Detroit police officials are reviewing a video that shows an officer striking a shoplifting suspect with a baton during a tussle outside a Detroit store to determine if the use of force was justified.
Police Chief James Craig said he has reviewed both a shaky 4:52 video that was uploaded to YouTube and more comprehensive surveillance footage from the Meijer store on Eight Mile, where the incident occurred about 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
“Preliminarily, it appears the officer’s use of force was proper,” Craig said during a news conference Monday at police headquarters. “But we’re not finished with our investigation yet.”
The 23-year-old suspect was arrested and police are seeking charges of disorderly conduct, and resisting and obstructing. If charged and convicted, he could face up to two years in prison.
Craig said the trouble began when a security guard told the officer, a 39-year veteran who was moonlighting at the store as part of the Police Department’s Secondary Employment program, that the man had shoplifted some items.
“It turned out not to be the case,” Craig said, adding the man’s friend produced receipts for the merchandise he’d been accused of stealing.
The YouTube video begins with a struggle already underway near the store’s exit between the 65-year-old officer, who is assigned to the 11th Precinct, and the suspect.
The struggle takes both men through the automatic door and into the parking lot. Although it’s not clear in the YouTube video, Craig said store surveillance video shows the man pulled the officer into the parking lot.
The cameraman in the YouTube video walks outside the store, where the officer is seen pinning the man to the ground. The man eventually rises to his feet, and the officer follows him further away from the store.
The two men parry for a few minutes in the parking lot, with the officer apparently trying to compel the man to surrender.
“You’re under arrest,” the officer tells the man, who replies, “You have no legal right to arrest me.”
The man pulls the officer down, knocking him off balance, and the officer swings his baton, striking the man in the face.
“Why you hit him?” a bystander asks, and the officer replies, “He’s under arrest.” Another bystander yells, “Not like that.”
A crowd gathers around the officer and suspect, who keeps yelling “no!” or “go!”
The officer eventually leads the man back into the store, apparently by the collar, and the video winds down.
“Any time a police officer uses force, particularly with a side-handle baton, that always looks bad,” Craig said. “It never looks good, although it’s part of our our force continuum.
“This quickly escalated from active resistance to active aggression.”
The struggle drew criticism of the officer’s actions by a community group.
"Hitting people in the head is what led to the death of Malice Green. The officer could've made the arrest without striking him in the head. That's why federal oversight of the DPD should still be in place," said Kenneth Reed of the Coalition Against Police Brutality.
Craig said the suspect has no arrest record, and the officer has been disciplined in the past, including one incident in which he was censured for using force, although he declined to provide further details about the infraction. Craig added it’s not unusual for a cop to have been disciplined after so many years on the job.
“There are some concerns I have with this incident,” Craig said. “I hate to Monday-morning quarterback ... but I would have preferred early on, when this officer saw it was beginning to escalate, that he notify dispatch and requested assistance.”
Craig also said he wanted to find out why store security guards left the scene once tempers began to escalate.
“I understand the frustration if you’re stopped by a police officer and you’ve done nothing wrong,” Craig said. “But my wisest counsel is to just cooperate. There’s a process of making complaints later on. The officer had a right to investigate, based on the information he had at the time.”
Craig said the incident would likely have justified the use of a Taser if the officer had been equipped with one. Tasers have already been approved for use by Detroit police and officials are choosing a vendor, Craig said.
Craig said while the video showing the officer hitting the suspect in the face with his baton is graphic, the officer’s use of force likely was proper — and, he said, the officer accomplished his goal.
“What was telling was when he deployed the single strike to hit the suspect in the face, the suspect’s resistance stopped, and the officer de-escalated the situation, and there was no force after that,” Craig said.