Sunday, July 12, 2020

Inconclusive evidence in ELPD excessive force investigation

February 28, 2020
East Lansing Police Cpt. Chad Connelly briefs the East Lansing City Council about the internal investigation into a complaint of excessive force used against Uwimana Gasito, a black man at the 54B District Court Feb. 27, 2020. This internal investigation found no use of excessive force against Gasito.
East Lansing Police Cpt. Chad Connelly briefs the East Lansing City Council about the internal investigation into a complaint of excessive force used against Uwimana Gasito, a black man at the 54B District Court Feb. 27, 2020. This internal investigation found no use of excessive force against Gasito. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, has found the investigation into an allegation of excessive force at the department to be "not sustained," meaning there was insufficient evidence for the claim to be proven or disproven. This was announced at a public hearing Thursday evening at 54B District Court.

The special meeting stems from an incident in which Uwimana Gasito, or Tito, posted to Facebook alleging he was assaulted by an ELPD officer while filming the arrest of his friend.

In response to the viral post, ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes released a statement announcing an investigation into the incident.

The incident concerned many community members, sparking a protest against police brutality on Sunday.

ELPD Captain Chad Connelly began an investigation into the incident on Feb. 14 after the department received notification of Gasito's viral Facebook post. ELPD said Gasito did not appear for an interview and did not file a complaint except for the Facebook post.

The investigation was referred to Connelly by Sparkes and was set to determine if the department's Use of Force Policy had been violated. Materials for the investigation included interviews with all officers involved and civilians, a review of footage and a review of all police reports.

At the meeting, ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez showed footage from officer's body cameras and surveillance from the 7-Eleven located at 311 Grove Street.

The footage created a timeline of events from when officers arrived on the scene as well as the arrest of Gasito and his friend. According to the investigation, officers observed three individuals in a physical altercation at the 7-Eleven.

Officers moved in to arrest all three individuals for disorderly conduct and Gasito resisted arrest by multiple police officers, Sparkes said.

Sparkes said footage of Gasito's arrest was inconclusive on the question of excessive use of force because law enforcement could not conclude how Gasito got his injuries.

"After watching the video it became clear to me that there was no excessive use of force and that the young man's face was probably injured when the officer was ... on top of him so that the other officers could get his hands behind his back," Mayor Ruth Beier said.

Multiple community members did not accept either City Council's conclusion or ELPD's. Farhan Sheikh-Omar, who led the police brutality protest on Sunday, took to the podium during public comment. He said he believes Gasito was assaulted by ELPD.

Sheikh-Omar said ELPD over-stops, over-questions and over-searches minorities. He told City Council when it comes to police in East Lansing, race still matters.

"It is time we put an end to this," Sheikh-Omar said. "What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for one of your police officers to kill an unarmed black man? Is that when you guys are going to ask for police reform? Is that what it's going to take for you guys to act to hold your police officers accountable? We're not asking for special treatment, we're asking to be treated fairly."

Beier said Sheikh-Omar's statements affected her, and she doesn't want East Lansing to be a community where minorities don't feel welcomed.

Though the investigation was not sustained, Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens and Beier said they want to continue the conversation surrounding bias in East Lansing.

According to Beier, a system to collect data regarding the relation between police stops or searches and race or ethnicity has been put in place. Before this incident, Beier said she requested the system.

"My question to the officers, to our department, is do police stop black drivers more often and for less reason than they do white drivers? Do they harass black people more when walking through neighborhoods than white people?” Beier said.

According to Beier, officers have not kept track of the race or ethnicity of those they stop each time. Beier asked for a system for this, and one was created within a week.

Content warning: The video of the meeting posted on the city's website contains explicit language.

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