an internal investigation. On Wednesday, he said police questioned 11 witnesses, two of whom were determined to be independent, who said the sergeant asked Elrick not to block the entrance of the church, but that Elrick didn’t comply.

“Based on our investigation, the use of force was both proper and necessary,” Craig said. “The officer had advised Mr. Elrick prior to the use of force that he couldn’t block the doorway.”

As Cushingberry approached the entrance, “Mr. Elrick and his cameraman approached in an aggressive manner,” Craig said.

The footage shows Mitchell pushing Elrick out of Cushingberry’s way as he entered the church. Elrick told police Mitchell hadn’t told him to stay out of the doorway, Craig said. The chief added the reporter’s version didn’t jibe with what other witnesses said.

One of the witnesses who was determined to be independent was a City Council employee, although not with Cushingberry’s office, Craig said.

Cushingberry was escorted by a police officer into the church because he was running late, Craig said. “I’m told that’s customary,” he said. “There was no special treatment.”

Mitchell will return to his City Council post Monday, and Craig said he considers the matter to be closed.

ghunter@detroitnews.com
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