Snyder suspends State Police chief’s pay for 5 days

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan State Police chief Kriste Kibbey Etue is losing five days’ pay while still being required to report to work by Gov. Rick Snyder, who disciplined the state’s top cop Thursday while issuing executive actions to promote inclusiveness in state government.

Etue got the most severe punishment allowed for violating the state police’s social media policy over a post ridiculing “degenerate” professional football players for silent protests during the national anthem. The sanction could have been as light as a written reprimand, but critics have called for her firing or resignation.

“Colonel Etue posted something on social media that was inappropriate. She immediately apologized and has acted to demonstrate that apology, including facilitating meetings with various groups to hear concerns and to share the work the Michigan State Police does in cities and neighborhoods statewide to connect with the communities they serve and recruit new troopers from all backgrounds,” Snyder said in a Thursday statement.

“I have full faith in Col. Etue’s leadership as the commander of the Michigan State Police. ... I hope we can come together as Michiganders to move forward and find common ground, rather than rehash past mistakes.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus are among those who called on Snyder to fire Etue after she refused to resign.

Etue shared on her private Facebook page a meme that blasted “millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our armed forces and veterans” by protesting during the national anthem.

“This administration continues to ignore the fact that Col. Etue’s post has seriously damaged her credibility and compromised her leadership,” said Rep. Sheldon Neeley, a Flint Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.

“As we have attempted to work with the governor in the wake of failed policies, it has become clear that this attempt is one-sided. We have experienced no genuine movement of policies and the priorities of people of color but an egregious and obstructive abuse of political influence that undermines even a hint of fairness and equitable treatment.”

Neeley said when he and other caucus members met recently with Snyder, they rescinded their call for Etue’s resignation and instead asked that she be demoted to a “non-leadership role.”

They also suggested independent third-party reviews of internal investigations into potential police brutality or excessive force and an independent body to ensure greater diversity in promotions.

Neither request made it into Snyder’s Thursday announcement.

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, executive vice chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Snyder’s statement and plan to encourage more inclusiveness in state government were “incomplete.”

“The response is ... very vague,” the Detroit Democrat said. “There’s been a number of ongoing conversations and dialogues surrounding this, and it’s very vague, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from the governor on this.”

Supporters have said Etue had a First Amendment right to speak out, but critics have questioned Etue’s objectivity and understanding of what many players — primarily African-Americans — are calling symbolic protests against racial oppression and police brutality.

Official state police policy allows troopers to freely express themselves on social media as private citizens unless their posts “impair working relationships, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among co-workers, or negatively affect the public perception of the department.”

Snyder is ordering a review of the state’s diversity and inclusion efforts across all state departments, his office announced Thursday.

That includes looking into the state’s “sensitivity training guidelines,” forming a group to recommend social media policies for state employees and department directors, and doing “implicit bias training” for top-level aides in Snyder’s cabinet and department directors.

The state will also work with the organization that sets the state’s police training standards to require U.S. Department of Justice Fair and Impartial Policing training, a review of State Police recruitment practices and other changes, Snyder’s office said.

Neeley said the number of minority employees in state government has declined during the past few years, arguing it is the result of Snyder’s “policies are a carefully calculated continuation of oppressive practices.”

“Whether we are talking about the crisis in Flint, the crisis in the Michigan State Police or the crisis in confidence this administration has inspired, there is a failure in delivering reform to all Michiganders, especially in urban areas,” he added in a statement.

As of late March, Michigan’s state police force was more than 88 percent white and more than 90 percent male.