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IG report sparks squabble at Detroit police board meeting

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city's police chief said Thursday he was "extremely troubled" by allegations that the secretary of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners improperly hired employees and then lied about it to investigators.

Chief James Craig expressed his concern at the weekly Board of Police Commissioners meeting at Public Safety Headquarters, following last week's scathing report by Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha, who wrote that board secretary Gregory Hicks manipulated job qualifications to ensure his hand-picked applicants were hired, and then lied about it during her probe.

"Both as the chief of police and a resident of the city of Detroit, I am deeply troubled regarding the allegations that were made ... about untruthfulness by the board secretary and others," Craig said during the sometimes-testy meeting.

Detroit police chief James Craig urged the board to take "decisive" action in response to the city inspector general's report.

"I strongly urge the board to take prompt, decisive action to address these issues, with the same level of accountability you expect from our officers," Craig said. 

The chief's remarks prompted outrage from two commissioners and the board secretary, while one commissioner and a city councilman in attendance said they shared Craig's concerns.

Hicks insisted during Thursday's meeting the allegations are not true. He said Ha's report was "extremely narrow, and flawed in several respects," adding: "I think overall there's an effort underway to reduce the impact of oversight, and this is part of that."

In her report, Ha said Hicks changed the job qualifications for the position of executive manager to ensure the board's longtime administrative assistant, Robert Brown, would get the job.

The promotion bumped Brown's annual salary from $55,261 to $80,500. Ha also accused Hicks of dropping a degree requirement to allow Brown to be hired for the position. Ha wrote that after she began her probe, Brown was demoted and most of his raise was rescinded.

Ellen Ha

Ha also wrote in her report that Hicks edited the resume of Gertrude Faye Johnson to ensure she would get the job of fiscal executive manager. Ha said Hicks and Johnson exchanged several emails about the position prior to the job being posted; and that Johnson lied during the investigation.

Craig said Ha's report, which also accused the board of violating the Open Meetings Act by allowing Hicks to hire people behind closed doors, was disturbing.

"Most concerning is the sustained allegations against board secretary Hicks, who in several instances abused his authority and manipulated the hiring process," Craig said. "It was also disclosed that Mr. Hicks and Faye Johnson provided false statements."

Craig added board members have been critical of officers who were found to have lied, and that the oversight board also needs to be truthful.

"I've gone on the record here to state that officers who are found untruthful will be terminated," he said. "As articulated in the IG's report, it's troubling that Mr. Hicks and Mrs. Johnson blatantly lied to the IG, particularly since they work for a police oversight board."

Commissioner Willie Bell replied: "I take exception to the chief's remarks. This board has never been critical of the investigations at the federal, local and city level of DPD staff. There's due process for all concerned parties. (The IG report) is not a guilty verdict.

"For the chief to make a statement like that, it's not appropriate for the board to not respond to that," Bell said.

Commissioner Darryl Brown said he agreed with Craig. "How can we as an oversight board hold our officers to a standard of integrity and professionalism, and turn a blind eye to our own issues?

"I disagree with Commissioner Bell," Brown said. "We should be held to a higher standard, and the same level of discipline should be handed out to any employee who violates the rules."

Another commissioner, the Rev. Jim Holley, said Craig was out of line with his remarks.

Rev. Jim Holley, senior pastor at the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church.

"For the chief to say this in public and to put this on the record, without us having the opportunity to deal with this ... I'm very troubled by it," Holley said. "I know why Commissioner Brown feels the way he does: because he's part of the problem.

"I would never talk in public about anything that's against the police department that's not already public information," Holley said. "I'm not going to allow the chief to tell me what I'm supposed to do. If you want me to leave, I'll leave, but I'm not going to allow him to sit there and do it. I just don't like it."

Board chairwoman Lisa Carter said the board is scheduled to have a closed session with its attorney. "I'm sure this isn't the end of this discussion," she said.

Hicks then reiterated that the accusations made in the report are false. "I did not do anything I didn't get approval in advance for," he said. "So the interpretation of the IG is erroneous and not based in fact."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Detroit City Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. said: "I'm really concerned about that report as well. There are a number of things in there that are disturbing. I will be talking to my colleagues about this."

Detroit resident Brenda Hill said Hicks should be put on leave, pending an investigation.

"These are serious, serious allegations," Hill said. "To allow (Hicks) to sit among us, like he has not been accused of things, is very disingenuous."

After Thursday's meeting, Commissioner Willie Burton said he has long suspected improprieties in the board.

"I sent a memo in January, asking for historical data and records of all personnel, because I was concerned about transparency issues," Burton said. "Someone needs to be held accountable for all this."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN