4 Detroit police officers suspended following probe

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Residents and officials Sunday said the recent suspension of four Detroit police officers means the department is serious about weeding out corruption now that a decade of federal oversight has ended.

The Detroit News reported Saturday the four officers were suspended after two separate investigations, including a federal probe into alleged wrongdoing in the department's disbanded Narcotics Section.

"We're in dire need of a functional narcotics division to address the drug problem in Detroit," said Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. "And after coming out from under the consent degrees, this is no time for corruption to set in. Both the chief and the board want to get to the bottom of what has transpired with all these suspended officers, and take whatever action is necessary."

The city agreed to three consent decrees in 2003 after allegations surfaced about police brutality, witness mistreatment and deplorable conditions of confinement.

"I'm happy this investigation is coming to a head," Bell said.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig disbanded the drug unit in July because of what he said were systemic problems uncovered during an Internal Affairs investigation that began in May, including how drugs and evidence were handled. An internal probe is ongoing, as is a separate FBI investigation into alleged criminal behavior by some officers in the narcotics unit, Craig said.

Two of those suspended were a lieutenant and police officer assigned to the troubled drug unit, Craig said.

"We suspended them pending possible criminal charges," Craig said. "Because of the ongoing investigation, I can't speak to the specifics, although it was something that allegedly happened during the course of their assignment to the Narcotics Section."

Because the investigation is being handled by the FBI, the two officers, if charged, would be indicted federally, Craig said.

In a separate investigation, two other officers assigned to the department's Tactical Response Unit were suspended.

"These allegations originated with the prosecutors," Craig said. "It was involving something that allegedly happened during an arrest. Prosecutors made us aware of the situation, and we suspended the officers, while the investigation runs its course."

Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said he didn't know who was suspended, but "the officers have the right to due process, just like anyone else."

"It's not unusual for police officers to face allegations, especially when considering the high number of narcotic-related arrests we make," Diaz said. "The criminals don't always throw their hands up in the air and say they are in possession of drugs or something. But we must keep in mind the way the justice system is set up, that they have a right to their day in court and they're entitled to a presumption of innocence."

Wayne County prosecutor spokeswoman Maria Miller declined to comment on the probe, citing an ongoing investigation, as did David Porter, an FBI spokesman.

Under union contracts, police officers are suspended with pay until the Board of Police Commissioners votes to remove pay. A Trial Board would then hear the argument to determine if further discipline is warranted, although if criminal charges are filed, discipline would be handled through the court system.

The FBI probe has been ongoing for several months, alongside a Detroit Police Internal Affairs investigation, which began in May and has resulted in the suspension of six officers for allegedly mishandling evidence taken during a drug raid.

Other alleged wrongdoing in the unit includes officers failing to properly log seized drugs into evidence, and mishandling expensive items confiscated from drug dealers, including big-screen television sets and an Xbox gaming unit.

Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said despite the end of federal oversight, "there's still a long way to go" to remake the culture of the Police Department.

"There's still corruption, and there's still a good old boys network that has existed for years," Scott said. "That competes with the good officers who are out there trying to do the right thing. Just because the guidelines have changed under the consent decree, that doesn't mean the culture has changed."

In place of the Narcotics Section, Craig created a Major Violators Section and initiated a policy capping the amount of time officers can spend in a special section.

"That helps to guard against complacency and corruption," Craig said. "If you're in one of those assignments for too long, that kind of thing can set in."

Muhsin Mohammed, a resident of the northwest side and president of the Grandmont Citizen Patrol group, said most police officers are doing the best they can under tough conditions. He applauded the effort to get rid of corrupt officers.

"I look at the Police Department as three slices of the pie: There's the chief and his staff, who are doing a heck of a job; there are the good officers on the street, and then there are the ones who aren't so good. It takes a long time to get rid of the corruption ...," he said.


Detroit News Staff Writer Shawn D. Lewis contributed.