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Detroit cop fired as audit finds racial strife at 6th Precinct

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit police chief James Craig addresses the media Tuesday during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters.

Detroit — A second white Detroit cop has been fired for allegedly mocking a black motorist on a video posted on social media, as the city's police chief said the officer and his partner were largely responsible for a racial divide in their precinct.

Among the allegations: That the two senior officers at the 6th Precinct targeted black motorists' vehicles to tow, and that they tried to get more white officers assigned to the afternoon shift. Detroit police Chief James Craig said the racism was referred to as the precinct's "dirty little secret."

Craig announced Tuesday he fired Officer Michael Garrison in connection with a Snapchat video that drew national attention. Last month, Craig fired Cpl. Gary Steele, who allegedly shot and posted the video of a Jan. 29 traffic stop on Detroit's west side.

Steele and Garrison, who worked in the 6th Precinct, are allegedly heard on the video mocking Ariel Moore, the woman they'd pulled over.

The video, first aired by WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), shows Moore walking home as Steele says "priceless" and "bye Felicia" with caption tags that read, "What black girl magic looks like," and "celebrating Black History Month." 

Garrison, an 18-year veteran, is allegedly heard on the video saying "walk of shame." 

After the video surfaced, Craig launched two investigations: An internal probe into the video itself; and an "environmental audit" of the 6th Precinct, to determine whether there was widespread racial animosity among officers.

On Tuesday, Craig said the audit found a racial divide, adding that Steele and Garrison fueled many of the hostilities. The chief said the two cops would often target black citizens to tow their vehicles at the end of their shift so they didn't have to respond to other runs.

"These were referred to as 'ticket and tows,' and they were primarily targeting a certain demographic: African-Americans," Craig said.

"We’re in the process of preparing a final report; that’s not done," Craig said. "The audit revealed ... that the environment in the 6th Precinct is racially divided.

"Some officers felt there were racial insensitivity, and this led to the impression that some members were unfairly treated by supervisors," Craig said. "I want to stress that I'm not talking about all supervisors. But clearly there were issues some of them should have known about."

Craig added the environmental audit revealed that "Steele and Garrison had tremendous influence on younger officers," Craig said. "It seems to be a pattern that some of the officers trained by Garrison and Steele had a higher instance of citizen complaints.

"These officers also held union positions as delegates, and many officers regarded them as leaders on that shift," Craig said.

Craig said Steele and Garrison often used disparaging terms for African Americans, including "jakes," "keishas" and "homeys." The chief said they called vehicles driven by black motorists "ghetto sleds."

"It came up during the review that these racial issues were called the 6th Precinct's 'dirty little secret,'" he said.

Craig said he plans to submit a warrant for criminal charges to Wayne County prosecutors, although he declined to say what charges he'd seek.

The chief said investigators interviewed a female officer who was on probation when she was being trained by Garrison. He said in January 2015, the officer reported that Garrison showed prejudice against a black citizen.

"It was a cold, wintry day, and during roll call, a supervisor suggested officers assist citizens," Craig said. "At some point during the shift, there was a Caucasian male walking, and Officer Garrison said, 'this is a good, taxpaying citizen; let's go assist him,' and they did.

"Later in the shift, they witnessed an African American male who was walking with what appeared to be bags of groceries," Craig said. "Officer Garrison's partner asked 'are we going to assist this gentleman?' and he said, 'no, we're not,' and he (didn't) stop.

"The probationary officer testified she was very disturbed by this, but she never reported it to a supervisor," Craig said. "The only one she told was her mother. As a probationary officer, she feared if she brought this to light, she might be retaliated against."

Craig said one claim — that black officers in the 6th Precinct were denied training opportunities — turned out to be untrue.

Mayor Mike Duggan is "very concerned" about the problems at the precinct, Craig said. "We've had several conversations about this," he said.

Duggan responded to Craig's action Tuesday on Twitter, saying: "I have been speaking regularly with Chief Craig about the very troubling issues being uncovered among some officers within the 6th Precinct. He has taken exactly the right action so far with Officers Steele and Garrison for their abusive treatment of Ariel Moore.

"I fully support his continued investigation into the deeper issues within that precinct," the mayor tweeted. "This type of disrespectful treatment toward our citizens is unacceptable and clearly the Chief is addressing it with the sense of urgency it requires."  

During the press conference, Craig said he was concerned there were no female supervisors at the 6th Precinct, which he said he'll address.

"There will be some changes in the (command staff) at the 6th Precinct," Craig said. "I plan on placing a new captain in the precinct. I'm also looking at some new appointments."

Craig said he expects Assistant Chief James White to submit the final report on the 6th Precinct within a week or so.

Craig said he fired Garrison for several infractions, including conduct unbecoming an officer; failing to report misconduct, and providing false statements during an internal affairs investigation, and neglect of duty.

Garrison was previously fired in April 2014 for improperly using his firearm, although an arbitrator overruled the firing, Craig said.

Ronald Thomas, vice president of the Detroit Police Officers Association union, said: "They’re entitled to their due process, and we’ll refrain from making a statement at this time.”

Community activist Maurice Hardwick, known as 'Pastor Mo,' lauded Craig's action at a press conference Tuesday at police headquarters.

"This is a very sad occasion, but it's also a light in a tunnel where we need to make changes," Hardwick said. "This has the community upset ... I'm excited by the fact that (Craig) has been honest, and I'm proud of our chief because he's not afraid to look at situations where there's trouble. That doesn't happen in every city."
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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN