Coalition calls for dismissal of Detroit officer accused of posting 'racially insensitive' Snapchat
Officer, partner suspended by police chief
DETROIT – The Coalition Against Police Brutality is calling for the dismissal of a Detroit officer accused of posting a "racially insensitive" Snapchat about a woman whose car had been towed because of expired registration.
Here's the full statement from coalition spokesperson Kenneth Reed:
"Gary Steele, and I refuse to give him the honor of calling him an officer, forced a Black woman to suffer under the very worst of circumstances last Tuesday when he forced her walk home in brutally cold weather for the supposed 'crime' of expired license tabs. This continued criminalizing people for minor so-called offenses is itself offensive and a breach of the public trust. To add insult to injury, he mocked her, and mocked the noble ideas of Black History Month and Black Girl Magic, by posting a video that only magnified his cruel behavior.
"Steele should not be demoted. He has dishonored the badge and his sworn duty to serve and protect. He should instead be immediately suspended without pay pending dismissal.
"This man has a history. Chief Craig calls that history "troubling." What is troubling to the Coalition is the fact that there can be an officer with a history of abusive, violent behavior still on the force.
"The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners needs to step in and do what they are mandated to do: oversee the actions of Detroit's police force and make sure that they are acting in ways that are consistent with integrity and justice. When police step out of line, the Commissioners have to step in.
"The Coalition demands that this officer be dismissed and brought to justice for his egregious actions. Detroit's citizens should expect nothing less."
Chief suspends officers
Detroit police Chief James Craig announced two officers have been suspended with pay after an investigation into the incident.
"Based on the allegations, they're serious enough to where they cannot serve in the capacity of police officers in the city of Detroit," Craig said.
He made the announcement during a 4 p.m. Monday news conference. He said the suspensions are effective immediately.
"To keep them in the workplace certainly is something at this point, based on the allegations, that I will not do," Craig said.
During the investigation, police learned about a similar incident around Christmas 2017 involving the same officer who allegedly took the Snapchat video, Craig said.
You can watch Monday's full news conference in the video below.
Craig released a statement regarding the incident Monday:
Over the past several days, our Internal Affairs section has been investigating a very hurtful and racially insensitive Snapchat post made by one of our department members. Based on our preliminary findings and additional information obtained from an officer who came forward, I have made a decision to suspend two officers involved, effective immediately.
I have spoken to a number of department members, men and women of all ethnic backgrounds, rank and file, who have expressed their disdain and outrage in this incident.
We are held to a higher standard. Our officers are expected to serve the community both ethically and respectfully, and this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
We will continue to move swiftly with our investigation and remain transparent with our community. Our focus is to maintain the integrity of this department and the public's confidence in it.
I want to acknowledge our local leaders and city residents for expressing their support in how we are handling this matter.
'Racially insensitive post'
Craig said during a Thursday news conference that he's not troubled, he's angry about the incident.
He said an 18 1/2-year veteran of the force pulled over a driver because of expired registration and made the call to tow the vehicle.
The officer had a right to make that stop, according to Craig. He said the driver wasn't happy about being stopped and towed on such a cold night.
Afterward, the officer is accused of making a Snapchat post about the woman and including the comment, "Bye, Felicia." Craig said that's a derogatory reference to Black History Month.
"I'm not going to tell you I'm troubled," Craig said. "I'm going to tell you I'm angry. This incident is absolutely not reflective (of the department). This is not acceptable."
Craig said body camera footage shows the woman was offered a ride home, but refused and walked a block in the cold and dark.
Officer reassigned, de-appointed from rank
Craig said the police officer was hired before his tenure and has a troubled past with the department. He said the officer's previous incidents would have been handled differently if he were in charge at the time.
"He has a troubling history," Craig said. "When I look at his background and the seriousness of what he was charged with, my question is, 'What did the department do?' I can't go back in time and address that issue. It's my issue now, but it does raise a lot of questions for me, especially when you look at his prior conduct."
Since the incident, the officer has been reassigned from the Sixth Precinct until the internal investigation is completed. He was also de-appointed from the rank of corporal, Craig said.
"I think after reviewing his history, without going into details of that at this point, there is a pattern, and I'm concerned about that pattern," Craig said. "That's something I'll be looking at and addressing, as well."
Craig said the officer has been with the police force for 18 1/2 years, making him a tenured employee who should know better. He is also involved with training other officers, Craig said.
The chief said his officer's rights will be respected during the investigation, but that he "absolutely" has concerns about the officer's ability to protect the community in a fair and balanced manner, which is what led to him being reassigned.
Craig said the officer will not have any contact with the public until the investigation concludes.
"That's not what we expect of our police officers," Craig said. "This officer will be held accountable for his actions."
The officer's partner is also part of the investigation, according to Craig.
A majority of the Detroit Police Department was troubled by the Snapchat post, and many reached out to Craig to express their concerns, he said.
Punishment could range from a written reprimand to a suspension to termination, Craig said.
Craig called to apologize
Craig said he called the woman's mother and apologized personally for the way her daughter was treated.
"That could have been my daughter," Craig said. "It could have been my sister. It doesn't matter. It could have been anyone's sister. Not acceptable."
Craig said when an officer makes such a poor decision, it reflects poorly on the Detroit Police Department and him as the chief.
He also said the department will be paying for the towing fees. The woman's car is already available for release, according to police.
Relationship between police, community
Craig said the Detroit Police Department has done a good job maintaining trust with the community during a time when many departments across the country struggle to build that relationship.
"I'm not saying we have not had our challenges over that period, but by and large, this department has done an above-average job in fostering trust-based relationships," Craig said.
He said the DPD is one of the few departments that doesn't hide from these types of issues and is transparent with the community, even when the topics are difficult.
"Of course, when these kinds of things happen, it does have a tendency to erode the trust," Craig said. "It has an impact on the entire profession."
Craig said the department is going to be very thorough in this investigation, but he wants to make sure it is done as quickly as possible, as the community demands.
"Not acceptable," Craig said. "(I'm) not troubled, not disappointed. I am angry, and I want your viewers, your listeners to know that. This is not what we expect of Detroit police officers."
Former U.S. Attorney Chris Graveline, who has been hired by the Detroit Police Department, shared Craig's thoughts on the incident.
"It's disgusting," Graveline said. "It's clearly racial in overtones. It's not what we expect from officers, and going forward, we're going to do a thorough, impartial investigation, but we intend to move very quickly on it."
You can watch Craig's full Thursday news conference in the video below.
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