Fallout continues from Detroit police precinct racial scandal

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit Police Chief James Craig, left, with  assistant chief James White.

Detroit — A white police captain has retired, and another was demoted and removed from the city's 6th Precinct amid an ongoing audit that has revealed racism by a clique of cops and apathy among some supervisors, Detroit police chief James Craig said.

In addition, two 6th Precinct officers with a high number of citizen complaints against them will be ordered to undergo more training, while investigators are trying to figure out what to do about a sergeant who contributed to the precinct's racial problems, the chief said.

The moves are part of the fallout from an "environmental audit" of the precinct's racial culture that's running parallel to an internal affairs investigation into two white former officers who were reportedly captured on a Snapchat video taunting a black motorist whose vehicle had been towed.

The investigations are nearly finished, Craig said.

Former officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison, both of whom worked for years at the northwest Detroit precinct, were fired for their alleged roles in the video, which showed a Jan. 29 traffic stop. 

Steele and his partner Garrison allegedly are heard on the video mocking Ariel Moore, the woman they'd pulled over near Joy Road and Stout. Moore's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, told The Detroit News he plans on suing the city.

The video, first aired by WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), shows Moore walking home as Steele allegedly 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." 

Craig said he fired the two cops for various infractions, including conduct unbecoming an officer and lying to investigators during the internal affairs probe of the video.

Craig said he expects the Detroit Police Officers Association to appeal the officers' firings. Union president Craig Miller didn't comment on the terminations, but said: "We still haven't seen anything about (the alleged racial problems) at the precinct. We're waiting on (the results of the audit)."

The audit found Steele and Garrison were the ringleaders of a small racist faction on the afternoon shift, who often referred to African Americans as "Keishas" and "Jakes," Craig said. 

"After talking to the officers in that precinct, there's no way some supervisors couldn't have known what was going on," Craig said.

Craig said he demoted a former 6th Precinct captain to lieutenant and reassigned him to another command, while the other former captain retired rather than accept the reduction in rank.

Assistant chief James White, who is in charge of the environmental audit, added there's a white sergeant at the precinct who is also a concern.

"He didn't see any problem with any of the behavior by Steele and Garrison," White said. "We feel his attitude helped fuel that behavior."

Craig said he's not decided what action will be taken against the sergeant. "We're in the second phase of the internal investigation, which could result in discipline or reassignment," he said.

Craig declined to name the officers involved because the investigation is ongoing. 

Mark Young, president of the Lieutenants and Sergeants Association union, said: "No organization is perfect, but the majority of our members are real-life heroes who put their lives on the line for all citizens."

Officers told the audit investigators that Cmdr. Arnold Williams, who has been in charge of the 6th Precinct for about six months, "was a breath of fresh air, and part of the solution," Craig said.

"The officers also praised the commander Arnold replaced," Craig said. "The bulk of the issues seem to have been with some of the supervisors who turned a blind eye to what was happening."

At a press conference earlier this month, Craig said officers who were trained by Steele and Garrison as a group had more complaints against them than other officers. White said after looking further into the grievances, he's narrowed the focus to two officers.

"As a whole, the group that was trained by Steele and Garrison had more complaints, but two officers in particular were outliers," White said. "For those two, we're going to do some intervention and give them more customer service training."

University of Detroit-Mercy law professor Larry Dubin said it's unlikely the allegations of racism against Steele and Garrison would open the door for overturning convictions in cases involving the fired cops.

"If there was a factual basis for probable cause for these officers to arrest someone, and it held up through the criminal justice system, I don't see how you could go back after the fact and prove that racial bias had anything to do with the arrest," Dubin said.

Critics say Craig should have addressed the police department's racial problems when a report surfaced two years ago alleging white supervisors were discriminating against black cops.

Craig set up the Committee On Race and Equality in 2016 after hearing reports about racial strife among officers. About a year after CORE was formed, former Detroit officer John Bennett, who co-chaired the group, discussed on his Facebook page a preliminary report that alleged the department had "a growing racial problem."

The January 2017 report, which was later released to the media, alleged white supervisors were denying training opportunities to black officers. The report also claimed there was bias in the racial makeup of specialized units.

“It was determined that the problems within the department were ... top-down entrenched discriminatory practices," the report said. "Simply put, the racism that exist(s) in the department trickles down from command officers to the rank and file."

Kenneth Reed, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said the CORE report "has come back to bite Craig in the proverbial behind."

Kenneth Reed, spokesman of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, says a “Peace Zone” in the area where Wayne State University Officer Colin Rose was fatally shot last year, will seek to reduce crime through programs on conflict resolution and peer mediation.

"He should have taken the report seriously, and maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation right now," Reed said. "But he dismissed the report as rumor and innuendo."

The report claimed a Hispanic officer at the 6th Precinct made an allegation of racism against a white captain who had since moved to another command. The report did not provide details of the alleged discrimination.

Craig said the problems currently being investigated at the 6th Precinct are separate from the allegations made in the CORE report, which he said were determined to be untrue.

"We looked into it very surgically and there was no merit to the claims," Craig said. "There was an African-American officer who asked for more training, which was ultimately given to a white officer — but we determined the African-American officer didn't have the requisite experience to go to that training, and the white officer did.

"You can't call someone a racist because of that," Craig said. "Bennett based that report on the perceptions of a few officers, not a proper investigation. We did conduct an investigation. I've heard from white officers who have said they feel like black supervisors were discriminating against them, but that wasn't reflected in the CORE report."

Bennett did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Reed said Craig should widen the scope of the environmental audit.

"What Craig is doing in the 6th Precinct is a good first step, but I think all precincts and specialized units need to be audited," Reed said. "This is a widespread problem."

Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, agreed a department-wide probe into racial issues should be conducted.

"I'm pleased the chief is doing an in-depth study of the 6th Precinct, but I think a review of the entire department is required," Bell said. "I think it would send the right message that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated."

Craig said a sweeping investigation isn't warranted.

"I’m not saying there aren’t individuals within the department who privately harbor racist feelings, but you get that in any organization," he said. "There's no evidence whatsoever that racism is widespread at DPD. I reject that. We're talking about a problem on one shift."

Craig said he addressed the 6th Precinct officers at a roll call last week.

"I felt it was important that I talk to them, especially the white officers, since I told the media there was a racial problem in their precinct," he said. "I told them, 'I know you're feeling the weight, and I know because you're white and you work at the 6th Precinct, some people might accuse you of being a racist.'

"I promised them I would continue to stress that this environmental audit doesn't reflect the vast majority of officers at the precinct or the department," Craig said. "It's been a problem among a small group, and we're in the process of taking care of it."

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