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Detroit police officials have suspended an 18-year veteran officer and launched a criminal investigation into allegations he assaulted a naked mentally ill woman in Detroit Receiving Hospital after she spat on him and bit a security guard.

The alleged assault Wednesday was captured on cellphone video by a hospital visitor who provided it to a local television news station, along with the officer's body-worn camera, Police Chief James Craig said.

Craig, who called parts of the footage "troubling," said investigators also plan to look at hospital surveillance video.

The incident began at 6:45 p.m. when officers from the 3rd Precinct got a call about a "lewd and lascivious in progress" near Brainard and Third in the city's Cass Corridor, Craig said. 

"When officers got to the location, they were in contact with a lone female who was not clothed," Craig said. "She was passive; she didn't appear to be agitated, but officers knew she was in a mental crisis. They put her in the squad car and took her to Receiving.

"One of the concerns I have is that the officers did not handcuff this mentally ill person," Craig said. "Our training is for (the suspect's) safety, officer safety and community safety, we handcuff."

Craig said the woman did not appear distraught during the short ride to the hospital. After arriving at the hospital, however, he said her demeanor changed.

"The officers had provided draping for her, but once she gets to the hospital she takes off the robe," he said during a press conference Thursday at police headquarters. "That's when things began to change."

Craig said the woman "became agitated. She was threatening; clenched fists; she spit on several hospital employees. One member of the security staff was bitten twice. 

"At some point she tried to bite the officer, who used force," the chief said. "The officer started to strike her."

The 18-year veteran corporal, who is assigned to the 3rd Precinct, has had six prior instances of using force, although none were considered "category one," which is when someone is injured, Craig said.

There weren't complaints about those uses of force, the chief said. All officers are required to report whenever they use force, "even if it's grabbing them by the wrist," Craig said. He said the six incidents fall into that category.

The officer, whose name was withheld by police officials, also had a procedural complaint against him in 2015.

Kenneth Reed, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, called the officer a "danger to our citizenry."

"We applaud Chief Craig's immediate suspension, but this officer, and others like him, must be taken off the streets permanently," Reed said in a written statement. "He has forfeited the privilege of wearing a badge as an officer, with his extreme and brutal response to a person whose mental faculties were obviously compromised. He is a danger to our citizenry. While he may punch today, he is at risk of shooting tomorrow.

"We urge Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to move expeditiously to press charges in this yet another egregious example of police misconduct against citizens," Reed said.

Craig said his investigators will provide prosecutors a copy of the body camera video Thursday. Assistant prosecutor Maria Miller said her office had not yet received a warrant request.

Craig stressed the investigation is still early, and that "the officer has due process rights." But he said a preliminary look at the video revealed some things he called "troubling."

"There were points where the suspect turned her back, but the officer continued to punch," he said. "We had grave concerns about that."

Police interviewed hospital staff, who said the woman was being aggressive, Craig said.

"The staff supported the fact that this female was very agitated, very aggressive, and very threatening," Craig said. "They offered no comment as to the force."

In addition to the body cam video, someone who was in the hospital filmed the incident on a cellphone and sent the video to WJBK-Detroit (Channel 2). The video contains material that may be disturbing.

Craig said after he saw the video, he "immediately" suspended the officer and ordered a criminal investigation.

"We didn't waste any time responding to this criminal allegation — which is what we're calling it: A criminal allegation," Craig said. 

Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said he's reviewed the video and was troubled by it.

"Personally, as a retired police officer and chairman of the board, this incident really concerns me in terms of how it was handled by the officer," Bell said. "The chief is taking the right step in terms of addressing this matter. We just want to get to the bottom of it."

Craig said his department handles about 500 calls per month about someone suffering from mental illness, and an average of 100 calls per month of an armed, mentally ill person.

"We generally deal with these situations well," he said. "I'm not passing judgment on this incident yet. The officer is entitled to due process. But when you see the video, it's very troubling.

"Any time we have to use force it never looks good," Craig said. "The officers’ actions can be proper but to the community it looks bad. But what's troubling for me is we are taught to de-escalate ... there are points in the video where it appeared that did not happen. If someone’s back is to you and you continue to use hard hands, that’s a concern."

Craig said he also wants to know what the officer's partner did during the alleged assault, and why Tasers were not deployed. "These are all questions that are still unanswered," he said.

The suspended officer underwent the department's mental health training, Craig said.

"We have above average training when ti comes to people suffering from mental illness," he said.

Detroit officers are required to attend two annual in-service training sessions: One eight-hour session on "mental health first aid" and four hours of "community police and advocacy."

"In both, they talk extensively about de-escalating violent encounters with persons suffering from mental illness," Craig said. "They also undergo two hours of use-of-force training annually, and part of that is responding to persons with mental illness.

"That doesn't mean at times we don't make mistakes," Craig said.

ghunter@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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