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Ecorse council demands mayor step down

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Ecorse — A day after Mayor Lamar Tidwell was reelected, members of the City Council on Wednesday demanded he step down.

The call for Tidwell's resignation centers around a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer the mayor claims he bought in February 2017 for $500 from an Ecorse police corporal. New Public Safety director Joseph Thomas wrote in an Oct. 22 memo there's no record of the sale, and that the mayor improperly handled the SUV's transaction.

Lamar Tidwell

"It was a violation of the City Charter, a conflict of interest and abuse of public office," said Councilman John Miller, who introduced a motion that Tidwell resign. The motion passed, 4-2.

"Ridiculous, ridiculous," the mayor replied during the Zoom meeting.

Mayor pro tem Darcel Brown also introduced a motion to ask the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and Michigan attorney general to investigate the findings Thomas laid out in his memo. Brown's motion passed unanimously, with Tidwell also voting to ask for the probe.

In Tuesday's election, Tidwell defeated challenger Jeremy Renshaw, 77.9% to 21.4%. 

The allegations of impropriety by the mayor were made amid an ongoing FBI/Michigan Attorney General's Office investigation into what an FBI Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force agent called an "orchestrated cover-up" by the former Ecorse police chief and other officers after questions were raised about their handling of stolen vehicles.

Tidwell also is the subject of that investigation, Thomas wrote in the Oct. 22 memo to city administrator Richard Marsh. In the memo, Thomas said the FBI task force is investigating the Trailblazer, which in February 2016 had been forfeited by the Hamtramck Police Department. 

Hamtramck was a member of the former multijurisdictional auto theft taskforce COBRA, which also included Ecorse, Detroit and Highland Park. The COBRA unit was disbanded in 2017, after Detroit police officials complained that Ecorse and Highland Park police improperly processed stolen vehicles.

The call for Tidwell to step down is the latest in a series of accusations of improprieties surrounding Ecorse's handling of stolen cars. Three Ecorse police officers have separate whistleblower lawsuits against the city, claiming they were punished for trying to expose the alleged corruption.

Former Ecorse police Chief Michael Moore claimed that Detroit police Chief James Craig told him during a 2017 meeting, "you're doing illegal stuff," because of how his officers were processing stolen vehicles. Craig denies making the remark.

Detroit police Lt. Michael Parish, who runs the department's towing operations, said Ecorse officers were improperly using the Law Enforcement Information Network computer system when logging stolen vehicles.

In the latest accusations, Thomas said the mayor improperly handled the Trailblazer. After Hamtramck police forfeited the vehicle, Thomas wrote in the memo that it "was listed as Abandoned and registered to the Ecorse Police."

The mayor ended up driving the SUV. He said Ecorse police Cpl. Kevin Barkman sold it to him for $500 — but, Thomas wrote, "the City of Ecorse Treasurer Marilyn Oliver has no record of receiving a check or cash for the vehicle purchased from CPL Barkman. There was no record indicating the vehicle in (question) was sold at a public auction (or) used for a police purpose as prescribed by law."

Barkman also is being investigated by the FBI, according to an affidavit filed by by Peter Acklerly, a Michigan Attorney General special agent and FBI task force member, who alleges "false statements" were made by Ecorse officers about a 2014 Ford F-150 truck that was stolen from Chesterfield Township in 2016. Barkman wound up driving the truck.

Attempts to reach Barkman were unsuccessful.

After Thomas became police chief last month, he started his own investigation into the allegations. In a summary of his probe, he wrote: “Based on the above circumstances and facts, it appears that the Mayor of Ecorse, Lamar Clarence Tidwell, was in possession, owned and sold the aforementioned vehicle. Therefore, his actions were in violation of the City Ecorse Charter ... he knew or should have known the vehicle was not purchased according to law and standards of the State of Michigan and the City of Ecorse.”