June 30, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Detroit takes Councilman Benson's city vehicle after arrest

Benson (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

Detroit— The city is taking possession of a councilman’s city-issued vehicle pending the outcome of a police investigation after he was found slumped inside the running car late Sunday in Southfield and arrested.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin Hollowell said Monday that he authorized the city to take the 2008 Ford Crown Victoria that had been assigned to District 3 Councilman Scott Benson.

“We will keep the keys until this process is resolved,” Hollowell said, adding Benson paid a $128 fee to the tow yard out of his own pocket Monday afternoon before the car was handed over to the city’s General Services Department.

Earlier Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones released a statement saying Benson may face unidentified misdemeanor charges, but said they “will not speculate” on the facts involving the arrest of the 44-year-old, first-term council member

“Instead we will let the judicial system proceed in its normal course,” their joint statement reads. “In the meantime, we will remain focused on getting the City’s business done.”

As a result of the arrest, Benson was not present at Monday’s Public Health and Safety Standing Committee meeting, which he chairs. The U.S. Coast Guard veteran did not immediately answer a call seeking comment, but said by text message that he planned to issue a statement.

Southfield Deputy Police Chief Nick Loussia confirmed that a 44-year-old Detroit man in a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria had been arrested late Sunday, but declined to identify him based on an ongoing investigation.

Loussia said officers responded around 7:30 p.m. Sunday to reports of a man slumped in his vehicle on the road, at a traffic signal on the southbound Southfield Service Drive north of Eight Mile.

“Officers responded and investigated and, based on that, the individual was placed under arrest,” Loussia said.

A 46th District Court magistrate approved a search warrant for a blood sample, which was conducted at a local hospital, according to Southfield Police. When the blood sample was secured, the suspect was transported to the Southfield Police Department lock-up.

Hollowell confirmed Benson was released around 10:15 a.m. after posting a $500 bond.

Loussia said it could take up to 30 days for the blood work to be returned from the Michigan State Police crime lab. Based on the findings, authorities could forward a warrant request to the Southfield City Attorney’s office for potential charges, he said.

The use of city motor vehicles is decided by Detroit’s General Services Department and applies to elected and appointed officials and employees.

Hollowell said the rules say all employees are responsible for maintaining and operating the vehicles in accordance with state traffic laws. Officials, he added, are permitted to use the vehicles on a 24-hour basis for city business and personal business within 50 miles of the city limits.

The directive, signed by each employee or official given a city-issued car, specifically notes that a violation of provisions may result in the “immediate termination” of the vehicle operator’s privilege.

Among them, operation of a vehicle while under the influence of liquor or controlled substances is prohibited, as is operating the vehicle with an unlawful blood-alcohol level or transporting or possessing an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. It also says a vehicle operator shall not refuse to submit to a preliminary breath or blood test when requested to do so by a peace officer, Hollowell said.

The provisions caution that violation of the rules could constitute misconduct and result in disciplinary action including dismissal or surrender of the assigned motor vehicle.

Hollowell said potential penalties for an elected official would require “careful legal analysis.”

In Benson’s case, he added, the facts are not complete.

“We don’t have a complete and full understanding yet,” Hollowell said. “People are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. So Councilman Benson certainly has the right to the same due process remedies available to any citizen.”

Benson is the second City Council member to face scrutiny for driving-related incidents since the new panel took office in January.

President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. was involved in a controversial traffic stop involving alcohol and marijuana several days after taking office.

Police allegedly found a cup of liquor and a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in Cushingberry’s car during the Jan. 7 stop outside a Detroit bar. He was issued a ticket for failure to signal, but not given a field sobriety test.

Cushingberry was traveling in his own car, not a city-issued vehicle.

The incident sparked two separate internal investigations over a Detroit Police supervisor’s handling of the stop.

Detroit’s inspector general issued a report earlier this month that concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to support claims that Cushingberry was given preferential treatment from police.

City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins chaired Monday’s committee meeting in Benson’s absence and called the incident an “unfortunate distraction.”

“Our job is to be here every day, committed to moving the city forward,” she said. “So, whenever there are more distractions, it makes it more difficult to do.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Darren A. Nichols contributed.