Detroit police seek misdemeanor drunken driving charge against commander

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit Police Cmdr. Johnny Thomas in 2016

Detroit police chief James Craig said Monday he was "disappointed" with a commander who was considered a rising star in the police department before his arrest Saturday for suspected drunken driving.

Craig said his officers have submitted a warrant request for misdemeanor drunken driving to Wayne County prosecutors after Cmdr. Johnny Thomas, commander of the Third Precinct, was arrested early Saturday morning by officers from his own precinct.

Prosecutors said Monday they're reviewing the warrant request.

Thomas allegedly slammed his city-owned vehicle into a car that was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Mack Avenue and St. Antoine on Detroit's east side about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Three vehicles were involved in the crash, police said.

The civilian driver whose vehicle was hit while he sat at the stoplight was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital, where he was treated and released hours later, police said.

Thomas, who formerly ran the department's Professional Standards, or internal affairs section, reportedly had a blood-alcohol content of .18 at the scene — more than twice the legal limit, and considered "super drunk" in Michigan.

Craig said Monday that when Thomas was tested a second time after his arrest, he had a blood-alcohol content "within a point" of the preliminary blood test taken at the scene, "which would still fall under the 'super drunk' category." Preliminary blood tests are not admissible in court.

"It's troubling when any member of this department breaks the law, but I say this is not reflective of most of the officers in this department," Craig said. "The officers (who arrested Thomas) did the right thing, immediately calling a supervisor. It takes a lot of courage ... to arrest the commander of your own precinct."

Assistant Wayne County prosecutor Maria Miller said in a press release that the office on Monday received a "a not in custody warrant request relating to ... allegations of Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated."

"It is currently being reviewed," Miller said, adding no charges would be issued Monday.

Michigan law allows for the first and second drunken driving offenses to be charged as misdemeanors, although subsequent offenses are required to be charged as felonies. Thomas has no prior convictions, police officials said. 

A super drunk offense, which occurs when a person has a  blood-alcohol content of .17 or more, is a misdemeanor in Michigan.

Craig said Thomas has been placed on restricted duty while he weighs what punishment to mete out.

Per the City Charter, anyone holding the rank of captain and above is an appointee, and may be disciplined by the chief without approval of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.

"When you're at the rank of commander, you're held to a higher standard," Craig said. "In the next day or so, we'll make some decisions ... he could be terminated, demoted, he could opt for retirement ... the investigation is still very early."
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