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Detroit fire union chief blasts city's top cop for investigation

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit Firefighter's Association president Mike Nevin, right, and his attorney, Mike Rataj, held a press conference Friday in the union offices in downtown Detroit at which they lambasted Police Chief James Craig for initiating an investigation into Nevin.

Detroit — The president of the city's fire department union accused the city's top cop of launching a criminal investigation against him because he embarrassed the police department by pointing out their slow response time to a recent homicide.

Detroit Firefighter's Association president Mike Nevin and his attorney, Mike Rataj, held a press conference Friday in the union offices in downtown Detroit at which they lambasted Police Chief James Craig for initiating an investigation into Nevin.

"They're trying to silence him by threatening him with a criminal prosecution," Rataj said. 

Craig said Nevin was being investigated because he posted dispatch reports on social media that revealed the identities of two witnesses who told investigators about a homicide. Craig said publicly identifying the witnesses put them in danger.

The post, which Nevin said was made on the union's Facebook page, has since been taken down. 

Although Nevin and his attorney declined to specifically address details about the police investigation Friday, Rataj said his client was asked to come to police headquarters to make a statement. He said he refused.

Nevin added it's not unusual for personal information about witnesses to be made public.

"It's not the big deal Chief Craig is making it out to be," Nevin said. "It happens all the time. Today, we should be saluting our firefighters and EMS. Instead, we're dealing with something goofy like this."

Craig responded Friday, saying that Nevin "doesn't know what he's talking about. That's a lie. We don't put the names of victims and witnesses out there, especially in a homicide investigation, because it puts them in danger. If citizens knew we were going to identify them, then nobody would ever talk to us."

Craig added that the criminal investigation "is not retaliation. You can't put people's names out there like that."

The chief declined to say which charges he was pursuing, although he said he's spoken with prosecutors about the case.

The point of contention involves a homicide that occurred Nov. 23 near Warren and Junction on Detroit's west side. Nevin later issued a press release that included dispatch logs showing a woman dialed 911 at 1:32 a.m. to report a man was bleeding from a laceration. A fire engine and ambulance were dispatched to the scene.

Nevin said it took about 40 minutes for police to arrive.

"If I can't get police to come help my people, you're not going to get the police at all," Nevin said.

Nevin said it's not unusual for firefighters and emergency medical technicians to wait for police to arrive on scenes.

"We're getting our asses kicked out there," he said. "Public safety in Detroit is broken. They're lying to you about public safety. I'm not going to play footsie — we need more bodies and resources. This has been going on for years."

Craig said when the allegations were made about the slow response time, he instructed investigators to look into the issue.

"It first came in as an unknown trouble call, which is not a priority call," he said. "Once it was determined there was a shooting, it took us only 6 minutes to respond."

The dispatch log sheets Nevin included in his press release show at 1:54 a.m., it was confirmed there was a shooting. Earlier, it was reported to dispatch that the victim had been stabbed.

At 2:04 a.m., a log sheet entry says: "Per medics ... no scout on scene."

Another log sheet shows police arrived at 2:12 a.m., 40 minutes after the initial 911 call, and 18 minutes after the shooting was confirmed. According to the log, homicide detectives didn't arrive until 4:45 a.m. 

Dispatch audio also provided by Nevin show firefighters repeatedly asking when police were expected to arrive.

During most of Friday's press conference, Nevin talked at length about what he said were woeful staffing numbers for both fire and police. He said the fire department needs between 300 and 400 people to do the job properly.

"We're short a full battalion," he said. 

Craig insisted firefighters were not left at a dangerous crime scene for 40 minutes without police protection.

"We're not going to always get it right, and when we don’t, we take appropriate action," Craig said. "But in this instance, based on what my people told me, this was first dispatched as an unknown trouble call, which is not a Priority One run. Once we were informed this was a shooting, we responded in an appropriate time."

Rataj said his client isn't worried about the police investigation against him.

"If they want to bring it, bring it," he said.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN