Union files grievance over chief's treatment of alleged drug-dealing cop

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit Police Chief James Craig

Detroit — The union that represents Detroit cops has filed a grievance over how the police department is handling the case of an officer who was arrested Sunday for allegedly being a drug dealer.

The grievance, filed Thursday by the Detroit Police Officers Association, claims police Chief James Craig violated the collective bargaining agreement by firing the 29-year-old officer without a probationary evaluation board hearing. Craig insists he doesn't need to conduct the hearings to fire probationary officers.

The union’s grievance also takes issue with how the officer, who had worked at the 5th Precinct for nine months, was brought into Public Safety Headquarters on Tuesday for a "chief's confirmation hearing" shackled in handcuffs and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

During the hearing, Craig fired the officer, who would have been off probation in June on the one-year anniversary of her graduation from the police academy.

"The way she was treated — to be marched into headquarters ... in handcuffs and an orange prison jumpsuit — was uncalled for," DPOA vice president Ronald Thomas said. "These are still allegations; we don't want to have a precedent set where any officer who is accused of a crime is treated that way."

Police received a tip early Sunday that the officer was a drug dealer, Craig said. They executed a search warrant hours later and found "a small amount" of heroin and "several packets of cocaine," Craig said.

The officer was arrested, along with a male companion, a felon in possession of a stolen gun, Craig said. The officer is expected to be charged with drug-dealing and making threats, the chief said.

Craig said he supports the officer being brought to headquarters in jail garb and handcuffs. "If that doesn't send a strong message, what will? She crossed the line," he said. 

But the chief added the decision was out of his hands, since the officer is in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections.

"The MDOC wasn't going to dress her in a business suit to come to a hearing," he said. "I called the union (Monday) and gave them the choice to conduct the hearing over the phone or in absentia. They opted to have her come in."

Thomas said Craig overstepped his boundaries. 

"Given the allegations, she probably isn't going to get her job back," Thomas said. "But the association feels there are some things that were bypassed. (Craig) refers to the chief's confirmation hearing, but that's outside the agreement.

"The chief misspoke when he said he can fire probationary employees without a hearing. Probationary employees do have rights; they're supposed to go before a probationary evaluation board.

"The department has to notify the officer and the union seven days in advance before they assemble this board," Thomas said. "The board makes a recommendation to the chief, who either accepts or denies the recommendation."

Last year, Craig immediately fired probationary officer Sean Bostwick over a racially insensitive Snapchat post. Thomas said: "That's one that slipped through the cracks, but (Craig) shouldn't have fired him either without a probationary evaluation board hearing."

Craig replied: "I don't agree with that. There's nothing in the agreement that says I can't fire a probationary officer. I don't have to hold a PEB hearing.

"I look at each case individually, and this one was serious enough to require immediate action," Craig said. "We can't have a police officer on the force who's dealing drugs."

Craig and Thomas said they expect the issue to be resolved.

"I have a good working relationship with the union; I just feel strongly that I have the authority to terminate probationary employees," Craig said.

Thomas added: "This (grievance) is something that could lead up to arbitration, although I suspect we'll work this out before it gets to that. I explained to the chief: It's not necessarily about this one case; it's about protecting the collective bargaining agreement."

Craig discussed the officer's arrest Friday in his address to the 19 officers in Police Academy Class 2019-B during a graduation ceremony at Second Ebenezer Church on Detroit's east side.

"In June of 2018 (at an earlier graduation), the code of ethics was read,” Craig said. “And one among you decided to continue in a life of crime, believing it would go undetected.

"Now that you're transitioning from student police officer to probationary police officer the vetting continues. If you commit a crime, I promise you: I will fire you," the chief said, prompting applause from the crowd of about 200 people.

"I know this behavior is not representative of the entire police agency," Craig told the new officers. "But the few who decide to make those bad decisions, there’s a price you will pay.”

(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN