Royal Oak police apologize for response to 911 call about black man

Mark Hicks Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Royal Oak police apologized Thursday to a black man, Devin Myers, for the treatment he received from officers after a woman called to complain that he was circling her car, Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said.

“On behalf of the police department, I would like to apologize to Mr. Myers for how he was treated,” O’Donohue said in a press release.

“What should have been a very short encounter was extended when the officer involved insisted on getting Mr. Myers’ identification.

Royal Oak Police Department

“This officer will be provided with remedial training to address the issue.”

In an interview, O’Donohue said an inexperienced officer still on probation, Michael Pilcher, had no right to demand identification, after responding Tuesday to a woman’s call, expressing concern about someone circling her car and possibly taking photographs of her and her son.

Instead, O’Donohue said, Pilcher should simply have advised Myers why the police responded and allowed him to leave.

“I tried to make clear from the press release, this isn’t how we expect officers to act,” he said.

“The officers are encouraged to get ID from everyone, as best they can. But they have to know the difference of when they should ask, and when they can demand.

“In this case,” O’Donohue said, “he demanded, and he didn’t have a legal right to. What would have been a two-minute encounter was dragged out because of that.”

Pilcher has acknowledged making a mistake, the chief said. “He got a missile lock on that, and he couldn’t come of it.”

The matter began when a woman called 911 with a complaint.

“She did indicate that someone was circling her car, staring in at her. And, she said they thought they might have taken photos of her and her son, and she was concerned,” O'Donohue said.

According to the 911 tape the Police Department released Thursday, the woman told a dispatcher an African American man was "just staring at me" and "it’s … making me feel not very comfortable at all." She said she and her son, who drove separately, had just left the Inn Season Cafe and the man "came up right behind me as I was getting into my vehicle."

The woman indicated the man had moved his car then waited down the street.

According to dash cam audio the department released Thursday, an officer pulls up near the woman's car and asks her to point out which man she referred to in the 911 call.

When reaching Myers, according to the tape, the officer is heard telling him police were called to the scene since the woman had said Myers "was staring at her."

Myers called the situation "ridiculous," said he was seeking a parking spot and hadn't harassed the woman.

The officer told him Myers made the woman "uncomfortable" and he was "prolonging" police involvement by not cooperating.

"But I didn’t commit a crime," Myers said, according to the recording.

Pilcher should have reacted differently, the chief said.

“If you listen to the video and Mr. Myers asks can he leave and, originally, the officer doesn’t answer,” O’Donohue said. “You can tell the officer’s not sure what he’s supposed to do.

“This is a mistake that’s common with young officers. It’s a training issue.”

Police detained Myers for about 19 minutes, the chief said.

“A supervisor was called to the scene, per Mr. Myers' request, about six minutes into the encounter and the supervisor arrived approximately 11 minutes later,” O’Donohue said in the press release.

“Mr. Myers was advised he was free to go, about two minutes after that.”

Another officer who responded to the scene has been disciplined, O’Donohue said, though he would not give details. "What that is, we really don’t say.”

Sgt. Terry Oaks, who told Myers he could leave, should have scrutinized the situation more extensively, and allowed the people involved to “express their concerns,” the chief said.

“The responding supervisor did not handle this situation in a manner I expect Royal Oak supervisors to conduct themselves,” O’Donohue said in the press release.

“He did quickly advise Mr. Myers that he was free to go; however, he did not effectively look into the situation.”

In the interview, the chief said, “The sergeant had a responsibility to listen to everyone there and he didn’t do that. And that’s just not acceptable.

“We think we’ve addressed both of those issues and the failings effectively, and we’re going to be monitoring them going forward,” O’Donohue said.

“This is an unfortunate incident where the ROPD did not live up to our own standards,” O'Donohue said in the release. “Corrective action has been taken and we will continue to hold all members of the ROPD to the highest standards.”

Myers could not be reached for comment.

The incident came to light when a Facebook user posted video footage she says showed police questioning the black man due to his "looking at a Caucasian woman.”

Kimiko Adolph, who could not be reached for comment, live-streamed the encounter Tuesday near the Inn Season Café. In the clip, she said a white female driver had called 911 to complain about a black man who "looked at her suspiciously" while seeking a parking spot to visit the eatery.

Adolph and others criticized the police response and the woman who called them. 

“I’m not from around here but I want to feel safe when I come out here … if I look at somebody of a different color that they don’t pull up on me,” Adolph said in the video.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Mayor Michael Fournier appeared to acknowledge the incident.

The statement read in part: “We absolutely recognize that racial bias exists and we as a community aspire to be among those working every day to combat it. But, this is not just the work of our officers and public officials alone, but all of us, individually and as a community must put in the effort to recognize and come to terms with our own personal prejudices and biases. We are in the process of evaluating what mistakes have been made and we will own them, we will learn from them, and we will continue to strive to be better in everything we do.”

Adolph’s recording, which has been viewed more than 500,000 times, started while Myers stood beside two officers and their SUVs as they waited for a police supervisor to arrive. 

The police supervisor arrived on a motorcycle with a fourth officer.  When the Inn Season restaurant manager, who came out to the scene, criticized the need for a police response, the police supervisor told her: “So if someone calls about someone, we’re not supposed to respond?”

Myers said the police had a right to investigate but added, “As you see, I’m not a threat to (the woman who called 911). I’m not even close to her.”

Shortly after the supervisor said Myers was free to go and he left to eat, the restaurant manager can be heard in the video telling the officer: "If that were me walking across the street and walking in, this would not be happening because I was looking at her while I was trying to park." 

At one point, the supervisor said he did not believe the police response was “that big of a deal” but the officers were called there “for nonsense.”