Attorney: Warren's No. 2 police official fired in excessive force probe

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Deputy Police Commissioner Matthew Nichols in 2008.

Warren’s No. 2 cop, who's been on an unpaid leave of absence for nearly a year, was fired this week following an internal police hearing on alleged excessive force, his attorney said Friday.

Matthew Nichols, who was a 17-year veteran when he was appointed Warren’s deputy police commissioner in 2017, was terminated on Monday following a hearing for a July 18 incident in which Nichols allegedly punched a suspected shoplifter in the face outside a Lowe’s store. The suspect was not seriously injured in the incident but the fallout continues nearly a year later.

“(Nichols) wasn’t fired because of the alleged incident, he was fired because of nebulous claims made about him that he was not being truthful during the (internal) hearings,” said Jamil Ahktar, Nichols’ attorney.

Nichols showed up at a police arrest scene in July 2018 where a suspect was in a vehicle outside the store. According to witnesses — police officers who were involved or responded to the stop — Nichols exchanged words with a passenger in the car and ordered him to show his hands.

At least two police officers have since testified in disciplinary hearings that Nichols used excessive force, either slapping or punching the suspect in the face when he did not comply with Nichols’ orders.

Nichols was initially on paid leave for a few weeks, which is routine in such cases, but then placed on an unpaid leave of absence in August 2018. The matter was referred to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office for investigation and a report was turned over to the county prosecutor’s office, which subsequently refused to issue warrants, describing the case as an internal problem.

Nichols has not been criminally charged in the incident, which was also eventually referred to the U.S. Department of Justice, Ahktar said.

“They also found no criminality and about the time they signed off on this, my client was called in for another hearing,” Ahktar said. “A decision to fire was made by Commissioner William Dwyer, apparently based on statements from two police officers who have their own credibility problems.”

Ahktar said he was denied an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses against Nichols or to call and question his own witnesses. Ahktar added that evidence is missing — specifically, video and audio recordings of the alleged assault incident that showed the suspect injured his neck when removed from the car.

Warren city officials would not discuss the firing on Friday. Dwyer said he is named in a federal wrongful discharge lawsuit from Nichols and “by city policy I am unable to discuss anything about him.”

When contacted, city attorney Ethan Vincent declined comment, citing the pending litigation. Warren Mayor James Fouts did not respond to an email request for a comment on Nichols’ claims of having a signed contract of employment dictating terms of termination.

Ahktar said his client seeks more than $100,000 in lost pay, additional damages and reinstatement to the department at the rank of lieutenant, which he held before being appointed deputy police commissioner.

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