Chief: Probe of cop's Snapchat video to finish next week

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit police chief James Craig discusses the investigation into a cop's allegedly racist Snapchat video

An investigation into a Detroit cop's racially-charged Snapchat post is expected to be wrapped up a few days later than originally planned, as detectives look into new issues that surfaced during the probe, police chief James Craig said Monday.

About a dozen members of National Action Network's Detroit chapter picketed outside Monday outside Public Safety Headquarters to protest how the investigation into the incident is being handled.

Craig said during a press briefing at headquarters Monday that he understands the community's frustration, but he said he wants to conduct the investigation by the book.

Officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison were suspended with pay Feb. 4 after Steele allegedly posted a video on Snapchat showing the events of a Jan. 29 traffic stop on Detroit's west side. Steele and his partner Garrison, who work in the 6th Precinct, are allegedly heard on the video mocking a woman they'd pulled over.

Steele pulled over motorist Ariel Moore near Joy Road and Stout Street on the city's west side for an expired license registration and impounded her vehicle. 

Video posted to Steele's Snapchat obtained by WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) shows Moore walking home as he says "priceless" and "bye Felicia" with caption tags that read, "What black girl magic looks like," and "celebrating Black History Month." 

Garrison is allegedly heard on the video saying "walk of shame." 

Moore's attorney Geoffrey Fieger told The Detroit News he plans to file a lawsuit against the city.

After the video surfaced, Craig launched two parallel investigations: An internal affairs probe into the circumstances surrounding the video, and an "environmental audit" of the 6th Precinct, to look at the workplace culture there.

Craig told the Board of Police Commissioners at the Feb. 7 meeting that the environmental audit's preliminary findings uncovered racial issues on Steele and Garrison's afternoon shift at the 6th Precinct.

During Monday's press briefing, Craig said his original deadline to have the internal affairs probe wrapped up by this Thursday would be pushed back while detectives look into new information that surfaced. He said he expects to conclude the probe by Feb. 26 at the latest.

Craig said a 110-page investigative report was submitted to him Friday, containing interviews with more than 50 officers, but added more work needs to be done.

"The slight delay is cause because of some other issues that have emerged in this investigation," Craig said, adding he wasn't at liberty to disclose what the new issues were.

"As you can imagine, when you interview more than 50 people, other issues emerge, and sometimes that takes us in a different direction," Craig said. "We want to close every hole."

Sam Riddle, political director for the National Action Network's Michigan chapter, said Steele should be suspended without pay.

"We understand there's a process, but at the same time, (Steele) needs to understand that his behavior was unacceptable," Riddle said. "This guy is on paid vacation. What kind of message does that send in America's blackest and poorest city?"

Under union rules, Detroit's chief must suspend tenured officers with pay, and then ask the Board of Police Commissioners to withhold pay during the suspension. The board would have to approve the request with a majority vote.

Craig said Monday he didn't want to go that route because he wants the investigation wrapped up as quickly as possible.

"If I’m going to have a quick turnaround to this investigation, why go through the board?" Craig said. "(Steele) hasn't been charged with a crime, and if I were to go to the board, that would put them in a tricky place."

Craig pointed out that the board in the past has denied his requests to withhold pay from officers who were charged with felonies. Recent examples of such denials include Cpl. Dewayne Jones, who was charged with assaulting a woman in Detroit Receiving Hospital, and Lt. Timothy Leach and Officer Frederick Person, who were charged with assaulting a customer in a Corktown bar.

"So it's not a given that the board will suspend (Steele and Garrison) without pay anyway," Craig said. "I'm trying to expedite this investigation as quickly as possible, so I'd rather not go through the board right now."

Craig pointed out that he fired fired rookie officer Sean Bostwick less than 24 hours after learning the rookie officer had posted a Snapchat photo of himself in uniform with the caption "another night to Rangel (sic) up these zoo animals."

"I was able to move quickly on that case because the officer was still a probationary officer," Craig said Monday. "With a tenured employee, I've got to follow the procedure."

Riddle said: "In my heart, I believe if the chief had his way, he'd fire (Steele) immediately. And I understand they have to go through due process. But we want the chief and the mayor to understand that the National Action Network feels they could move in a more expeditious manner to let the community know that this behavior will not be tolerated."

Craig insisted he's moving as quickly as possible.

"I understand the anger; we all understand the anger," the chief said. "And we certainly support free speech and (protesters') interest in this investigation. I would just ask them to be patient. Let us do our work. If we do it the right way, it'll be a better outcome."
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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN