Detroit police pull out of DEA task force in flap over informant

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police chief James Craig has pulled his officers from a U.S. Drug Administration/Detroit Police task force because he said the federal agency won't publicly admit it used an informant who allegedly went on to kill six people.

Craig said he made the decision on Monday after meeting at Public Safety Headquarters with the DEA's Keith Martin, special agent in charge of the agency's operations in Michigan and Ohio. A DEA attorney was also present, Craig said.

Kenyel Brown

"I said during the meeting I felt there was a breach of trust," Craig said. "Because of this failure to acknowledge ownership that (Kenyel) Brown was signed as an informant working for the DEA/DPD task force, I'm pulling my officers from the task force.

Craig said Detroit police and the DEA have worked together on the task force "for more than 20 years.

"(Martin) and I agreed that we would continue to work together in our mission of eradicating dangerous drugs from Detroit — just not as a task force," Craig said.

Martin said in an email to The Detroit News that "we are committed to working with the Detroit Police Department.”

During a press conference Wednesday, Craig said Brown was an informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Detroit police/DEA task force paid Brown $150 in October for information about drug activity involving a southwest Detroit gang.

Craig said Brown's information didn't pan out, and that he wasn't used again as an informant.

Brown died Friday night after police say he shot himself in the head Monday as officers closed in on him in an Oak Park backyard. Brown was wanted for six homicides, a shooting and two carjackings in Detroit, Highland Park and River Rouge.

According to federal court documents and a spokesman for the U.S. District Court, Brown was a federal informant who was kept out of prison, despite multiple violations of his probation, at the behest of a federal law enforcement agency. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement last week an investigation so far has found no evidence a federal agency requested Brown stay out of prison.

Brown was on probation after being arrested with a stolen 9 mm pistol in Detroit in 2014.

Craig said Monday the DEA was in charge of the task force, and that both his officers and the DEA officers agreed to used Brown as an informant, but that the decision ultimately lied with the federal agency.

"In the meeting, the DEA attorney tried to say this was all DPD," Craig said. "I said 'how can you say that when this task force officer was assigned to the DEA, and you know I signed a memorandum of understanding that specifically delineates what the relationship looks like: Day-to-day operations of the task force are managed by DEA supervisory personnel?'

"Mr. Brown was a federal informant, first with the ATF, and then the task force," Craig said. "It really comes down to: This task force officer was under the supervision and management of the DEA.

"During our meeting, I reminded the participants about the agreement, and I read from the memo of understanding, which says 'Detroit police officers will be under the direct supervision of the DEA assigned to the task force.'"

There were four Detroit police officers and a sergeant assigned to the joint task force, Craig said, although two of them had been moved after he mandated all drug cops with more than five years' experience in the unit be transferred amid an ongoing investigation into alleged corruption in the Detroit police drug unit.

The remaining officers will be reassigned to the drug unit, the Major Violators Section, Craig said.

"In closing the meeting, supervisory agent in charge Martin expressed his willingness to continue to work as partnering organizations," Craig said. "I made a commitment to him that we'll continue to work together as separate agencies. He understood and was very gracious and said he hopes one day we can reinstate the task force."

In local and federal joint task forces, the feds provide money and weaponry, and local law enforcement provides manpower. Local officers are deputized as federal agents.

The DEA/DPD task force worked together to secure last year's conviction of former Detroit cop Christopher Staton, who "was part of a drug trafficking organization and conspired with ... known drug dealers, to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, including cocaine and fentanyl," according to a U.S. Attorney's press release.

Oakland University criminal justice professor Daniel Kennedy said there's often tension between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

"The feds may have to arrest some of the local police officers someday," Kennedy said. "This isn't just in Detroit, but any big city.

"There's always an arm's distance between the feds and the locals. The feds don't always tell the locals all they know, and the locals complain that it's a one-way street: 'We tell the feds everything and they keep us in the dark and take all the glory,'" Kennedy said.

"But there's a reason the feds don't share with the locals. The feds also have to police the same people they're working with."

Tension between other local police departments and federal agencies have flared up recently over different rules for local and federal cops. The Justice Department doesn't allow federal agents to wear cameras and prohibits local officers from wearing them during joint operations.

Last year, police departments in Atlanta and St. Paul, Minnesota removed officers from federal task forces over the body camera issue. In October, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he would "find a way forward" to allow local cops serving on federal task forces to wear body cameras.