Facing Report of Police Brutality, ELPD Saying Little So Far

You are on eastlansinginfo.org, ELi's old domain, which is now an archive of news (as of early April, 2020). If you are looking for the latest news, go to eastlansinginfo.news and update your bookmarks accordingly!


Friday, February 14, 2020, 3:19 pm
Alice Dreger and Chris Root

A Facebook posting made less than 24 hours ago alleges an assault last Saturday night by East Lansing Police officers. The posting exploded on social media this morning, and ELPD has now issued a press release indicating they are investigating.

The Lansing State Journal identified the allegation as coming from Uwimana Gasito, age 19, posting on Facebook under the name of Tito Da Atm.

The original Facebook posting reports this: “I was recording the police who I believe were unlawfully arresting my friend. While recording three officers arrested me. They threw me to the ground. While I was on the ground in handcuffs the officer was pushing my head into the ground scraping my forehead back and forth. All of this because I was recording the officer attempting to arrest my friend. I am trying to retrieve the video from my cellphone as we speak. This is the abuse I had to face this past weekend. Police brutality is real. This is my story. This is my truth. This is my pain.”

According to the LSJ, the events happened at the 7-Eleven store at the corner of Grove Street and Albert Avenue and the man who police were arresting was Gasito's brother.

Mayor Ruth Beier, Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens, and top City and Police officials were holed up in a conference room for almost three hours this afternoon, starting at noon.

But the press release that resulted provides little information.

ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes is quoted in the release as saying, “The East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) has proactively initiated an internal investigation into an allegation of alleged excessive force during an incident that occurred early in the morning on Sunday, Feb. 9 in the parking lot of 7-Eleven in downtown East Lansing.”

Above: ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes at a Human Relations Commission meeting Wednesday night (photo by Gary Caldwell)

The release goes on, “ELPD takes allegations of this nature very seriously and is actively investigating the incident, including gathering statements from all involved and reviewing video footage….Once the investigation is completed, a special meeting of the East Lansing City Council will be held to provide a public review of all of the body cam and in-car footage from the incident and the video footage will be released at that time.”

According to Mayor Pro Tem Stephens, the investigation could take about two weeks.

The statement issued today includes this: “ELPD leadership expects professionalism from its sworn officers and the safety of the people within the community is our top priority. If it is discovered that something inappropriate occurred, appropriate action will be taken.”

ELPD has been working closely with East Lansing’s Human Relations Commission – the City’s civil rights commission – on review of complaints against police officers and on developing policies and training that are aimed at reducing incidents of bias.

This Wednesday evening, Feb. 12, ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes and Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez met with the HRC for several hours to work on these issues, but at that meeting there was no hint of there having been a recent incident of possible excessive force.

Above: Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez at Wednesday's meeting (photo by Gary Caldwell)

The HRC has asked the City Council to create a task force to develop ideas for a citizens’ review board of the police, but such a group is not yet in place.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Chief Sparkes and Deputy Chief Gonzalez made clear they look forward to a potential Citizen Public Safety Oversight Panel as a way to further the goal of more citizen-centered policing.

In particular, they named wanting to develop a way that such a group will be ready to help with transparency and review in cases of “critical incidents.” They gave as examples of “critical incidents” the death of someone in detention or the shooting of a citizen by a police officer.

Regarding the status of designing a review board for the City, Mayor Pro Tem Stephens reported that Mayor Ruth Beier and he are working on a revision of the resolution sent to Council by the HRC.

Beier told Council this Tuesday night that they want to appoint an ad hoc group that will study approaches to oversight commissions in other communities, so that Council can adopt something that will work in East Lansing.

Stephens said that the revised resolution will accomplish pretty much what the HRC’s resolution would do, and that the HRC will be able to review the revision at their meeting on March 4. The Council is expected to consider the resolution at its discussion-only meeting on March 17.

HRC Commissioner and Edgewood United Church Pastor Liz Miller sent this statement: "Today's news is deeply disturbing. It underscores the importance of having a strong Public Safety Oversight Commission in East Lansing that not only reviews cases after they happen, but ensures we have policies and procedures in place so that this type of violence does not happen in the first place."

HRC Chair Talyce Murray said, "The Human Relations Commission recognizes the severity of the situation and the public's right to a transparent government." She added, "As the Chair of the body responsible for ensuring the Human Dignity in the City of East Lansing, I am committed to ensuring all voices of our community are heard and that we take the best steps towards a truly equitable home for each of us."

This is a developing story.

See our special report on Wednesday's HRC meeting.

eastlansinginfo.org © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info