DeWitt officer charged in altercation with news carrier
An off-duty mid-Michigan police officer has been charged in connection with drawing a gun on a Black newspaper delivery man last year, the Michigan Attorney General's Office announced Thursday.
Chad Vorce of DeWitt was arraigned in Clinton County's 65A District Court on three charges:
- Assault with a dangerous weapon (felonious assault), a felony punishable by up to four years in prison and $2,000;
- Weapons – felony firearm, a felony punishable by two years consecutively with and preceding any term of imprisonment imposed for the felony or attempted felony conviction; and
- Misconduct in office, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000.
A lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids alleging Vorce used excessive force and discriminated against the Lansing State Journal delivery man, identified as Alexander Hamilton.
Authorities allege that early on Jan. 14, 2021, Vorce spotted a van driven by a Black man who was delivering newspapers he described as driving erratically in his DeWitt Township neighborhood near Airport Road and Interstate 69.
Vorce, an 18-year veteran of the city's Police Department who had been taking son to school, told investigators he thought the man was a suspect in recent break-ins, according to police reports.
When Vorce asked Hamilton if he needed help or directions, the 19-year-old, who had been placing newspapers in bags, responded, “No, I’m just doing me,” the lawsuit and police reports said.
Unsatisfied, Vorce continued watching him from his pickup, tried to retrieve Hamilton's license plate number and called 911, according to the lawsuit and police reports. Hamilton told authorities Vorce wouldn't move from behind his van and backed up when he did, the filings stated.
Hamilton drove away but Vorce followed him, according to the documents. Vorce told authorities he first drew a weapon and announced he was a police officer when Hamilton allegedly tried to ram his truck. Hamilton said he "pulled a U-turn partly to try to shake Vorce and partly to go back into the neighborhood to finish his paper route," the lawsuit said.
Within minutes, Hamilton told authorities he rushed to a nearby gas station as Vorce followed, fearing the off-duty officer was going to shoot him and he needed to be in a public place, according to the lawsuit and police reports, which Hamilton's attorney sent and The Detroit News reviewed. The police reports were labeled DeWitt Police and Michigan State Police.
He drove several laps in the parking lot before Vorce approached with his gun, police and Hamilton's lawyer said. Vorce later told police he thought Hamilton would ram him.
DeWitt police and Michigan State Police soon arrived on the scene. Hamilton was briefly handcuffed, according to the police reports and the lawsuit.
The Attorney General's Office was asked to review the case in January.
“Our assessment of this incident showed dangerous behavior exhibited by Mr. Vorce,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “Those who swear to protect and serve must do so responsibly. We will not hesitate to hold accountable those who violate that oath.”
Vorce, who could not be reached, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment, court records show. Reached Thursday night, Patrick O'Keefe, the attorney representing him, said: "Officer Vorce is innocent. It’s just that simple."
Vorce's bond was set at $5,000. A preliminary examination is scheduled for April 28.
Vorce was fired in May for using excessive force and violating other departmental policies and regulations. An internal investigation report said he had no authority to pursue Hamilton and his "tone and demeanor was excessive and his inability to de-escalate the situation brought discredit to himself and the department."
Following an appeal, Vorce was reinstated months later.
The lawsuit filed Friday seeks to have Vorce removed, accusing him of excessive force, false imprisonment, false arrest and racial discrimination.
"There was no legal or factual justification for Vorce to draw his gun on Hamilton," wrote his lawyer, Dustyn Coontz.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.