Etue’s chief of staff lodged complaint against boss

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The investigation into Michigan State Police chief Kriste Kibbey Etue’s social media conduct was prompted by a formal complaint from Etue’s own chief of staff, according to documents obtained through an open records request.

Etue’s chief of staff, Capt. Gregory Zarotney, lodged a formal complaint against his boss on Sept. 27, a day after first hearing about Etue’s Facebook post ridiculing professional football players as “degenerate,” “millionaire ingrates” for silently protesting police brutality and racism against African Americans during the national anthem.

The resulting investigation ultimately led Gov. Rick Snyder to decide Etue had violated the department’s social media policy and seize five days’ pay from Michigan’s top cop.

Zarotney “requested an internal investigation into the allegation that Colonel Etue posted an inappropriate message on her personal Facebook in violation of department policy,” according to a State Police internal affairs incident report obtained by The Detroit News through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The department considered Zarotney’s request to be of “medium” priority, according to a summary of the administrative complaint. It took nine business days to complete.

While State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said any internal investigation is initiated by a complaint filed by other employees within the department, the documents offer a narrow window into how Michigan’s largest police department handles investigations into its own highest-ranking officers.

Banner said Zarotney had “an obligation as a manager, when he becomes aware of a possible violation of policy, to report that.”

It redacted the transcript of an interview between Etue and another State Police employee investigating the issue and did not say which part of the department’s social media policy Etue may have violated.

The report notes that Etue was enrolled in a plan that “covered personal use of department-issued iPads,” but the report does not indicate whether Etue used her state-issued iPad to share the message in question.

The department received dozens of other complaints via email and telephone regarding Etue’s Facebook post and another complaint from outside of the department alleging Etue’s actions “were unprofessional, reflected horribly on the entire department and caused further racial tensions,” according to the incident report.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan — which filed its own complaint against Etue with the State Police — and the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus were among those who called on Snyder to fire Etue after she refused to resign. Snyder said Etue made a mistake but has emphasized he values her leadership.

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.

The state’s police chief apologized twice over the incident and Snyder administered the most severe punishment allowed for violating the State Police’s social media policy, which advises employees to refrain from posting material that might negatively impact the department’s image.

The report redacted what section of the department’s social policy may have been violated because it was only a “preliminary” finding that was then handed off to Snyder’s office for review, Banner said. Snyder’s office is exempt from open records requests.

The policy says that “members are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media” but only “to the degree that their postings do not impair working relationships, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among co-workers, or negatively affect the public perception of the department.”