East Lansing Police Releases More Video and Documents in Alleged Case of Excessive Force: UPDATED

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Friday, March 6, 2020, 1:45 pm
Alice Dreger

Captain Chad Connelly presents the police investigation to City Council on Feb. 27, 2020, while Chief Larry Sparkes looks on. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

This report was originally published March 4 and was updated on March 6.

Following multiple appeals from ELi to release all materials related to an investigation made into an allegation of excessive force by East Lansing Police, the City of East Lansing and ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes have now released more material.

ELi has been pressing for weeks to obtain access to all unedited video and interviews collected in the course of the investigation, along with all related written reports and correspondence.

Following a determination made by ELPD last Sunday requiring ELi to put up a $280 deposit and to wait another week in relation to a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we appealed to Mayor Ruth Beier and Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens for full release without delay and without charge.

Beier and Stephens let us know they were working on it, and on Wednesday morning, Sparkes sent this:

“At the request of the City Council the entire case report (including additional video from the jail) will be posted online by the end of the business day today. We will be returning your deposit regarding the FOIA request as the items you requested will be included with the report.”

On Thursday, the City did release the "case report." Additional video has also been released. (Links are provided below.) 

According to Sparkes, ELPD will not be releasing transcripts of interviews with officers conducted in the course of the internal investigation. Sparkes said Wednesday that, "After discussing the release of material this morning with both police unions and the city attorney it was learned that we cannot release the police officer transcripts."

Sparkes cites Michigan law MCL 15.395 which states that "An involuntary statement made by a law enforcement officer is confidential communication that is not open to public inspection."

According to the law, if officers consent to release, transcripts of their interviews can be released. But according to Sparkes, that isn't going to happen: "In speaking with union officials the officers are not interested in providing consent."

Police officials presented their formal report of their internal investigation to City Council last week. That investigation led to a conclusion of “insufficient evidence” for use of excessive force. We reported that many community members reacted negatively to the findings and the framing of the presentation.

East Lansing’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) met Wednesday night and voted to call on City Attorney Tom Yeadon to drop all charges against Uwimana “Tito” Gasito, who was injured during the course of arrest on Feb. 9. and whose social media post led to the investigation.

The last two East Lansing police administrations under Chief Sparkes and his predecessor Chief Jeff Murphy have been working on shifting the department to a model of community policing, which includes work on anti-bias training and de-escalation.

Along with Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez, Sparkes met with East Lansing’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) just days after the incident that led to the allegation of excessive force, to go over complaints made against ELPD officers in 2019 and to talk about quality improvement efforts in ELPD.

For four years, the HRC has been reviewing with ELPD formal complaints made against ELPD officers by citizens, and for four years, ELPD has not found sufficient evidence to “sustain” a citizen complaint. (See ELi’s reports on the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 complaint reviews.)

ELPD has found reason to take disciplinary action against officers in some investigations into officer behavior internally initiated by ELPD itself.

City Council is interested in creating a citizen oversight board to look into complaints made against ELPD officers, and possibly also ELFD officers (firefighter/paramedics). But that group has not yet been convened, nor has there yet been consensus on what its work would entail.

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