White Detroit officer on restricted duty after use of racial slur

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A white Detroit police officer has been put on restricted duty amid an internal investigation into his use of a racial slur, which he insisted was used in a friendly manner — no different, he claimed, than how the word is used in rap music, a police official said Wednesday.

The officer has been moved from the 9th Precinct to the 7th Precinct, where he's restricted to administrative duty after he used the slur during a Nov. 18 Facetime phone call with a "lifelong friend," who also is white, according to Chris Graveline, director of the Detroit police Professional Standards Section.

Chris Graveline, director of the Detroit police Professional Standards Section, addresses the media.

The officer who used the slur made the Facetime call to his friend, who was sitting in a squad car with a third officer who is black, Graveline said.

"All three officers stipulate that he used the 'n word' during this conversation," Graveline said. "There's no dispute as to whether it was used; the only dispute is the context of how it was used."

According to Graveline, the first officer insisted he merely used the word as a "colloquial greeting."

"The way he characterized it, he listens to a lot of rap music, and it's used that way in rap music," Graveline said. 

The African-American officer overheard the conversation and told the first officer to refrain from using that word, Graveline said.

According to Graveline, the first officer then repeated the word "four to six times."

Graveline said the first officer's friend told investigators the repeated use of the word after being asked to stop seemed hostile.

"The friend characterized the first use of just being colloquial, but the repeated comments he felt were used in an inflammatory way," Graveline said.

Graveline said more investigation is needed before determining what discipline the officer could face.

"We're taking this very seriously," Graveline said, adding he expects the investigation into the matter to wrap up next week.

Discipline could range from a suspension to termination, depending on what internal affairs investigators uncover, Graveline said.

The fallout from the phone call is the latest racial controversy in the department. Earlier this year, two white officers from the 6th Precinct were fired after posting a Snapchat video on which they're heard using racially derogatory language toward a black citizen.

Former officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison were fired for their roles in the video, and a follow-up audit revealed a "racially tone deaf" culture at the 6th Precinct, police chief James Craig said at the time.

In the wake of the incident, a white police captain retired and another was demoted and removed from the 6th Precinct. Also, two officers with a high number of citizen complaints against them were ordered to undergo more training.

The demoted former captain, Gary Sroka, sued the department in October, claiming racial bias. In the suit, he claims he was treated more harshly than black commanders who were not demoted. The lawsuit is ongoing.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN