Dwyer denies targeting suspended Warren police official

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Warren — Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer on Thursday called a lawsuit filed against him and the city by a suspended deputy commissioner “plainly invalid,” because the investigation into the employee’s conduct is not yet complete.

Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer.

Matthew Nichols filed a federal lawsuit against Dwyer and the city of Warren on Wednesday, alleging breach of contract and a violation of his due process rights.

Nichols has been suspended since late July on an accusation he used excessive force on a prisoner who had been arrested on July 18 for shoplifting at the Lowe’s on Van Dyke.

"The conduct alleged ... is alarming to see from such a high-ranking official, who is supposed to be setting a good example for the officers of the Warren Police Department," Dwyer said Thursday.

He added later: "This lawsuit is a tactic being used to try to bully the Warren Police Department into looking the other way about the reported misconduct by Deputy Commissioner Nichols. I have stated that I will not be bullied by this lawsuit being filed. Deputy Commissioner Nichols' conduct will be fully investigated using our standard internal affairs procedures.

"Contrary to the lawsuit, Nichols was interviewed twice so he could tell his side of the story," Dwyer said, adding that it is department protocol to put an officer on leave while an investigation is done.

Nichols’ attorney, Jamil Akhtar, claimed Dwyer targeted his client after becoming police commissioner in August and that only the mayor could terminate his position, according to the contract Nichols signed. 

"This is Dwyer trying to rub the contract in the mayor’s face,” Akhtar said

According to Akhtar, Dwyer wanted to hire his own deputy commissioner and began stripping Nichols of duties, "trying to force a demotion" back to lieutenant. 

Nichols was appointed deputy commissioner in spring 2017 at an annual salary of $118,477, Akhtar said. 

He’s been “living off savings and what he can get from family and friends, which is primarily moral support," said Akhtar. "(He's) not able to support himself."

In his press conference, Dwyer focused on the July incident, although he has repeatedly declined to go into detail about the alleged excessive force.

“(Nichols) heard of the incident and showed up, and that is when something reportedly happened,” Dwyer told The News at the time. 

The lawsuit says only that Nichols “had to protect himself by placing his hands on one of the defendants.”

Dwyer learned of the alleged excessive force from his officers, and Warren asked the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office to investigate to avoid any conflict of interest.

He suspended Nichols, with pay, and also opened an investigation, which ran parallel to the criminal investigation. Nichols was later suspended without pay after Dwyer says it was determined that Nichols' account of the event wasn't the same as what the official report indicated.

Though Dwyer said the sheriff’s office recommended one count of aggravated assault, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges.

Read: Matthew Nichols v. William Dwyer, the city of Warren

The internal investigation continues, and Dwyer said it could be wrapped up in about two weeks. When it is, there will be a hearing, and Dwyer will decide what, if any, discipline Nichols will face.

Nichols was moved to unpaid leave on Aug. 27, according to the lawsuit. That, Nichols says, is an action only the mayor, Jim Fouts, can take.

Fouts couldn't be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

Nichols’ lawsuit seeks damages of more than $75,000, “exclusive of interests and costs,” and for Nichols to be restored as deputy commissioner.

At one point, the lawsuit says, Nichols' photo was taken down from the wall of deputy commissioners, and his name was removed from his office door.

Dwyer said those actions don’t equate to an official termination or even a demotion. A captain was elevated to acting deputy commissioner because the role needed to be filled, he said.

Another portion of the suit says that “based upon good-faith information and belief, (Dwyer) on or about December 20, 2018, did terminate (Nichols’) employment ... or did, without just cause, demote (Nichols) to his former classification of Police Lieutenant.”

Dwyer said Thursday that neither had occurred, and that Nichols’ status would ultimately be determined after the internal affairs report is completed and a hearing is held.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 50 years,” Dwyer said. “Never before have I been sued by an officer in his command.”

Akhtar said he watched Dwyer’s press conference and believes the commissioner would be acting as “prosecutor, judge and hangman” in presiding over a disciplinary hearing.

“He’s already found him guilty,” Akhtar said. “Now he just has to determine how to punish him. There was no reservation as to whether there would be punishment.”

Asked if the existence of a lawsuit against him would affect the outcome of the upcoming hearing, Dwyer said it would not.