Cop involved in Meijer scuffle put on desk duty
Detroit’s top cop said Monday the police officer whose struggle with a 23-year-old department store customer was captured on videotape did not de-escalate the situation and has been placed on administrative duty. John T. Greilick, The Detroit News
Detroit’s top cop said Monday the police officer whose struggle with a 23-year-old department store customer was captured on videotape did not de-escalate the situation and has been placed on administrative duty.
Police Chief James Craig also said after poring through video of the Oct. 8 incident, he is withdrawing a warrant request seeking charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Wayne County prosecutors also are reviewing the case to see if excessive force was used, Craig said during a press conference at police headquarters.
“We have not received a warrant for the off-duty officer at this time,” assistant county prosecutor Maria Miller said Monday. “The warrant for the civilian was returned back to us.”
Craig said the officer, who was working at the Meijer store on Eight Mile as part of the department’s Secondary Employment program, violated the agreement with the store by initiating an arrest.
“After poring through the video footage several times, and interviewing three of the security officers working at Meijer ... clearly there was no de-escalation on the part of the officer,” Craig said, adding that officers are trained to calm situations down before resorting to force.
“There’s no indication that the initial contact with the officer that the subject was hostile,” Craig said. “He had his hands by his side. He may have been using profanity but that in itself is not reason to use force.”
Also Monday, attorney Geoffrey Fieger filed a lawsuit against Meijer seeking more than $25 million in damages against the store.
“We’ve filed a seven-count complaint, including punitive damages against Meijer, which is responsible for the actions of its security guards, which in this case was a Detroit police officer moonlighting,” Fieger said Monday. “This was an unprovoked and unjustified attack.”
Fieger said the customer’s teeth were knocked out by the officer’s baton. “To be severely beaten like that is incomprehensible,” he said.
“He’d come to the store with his wife; they’d just had a baby two weeks earlier, who was still in intensive care because of medical problems,” Fieger said. “Now, they had to deal with this on top of that.
“We’re calling for the powers that be to file criminal charges against this officer,” Fieger said.
A shaky 4:52 video of the incident uploaded to YouTube hours after it happened also shows the officer hit the man in the face with his baton, which Craig said “is out of bounds.”
“One part of the video where the baton did strike the subject in the face ... was at the same time as the suspect was making a move to take the officer down to the ground;,” Craig said. “Looking at that, it didn’t appear that it was intentional; it appeared (the officer) was trying to get the subject off of him.”
The officer has been permanently banned for working Secondary Employment shifts at Meijer, and until the investigation is concluded cannot work any extra shifts, Craig said.
Craig said he originally told the media the use of force appeared justified, although he amended his statement Monday after further review. Craig stressed he was merely giving an update, and that the investigation is ongoing.
Craig said the officer initially became suspicious because the customer had “several bags in his possession.”
The chief added the officer, a 39-year veteran of the police force, approached the customer and initiated an investigation, which is a violation of the agreement with Meijer.
“Our role in secondary employment is one of visibility and support,” Craig said. “There are instances where we can make arrests, such as a felony. But in the case of Meijer ... our agreement is that we would not initiate contact.
“In this case, what should have happened is, the officer should have waited for security to say ‘we think this person engaged in retail fraud,’ and then detain him,” Craig said. “This did not happen.”
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 struggle 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.
Immediately after the incident, the officer’s actions was criticized 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.