DETROIT - Local 4 has obtained video that shows a police officer repeatedly punching a naked woman at Detroit Receiving Hospital.
The officer has been suspended after the video surfaced, DPD Chief James Craig said.
During a Thursday morning news conference, Craig said he's disturbed by what he saw in the video.
"We recognize that when you see the video, it's very troubling," Craig said.
Officers take woman to hospital
Craig said two officers responded to a "lewd and lascivious in progress" call around 6:45 p.m. Wednesday at Brainard Street and Trumbull Avenue. They found a naked woman who appeared to be having a mental emergency. Craig said the woman was passive and the officers knew she was likely having a mental crisis.
The officers put the woman in a scout car, gave her a robe to wear and took her to Detroit Receiving Hospital, Craig said.
"One of the concerns that I have is the fact that the officers did not handcuff this mentally ill person," Craig said. "We know from our training and experience that anytime we transport someone, particularly if they're suffering from mental illness, for their safety, for the officer's safety and the community's safety, that we handcuff (them)."
Officer uses force at hospital
When the woman got to the hospital, Craig said the she took off the robe and "things began to change."
The woman became agitated and threatening, clenching her fists and spitting on hospital employees, Craig said.
Two members of the security staff were called, and she bit one of the security officers twice, police said. Craig said she also tried to bite one of the officers.
As the officer tried to calm her down, the woman wasn't responding or compliant, so he started to punch her, Craig said.
"Where it takes somewhat of a turn -- we teach in all of our training to de-escalate -- in the video that the citizen provided, there were points where the suspect had turned their back but the officer continued to punch," Craig said. "It was at that point we had grave concern for the officer's actions."
Craig said when police received the video from the citizen, the Force Investigative Team was called and started to interview witnesses. Hospital staff members said the woman was agitated, aggressive and threatening, but they didn't comment on the officer's use of force, Craig said.
"We immediately suspended the officer," Craig said. "He is suspended as of now and our investigation is continuing."
Craig said the woman is stable with minor injuries.
"What stands out to me is the suspect's back is to the officer, and he continues to deploy strikes," Craig said.
During mental health training, officers are taught that a Taser can be used to gain control of a situation, Craig said.
There were points during the citizen's video in which the officer appeared to use more force than was necessary to de-escalate the situation, according to Craig.
"At this point, I can't tell you why the officer didn't opt for using a Taser," Craig said.
The chief is also asking why the other officials who were there didn't stop the officer from hitting the woman.
Craig said police are in the process of downloading body camera video from the officers, which shows the officer using force and the moments leading up to the incident.
"The bodycam footage tells a little bit of a different story," Craig said.
He also hopes to obtain surveillance footage from Detroit Receiving Hospital.
"We're not going to leave a stone unturned," Craig said. "We're very thorough."
During the Detroit Police Department's internal investigation, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office is launching a criminal investigation into the matter.
The officer, an 18-year veteran of DPD, has been suspended with pay during the investigations. He is a corporal who has no previous Category 1 use of force incidents, Craig said. A Category 1 use of force incident is when officers use force that results in injury.
"Personally as a retired police officer, as the Board of Police Commissioners chair, that incident really concerns me in terms of how it was handled by this particular officer," said Willie Bell, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners in District 4. "That was an extreme measure, and we just really want to get to the bottom of it."
Bell said Craig is taking the right steps in terms of addressing the incident.
Here is a statement from the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality:
"A mentally ill woman was severely beaten by a Detroit Police officer yesterday. When we looked at the video, we saw an officer with corporal stripes who had total disdain for a citizen who was obviously ill. The hatred was palpable. These are officers who must be held to a higher standard. We applaud Chief Craig's immediate suspension, but this officer, and others like him, must be taken off the streets permanently. He has forfeited the privilege of wearing a badge as an officer with his extreme and brutal response to a person whose mental faculties were obviously compromised. He is a danger to our citizenry. While he may punch today, he is at risk of shooting tomorrow.
"We urge Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to move expeditiously to press charges in this yet another egregious example of police misconduct against citizens."
Here is a statement from the Detroit NAACP:
"Once again, we find ourselves forced to denounce another inappropriate action on the part of a member of our police department. The recent beating of a mentally ill woman while held in custody at Detroit Receiving Hospital is unacceptable, inappropriate, and inexcusable. Part of the oath that a police officer takes includes this section: “I will uphold fundamental human rights and afford equal respect to all people according to law.” Police officers are held to a higher standard and must be accountable for their actions which could lead to injury and death.
"This very tragic incident reminds us again of the need for training, accountability, and monitoring of members of law enforcement. Police Chief James Craig was correct in immediately indicating at today’s press conference, a “grave concern and being troubled by the video displaying the incident.” The suspension of the police officer is indeed appropriate. An 18-year veteran should know better and is expected to do better. While we do not excuse and condone disrespect or abuse by citizens on police officers, it is understood that such occasions of possible conflict will occur. It is in these circumstances where training kicks in. In such situations, sound judgment must be demonstrated. Police officers carry tasers, handcuffs, and communication devices. They go through physical and mental training. As the Detroit Police Department must deal with at least 500 calls per month regarding the mentally ill, this was not an unusual situation. Certainly, three or four officers should be able to detain a naked, mentally challenged woman. The officer in question has had mental health and community policing and advocacy training.
"There is a reason that Detroit has not seen a physical uproar in the community concerning these issues. It is rooted in the relationship of trust between members of law enforcement and key segments of this community. The Detroit Police Department must continue to remain transparent and must not try to defend or mischaracterize bad behavior. It is in the interest of the police department and our community. We must root out individuals who cast such a demeaning and dangerous perspective on the department. It is also important that other officers who witness these types of misdeeds step up and get in between officers who are out of control when they engage in this kind of behavior. We call upon the Detroit Police Department to do its due diligence and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against this officer and others who may have aided and abetted in this tragic situation. Detroit is better than this. The Detroit Police Department is better than this. Our community deserves better than this."
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