Detroit police officials investigate allegations of second racist video by officer

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

A white Detroit police officer who was suspended Monday for posting a racially-charged Snapchat video allegedly made a similar video in 2017 in which he mocked a black family as they carried their Christmas presents home after their vehicle was impounded, police officials said.

Gary Steele and Michael Garrison were suspended with pay Monday after Steele allegedly posted a video on Snapchat last week showing the events of a Jan. 29 traffic stop on Detroit's west side. Steele and his partner Garrison, who work in the Sixth Precinct, are allegedly heard on the video mocking the woman they'd pulled over.

The officers stopped motorist Ariel Moore near Joy Road and Stout and cited her for having an expired registration, police officials aid. Her vehicle was ordered impounded.

After Moore declined the officers' offer to drive her to her nearby home, Steele videoed her as she walked away, saying "priceless" and "bye Felicia," according to the video, first aired by WXYZ (Channel 7).

Garrison is heard on the video saying "walk of shame," Detroit police chief James Craig said. When Steele later posted the video to Snapchat, he added the captions, "What black girl magic looks like," and "celebrating Black History Month," Craig said. 

Craig initially reassigned Steele after hearing about the video and launching an internal investigation. On Monday, the chief suspended both officers with pay, as required by the union contract.

The City Charter mandates the police chief must get permission from the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners to suspend an officer without pay. It was unclear whether Craig would ask the board to approve unpaid suspensions for the two cops.

During the internal affairs investigation into last week's video, Craig said allegations surfaced about another racially-insensitive video Steele allegedly posted to Snapchat during the holidays in 2017. 

Craig said after the story about last week's video surfaced, a former Detroit police officer posted on social media about the alleged 2017 video.

"On the heels of the incident last week, an officer posted in a private Facebook group 'if you think this was bad, the Christmas incident was even worse than that,'" the chief said. "We tracked down the officer, and found he is now working for another law enforcement agency.

"When we reached out to him, he indicated that (Steele) had impounded a car during Christmas two years ago," Craig said. "The kids had gifts, and while the kids were walking home carrying their gifts, (Steele) supposedly made another Snapchat video saying 'walk of shame' and other racially-insensitive remarks."

Craig said investigators are trying to verify the claim. He said he also plans to call Steele in so internal affairs investigators can interview him about the allegation.

During a press conference Monday, Craig said police also are conducting an "environmental audit" after police officers made allegations of “cultural issues” at the Sixth Precinct, where Steele and his partner were assigned.

“While our focus is on these officers, we certainly want to root out any such behavior,” Craig said during the press conference at Public Safety Headquarters.

The department paid for Moore to remove her vehicle from the tow yard, and Craig said he reached out to the woman's family to discuss the incident.

Steele was charged in 2008 with beating his ex-girlfriend and firing a pistol near her head in Canton Township. He was charged with several crimes, including torture and felonious assault, but pleaded guilty to reckless discharge of a firearm, a misdemeanor, and served a year of probation.

Garrison also has had a checkered career. In 2015, he was suspended for 60 days for shooting deer in Rouge Park while on duty. He was also among a group of officers who were sued in 2006 and accused of wrongfully stopping and harassing a 15-year-old boy. The city settled the case.

In recent years, there have been several instances of Detroit police officers posting inappropriate social media messages. In 2011, the department issued a directive ordering officers to refrain from posting possibly embarrassing or inflammatory things on social media.

"When using social media, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc. department members shall be mindful that their ... postings become part of the worldwide electronic domain," a  March 4, 2011, department-wide teletype read.

Since then, a number of officers have gotten in trouble for social media posts. Most recently, rookie officer Sean Bostwick was fired in September after posting a Snapchat photo of himself in uniform with the caption "another night to Rangle (sic) up these zoo animals."

Craig said he was able to fire Bostwick because he hadn't finished his probationary period.

"There's just no room in this department for that kind of behavior," the chief said Tuesday.
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