Wednesday, August 12, 2020

East Lansing requests Ingham County to review ELPD use of force footage

June 5, 2020
The East Lansing Police Department is pictured on July 6th, 2017.
The East Lansing Police Department is pictured on July 6th, 2017. —
Photo by Jon Famurewa | The State News

The city of East Lansing requested a use of force review from the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office, according to a statement from city officials Friday. The review regards an arrest made by East Lansing Police Department in December, which led to a use of force complaint against ELPD.

Interim Police Chief Steve Gonzalez confirmed the arrest involved in the prosecutor's review is the same incident involved in the recently closed Michigan State Police investigation into ELPD.

Last month, the Michigan State Police concluded its investigation into two incidents involving ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson's use of force. The investigation resulted in an exonerated disposition.

"Our internal investigation, we did perform the video review, and so did the Michigan State Police," Gonzalez said.

According to the statement, the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office informed the city this week that they did not perform a video review of the use of force during the December arrest.

The city had the understanding that this was a part of the prosecutor's review for charges, according to the statement. Charges were issued against the individual arrested.

The statement also notes that the Michigan State Police used the issuance of charges against the individual, not the officer, as a point of support for the review that found no excessive force.

"As we have now learned that the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office did not do a video review of the arrest, we have requested that they complete a use of force review in this case,” City Manager George Lahanas said in the statement.

Gonzalez said he cannot comment on how this could change the prior investigation's results, as this is dependent on the results of the review completed by the prosecutor's office.

The investigation leading to the state police review was initially opened by former ELPD Police Chief Larry Sparkes after Uwimana Gasito posted to Facebook alleging the department's excessive use of force.

ELPD found the investigation to be "not sustained," meaning there was insufficient evidence for the claim to be proven or disproven.

However, while investigating, Sparkes found the same officer, Stephenson, to be involved in both incidents. The incidents included a traffic stop and arrest in December, as well as Gasito's arrest.

The investigation was sent to Michigan State Police, which exonerated Stephenson. He has since been reinstated at ELPD.

Stephenson's continued employment, as well as the state police's exonerated conclusion, has been the focus of East Lansing City Council public comment.

Most recently, the council approved a resolution to form a committee that will eventually create the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission.

The committee is titled Study Committee and will be used to make recommendations to the City Council and research the relationship between the police and the community to implement an Independent Police Oversight Commission.

In terms of Stephenson's continued employment, the city of East Lansing gave power away when sending the investigation to state police. In turn, the exonerated disposition of the investigation will allow Stephenson to remain an officer.

"When our office reviewed the December warrant request on Mr. Loggins, there was no information that there was a use of force complaint, nor were the dash cam or body cam videos included. The warrant was authorized based on the police report," said Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon in a statement.

"When I became aware that Mr. Loggins' case was one authorized by our office, I reviewed the police report and we requested the videos. Those were received last Friday, I believe. I subsequently asked the original reviewing attorney to re-review the case with the new information. We then mutually agreed that had our office had all the information for the December event at the time the case was reviewed, we would have not authorized," she said.

"Therefore, based on the totality of the circumstances, with no specific individual findings, we believed that the interests of justice required a dismissal of the warrant and we filed paperwork to do that."

Editor's note: This article was updated at 11:20 p.m. June 5 to include a statement from the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office.

City Manager George Lahanas was not available for comment at the time of publication.

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