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Ecorse police face probe of alleged stolen truck 'cover-up'

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Ecorse — The city's police chief and other officers are being investigated for an alleged "orchestrated cover-up" after questions were raised about their handling of a stolen truck, according to an affidavit from an FBI Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force agent.

In response to the allegation, outgoing Ecorse chief Michael Moore accused the agent in charge of the investigation of committing perjury in the sworn affidavit.

A search warrant return affidavit obtained by The Detroit News, which was signed Feb. 11, 2019, by Peter Acklerly, a Michigan Attorney General special agent and FBI task force member, alleges "false statements" were made by Ecorse officers about a 2014 Ford F-150 truck that was stolen from Chesterfield Township in 2016. The truck ended up being driven by an Ecorse police corporal.

Ecorse Police Chief Michael Moore

Moore insists Ackerly was untruthful in his search warrant return.

"I told him, 'you perjured yourself in the affidavit for the warrant,'" Moore said.

When asked about Moore's allegation, Ryan Jarvi, spokesman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, said in an email: "We stand by the affidavit."

Jarvi declined further comment because he said the investigation is still open. FBI spokeswoman Mara Schneider also declined to comment.

Moore said he's retiring "shortly," after the City Council voted in September against renewing his contract.

"This is all old news," Moore said when asked about the allegations laid out in the search warrant return. 

The flap over the stolen F-150 has ties to Detroit's years-long towing corruption scandal, which involves a now-disbanded stolen car task force, COBRA, that included Ecorse, Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck.

The COBRA unit is mentioned in Ackerly's search warrant affidavit, which sought access to the email accounts of Moore and Ecorse officers Kevin Barkman and James Frierson.

In the affidavit, Ackerly said the emails might reveal "valuable statements" made by Moore, Barkman and Frierson about the stolen F-150. It's unclear whether the request was granted, or if anything was found in the email accounts. 

Attempts to reach Barkman and Frierson were unsuccessful.

The F-150 Tremor Edition truck at the heart of the investigation was reported stolen out of Chesterfield Township on Oct. 1, 2016. Chesterfield Township police entered the truck's information into the Law Enforcement Information Network system the same day, Ackerly wrote.  

Two years later, Ackerly wrote, he and an FBI special agent interviewed Ecorse police officers Cornelius Herring and Geoffrey Howard, who told the investigators that Barkman was improperly processing the stolen truck.

"Herring and Howard told Agents that the F-150 was towed to Mars Towing in Ecorse," Ackerly wrote. "Sgts. Herring and Howard provided Agents a recorded interview with (a Mars employee). In the recording, (the employee) stated that he was directed by Barkman ... that if an insurance company called Mars inquiring about the condition of the F-150, to advise the insurance company it was frame and wheels only.

"The investigation has revealed that the vehicle was in fact an intact F-150 at that time," Ackerly wrote.

Herring and Howard told investigators that in August 2017, Barkman had the truck listed with the Secretary of State as an abandoned vehicle.

"Barkman obtained a new title for the F-150 and converted the F-150 to a City of Ecorse owned vehicle," Ackerly wrote. "Herring and Howard assert this was done with the knowledge and consent of Ecorse Police Chief Michael Moore.

"Barkman regularly drove the F-150 as his assigned take-home vehicle (until 2018)," Ackerly wrote.

"Sgts. Howard and Herring assert that Barkman provided other vehicles for the City of Ecorse, including a 2010 Nissan Armada which is driven by Chief Moore," Ackerly wrote, adding that Barkman obtained the vehicle through forfeiture while working on the COBRA unit.

"Chief Moore currently drives the Nissan as his departmentally issued take-home vehicle," Ackerly wrote.

Moore insisted his department handled the truck properly.

"This is a situation where a few police officers don't like Barkman because he's openly gay," Moore said. "That's what this is all about."

Herring in 2018 brought a lawsuit against the city, claiming he was fired because he exposed the alleged wrongdoing. Moore insists he fired Herring last year for covering for a fellow police officer who was caught driving while intoxicated.

Flat Rock attorney David Grunow was retained by Ecorse to look into the allegations made by Herring and Howard about the truck. In a Feb. 23, 2018, letter, Grunow wrote that he'd interviewed the two officers about their claims.

Grunow's letter says Moore investigated the allegations of LEIN abuse "and found no justification for the complaint ... and found that there was insufficient evidence to discipline Cpl. Barkman."

Ackerly reached a different conclusion in his search warrant affidavit.

"The inconsistencies in (statements by Moore and other officers about how the truck was handled) ... the failure to notify Chesterfield Township police of the (truck's) recovery ... and false statements by Barkman about (the truck's) condition, and the conversion of the F-150 to a City of Ecorse owned vehicle lead (me) to believe that there was an orchestrated cover up by the Ecorse Police Department to convert the F-150 for their use," Ackerly wrote.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN