The East Lansing City Council voted to demand that Attorney General Dana Nessel's office drop charges against DeAnthony VanAtten – a Black man who was shot by East Lansing police officers in April.
VanAtten was charged by Nessel's office with seven felony counts, including four counts of assault and three weapons charges, on Aug. 23. He is also charged with one count of third-degree retail fraud – a misdemeanor.
The two officers involved were not charged following an investigation by the Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit.
It was revealed during a Sept. 8 Independent Police Oversight Commission meeting by East Lansing Police Department Cpt. Chad Prid that the officer who shot VanAtten has returned to duty, but not in a patrol function.
The City Council, at their Sept. 20 meeting, considered two motions proposed by the Oversight Commission from their last meeting.
The first motion demanded the Attorney General drop all charges against VanAtten, or transfer the case to the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office.
The county office developed a policy in coordination with Nessel's office in June 2020 that said cases involving an “officer-involved shooting” or death of an individual in police custody directly to the Attorney General’s Office for review.
In a statement to The State News, Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon said she can’t ethically comment on another prosecutor’s case.
The Oversight Commission's other motion recommends that the City Manager and Mayor ask Nessel's office for the investigation file.
East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon said at Monday's meeting that he felt VanAtten was being used for political purposes.
"I thought many elements were political theater," Bacon said. "I think it's very difficult for any defendant to go against the machine backed by the political theater."
Further, Bacon said Nessel was stuck in a politically difficult situation – deciding whether to be tough on officers or tough on crime.
"I think [VanAtten] has fallen into that fight there. And they're going to be asked to fight the machine," Bacon said. "If you've been in those hallowed halls, or those offices, that's a machine you don't ever want to get in and have to go against."
Councilmember Dana Watson said at the meeting that Nessel's office had reached out and scheduled a meeting between herself, Bacon and Elaine Hardy – the city's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Coordinator. They all attended.
"During the meeting with Attorney General, yes, it did seem like the dropping the charges was not on the table. I didn't hear, though, that the transfer of the case was necessarily off the table," Watson said.
Bacon, Watson and Councilmember Jessy Gregg voted in favor of both motions.
Councilmember Lisa Babcock abstained because she is a judicial candidate for 54B District Court, running unopposed.
Councilmember George Brookover was the dissenting vote against the motions.
"I ask that they [the Oversight Commission] continue to do their work, let the Attorney General do hers and allow this defendant to have his day in court," Brookover said. "There will be continuing internal oversight over the actions of our police, who I might just remind people also have their own rights under union collective bargaining."
All motions requested by the Oversight Commission were passed.
Amber McCann, director of communications at the Attorney General's office said in a statement to The State News, that complicated cases such as VanAtten's make for heightened emotions.
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"Officer-involved shootings are complex cases that illicit passionate reactions from the community. The Attorney General understands that there are those who disagree with the decision in this case, but she is duty-bound to evaluate the evidence and pursue appropriate charges in accordance with the law," McCann said.
The East Lansing City Council will meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the Hannah Community Center.
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