Police board member: Officer pulled gun at traffic stop

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — City investigators are looking into a traffic stop last week in which a Detroit Police Commissioner and minister said he was pulled over downtown by a police officer who drew his pistol.

Bishop Edgar Vann, a member of the Board of Police Commissioners and pastor of Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, said he had just left a board meeting at about 5 p.m. June 15, when a police officer pulled him over outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

“This was right as people were getting off work, so there were pedestrians walking everywhere,” Vann said. “The officer stated I ran the red light.”

Vann said the officer issued a citation for running the light — but he said the traffic ticket wasn’t his main beef.

During Thursday’s board meeting at Public Safety Headquarters, Vann asked Assistant Chief Arnold Williams: “I just want to know: How many things are people required to comply with during a simple traffic stop? I had to roll down all my windows, take the keys out (of the ignition) and put them on the top of the car.

“Then the officer pulled his gun out and placed it against his chest. When I saw the gun, that was an escalation for me. It made me very uncomfortable. I didn’t think for a simple traffic stop a gun should have been pulled. Does the driver have any rights?”

Williams replied: “In police work, there is no such thing as a simple traffic stop.”

Williams went on to explain there could be valid reasons why an officer would draw a weapon when pulling over a motorist.

“When a police officer gets a description of a person or vehicle who was involved in a violent felony, and someone they stop matches that description, the officer will take steps to ensure their safety,” Williams said.

“So regarding pulling a weapon: Is it appropriate? Sometimes. Was it appropriate in this case? I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. But I will look into it.”

The Office of the Chief Investigator, an arm of the police board which handles complaints about officers, also will investigate the traffic stop, Chief Investigator Pamela Davis-Drake said.

“We will look at all the evidence to see what the officer’s rationale was,” Davis-Drake said.

Williams pointed out there’s been a spike in violence against police, which has caused officers to take extra precautions.

“Keep in mind, we’ve had ambushes taking place.”

Commissioner Willie Bell, a former Detroit cop, interjected: “We had just as many officers killed when I was a police officer. But we’ve had serious issues with the Detroit Police Department over the years that need to be addressed.

“We spent 11 years under federal control (a consent decree the city agreed to in order to avoid lawsuits over use of force and poor conditions of confinement),” Bell said. “So this board must deal with these issues.

“We know this is the reality: African-Americans feel like they’re not safe when they encounter the police. Those perceptions are real. They’re out there.”

Commissioner Derrick Sanders added he also was stopped several months ago by officers he felt were overly aggressive, although he didn’t provide details about what the officers had allegedly done.

Sanders said he ran into the same officers at police headquarters prior to Thursday’s board meeting.

“I told them they needed to ramp it down as far as the way they were doing traffic stops,” Sanders said.

Davis-Drake said her office will also investigate that traffic stop.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN