Detroit — A Detroit police officer indicted in a towing scandal this month has a checkered past, including a $2.5 million jury verdict after he was accused of beating a motorist during a traffic stop.
Federal court records help characterize the tenure of Officer Deonne Dotson, 45, who was arraigned Tuesday on six counts of extortion, 20-year felonies that include $250,000 fines. He was among six officers charged in cases unsealed Dec. 13 in federal court.
Dotson, who was freed on $10,000 unsecured bond, was indicted in the towing scandal 10 years after he and another officer were sued by a Detroit man in federal court. The man, Larry Darnell Jones, accused Dotson and Officer Nzinga Moore of assaulting him during a traffic stop in June 2007.
The lawsuit alleged Jones was falsely arrested and beaten “for no valid reason” and accused the officers of using excessive force. His injuries required him to have his jaw wired shut, attorneys said.
The case went to trial in 2009 and a jury awarded Jones more than $2.5 million — an amount that was later reduced to about $1 million following settlement negotiations.
The city paid the settlement.
Dotson’s indictment “does not surprise me,” Jones’ lawyer, Paul Broschay, said Tuesday.
“I can tell you that he was less than forthright during the trial and attempted to hide the facts of what really happened,” Broschay said. “He cost the city a great deal of money and possibly more than I would have expected under such circumstances.”
Dotson’s lawyer declined to comment Tuesday.
It was unclear Tuesday if Dotson faced any discipline after the 2007 incident.
“If the department decided after the lawsuit and (settlement) numbers like that not to terminate the officer, it comes back to were his actions in line with department policies and procedures?” Detroit Police Officers Association President Mark Diaz said. “When officers are accused of using excessive force, you have to consider what was going through the officer’s mind at the time they used the force. Did he believe he was in fear of his life?”
Diaz was not familiar with the 2007 incident but called Dotson a “really good guy,” Diaz said.
“A God-fearing guy. Very religious,” Diaz said. “I’m really shocked he was charged with a crime.”
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he was not familiar with the 2007 incident, which happened before he was hired as chief. But he said he’s working to change the culture within the department.
“Often when a lawsuit was filed, the department wouldn’t be immediately notified,” he said. “The department might not know until they were served with a request to indemnify the officer. That’s a different culture than what I came from: in L.A., if there was a lawsuit, the department would be quickly notified and we’d initiate an internal investigation. That’s what I’m doing now: I’ve instructed my legal adviser in internal affairs to initiate an investigation as soon as there is a lawsuit.”
In the towing scandal, Dotson and five other officers are accused of receiving bribes from owners of automobile collision shops in the latest corruption scandal to hit the department in recent months. The indicted officers were among six Detroit cops suspended in fall 2016 amid a months-long federal and Detroit Police investigation.
Last year, a police source told The News the scheme started with officers whose job is to hunt for stolen and abandoned vehicles.
After they found one, according to the source:
Officers are supposed to alert dispatch, which assigns one of 23 authorized tow companies to pick it up, depending on where the vehicle was found and which of multiple firms were next on the rotation list.
But they didn’t alert dispatch; instead, they were calling one tow company to pick up the vehicles. The tow company usually paid the officers between $50 and $100 for each car towed.
Officers would look for vehicles with minimal damage, such as ignition switch damage or missing tires. The tow company would then tell the vehicle’s owner it had found their stolen vehicle, which had unspecified damage, and that it worked with a collision shop that would waive the deductible for repairing it.
If the owner agreed to have the work done at that collision shop, employees then would strip vehicles of their motors, transmissions and other major parts without the owners’ knowledge. When a claims adjuster for the owner’s insurance company saw the stripped vehicle, thousands of dollars in damages would be assessed.
The collision shop owner would collect the money, put the parts back on the vehicle and do the minor repairs for the original damage before telling the owner to pick up the vehicle. The owners were never aware of the scheme.
Two collision shops in Wayne County are being investigated.
Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.