Shelby Twp. residents urge trustees to fire police chief

Shelby Township — Outraged residents are urging township officials to fire the police chief over inflammatory remarks he made on social media regarding George Floyd demonstrators.

Members of the Board of Trustees listened for two and a half hours Friday as dozens from the community, throughout Metro Detroit and as far away as Lansing shared their view on police Chief Robert Shelide's actions, the majority declaring him "unfit." A group of others stepped up to defend the chief's reputation. 

The board convened a virtual public participation session that drew more than 100 people ahead of a closed session with the chief as part of a process to decide whether disciplinary action is warranted against him. The trustees put Shelide on paid administrative leave June 4 after the posts came to light, and he issued a statement apologizing for the comments. 

Township resident Monica Williamson argued it's clear from Shelide's comments that he "harbors clear hatred."

"The center of this ongoing discussion right now is black lives. It's clear that he believes that black lives are better off in body bags," said Williamson, adding she has "no confidence" in the chief's "ability to protect with dignity."

Shelby Township Police Chief Robert Shelide

Supervisor Rick Stathakis said earlier Friday that the board "will hear all the charges and ask questions" of Shelide, but "no decision will be made today."

“It will be taken up again at the board’s 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting," he said. 

The supervisor said the public also was afforded an opportunity to speak during a public session Thursday and will be permitted to weigh in again on Tuesday. 

"Chief Shelide has has no opportunities to stress his case," he said. "Today will be the first time and only time that we hear from him."

Others who spoke Friday said they are "appalled" and "don't feel safe" or "respected."

Justin Mann, who has lived in the community with his family for 18 years, said he was "disgusted" by Shelide's comments. But discriminatory comments are nothing new to his family, he said. 

Mann, 22, said he and his family have spent much of their time in the township facing struggles "unjustly based on our race."

He recalled women gripping their purses as he passed them on the way to shop at stores with his mother and said he had faced "racial harassment" from police officers whom, he said, were hunting for a mixed-race suspect and confronted him as he rode his bike near his home.

"They asked if I, a 10-year-old child at the time, had an ID to prove my identity," Mann said. 

He also said an elementary schoolmate told him "at least I'm not black" on the playground after a childish argument. 

“The racist and hateful statements and promotion of violence against minorities that our chief of police expressed is nothing new to this community," he said. 

Among charges the board will consider is whether Shelide may have acted unprofessionally and violated either his oath of office, job description or township code of ethics in making remarks under a secret Twitter identity “Sheepdawg,” which included his opinions that some demonstrators were “vicious barbarians” and deserved “body bags.”

Shelide also agreed with President Donald Trump that military action should be used to deal with rowdy protests and tweeted to the Brooklyn district attorney: “Shutup you libtard. Go bury your head."

Shelby Township Police Detective Chris Killop was among nine speakers Friday who voiced support for Shelide.

"Leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge," Killop said, noting the chief has made it a priority to ensure community members feel safe voicing their opinions and that the township is a secure place to visit, work and live in.

"In no way do I believe he supports police brutality," he said. 

Another resident, Brenda Thompson, said she personally knows Shelide and "I do not believe he is a racist."

"I feel that he has made an impact on our community and has been very supportive to us," she said. 

Shelide, in a statement provided to The News last week, expressed remorse for making the comments.

"While an apology is insufficient and an insult to the gravity of my comments,  I humbly and respectfully ask for the courtesy of forgiveness to those I have offended, to my department and more importantly to those I am sworn to serve," he said.

"My record speaks to the commitment and professionalism that I have exhibited for more than 30 years without incident, both of which were compromised by my emotion," he said. "During my administrative leave issued by the department, I will fully cooperate with the investigation, and seek the support and counsel necessary to ensure that my behavior and comments going forward more accurately reflect my character and person.” 

Resident Michael Haar slammed Shelide's statement, saying it was the "saddest excuse for a public apology."

"He's completely unfit," he said. "The role of police chief must inarguably be held to the highest moral standard. Today, I demand that Chief Shelide be removed from his position, effective immediately."

Stathakis previously issued a statement, saying “the views and comments expressed in Chief Robert Shelide’s personal social media do not represent the views of Shelby Township and the Shelby Township Police Department. However the legal process must run its course. Our Board of Trustees is dealing with a complex legal situation involving contracts and legal requirements to determine this situation’s outcome.

“I ask our community to remain patient with the process. People are upset with this situation, and we respect constitutional rights to express that dissatisfaction and outrage.”