ELPD Will Release Video and Investigation Results in Gasito Case Tomorrow

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!


Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 7:00 am
Emily Joan Elliott, Anaiis Rios Kasoga, and Alice Dreger

Above: Young adult protesters at Sunday’s gathering. (photo by Raymold Holt)

East Lansing’s City Council will hold a special meeting Thursday evening, Feb. 27, “to provide a public review of the findings of the East Lansing Police Department’s (ELPD) internal investigation into an allegation of excessive force,” according to a press release issued by the City.

ELi previously reported that on Feb. 9, Uwimana “Tito” Gasito and Anthony Zarwea became involved in an altercation with another man, Chandler Lee, at the 7-Eleven store in downtown East Lansing. The fight spilled out of the store where officers moved to arrest Zarwea.

Gasito says he then took out his phone to record the arrest, which he saw as unjustified. He has said he was subsequently handcuffed and shoved to the ground where an officer rubbed his face on the pavement.

Gasito calls the experience an assault by East Lansing police, and self-published photographs show bloody injuries to his head and eye.

Video footage will be released in conjunction with the meeting, and Council is expected to discuss the evidence and police investigators’ conclusions.

Whether the public will be allowed to speak at the meeting is not yet clear.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the courtroom upstairs at City Hall and will be livestreamed on the City’s web portal.

Protesters line Abbot Road outside City Hall (photo by Raymond Holt)

This past Sunday afternoon (Feb. 23), more than 50 people assembled outside the East Lansing Police Department for a protest organized by “Justice For Uwimana Gasito – Tito.”

The protest began at 1:30 p.m. and steadily grew in size. The group made its way to the corner of Linden Street and Abbot Road, where members of East Lansing High School’s Black Student Union held signs for the passing traffic to see, as drivers honked in approval to show their solidarity.

Many attendees expressed their concerns to ELi reporters.

East Lansing resident and former East Lansing Public School Board President Nell Kuhnmuench stated she was there because she is concerned over the lack of answers from ELPD. Similarly, Melanie Morrison said the public needs to know details of what happened.

Both women believe that people of color often bear the burden of unfair policing tactics. They hoped the protest would encourage ELPD to consider its own policies and actions.

Photo by Raymond Holt of Sunday's protest

Zach Moreau, the Vice Chair of the Capital Area Libertarian Party, attended to protest what he saw as the violation of Gasito’s First Amendment rights. He called for ELPD to develop better procedures and practices. He also attended to hand out literature on best practices for safely filming the police.

For some protestors, the idea of police brutality hit close to home. Marcy Guilford came to East Lansing from the town of Mulliken to honor the memory of Deven Guilford, who was killed by a police officer in Eaton County.

Guilford said she had previously viewed East Lansing as more progressive on issues of race and policing, but Gasito’s experience has made her question that. She stated that it is difficult to get justice when the police have done wrong.

Lansing resident Aaron Blankenburg told ELi, “I think it’s important that the community sticks together. When one of us is going through it, we should have each other’s back. I wouldn’t want what was done to Tito done to somebody I care about.”

Many of the young people who gathered for the protest brought cardboard signs adorned with statements such as “You work for the people” and “Was it necessary?” Several expressed serious concerns about the impact of the police’s alleged treatment of Gasito on how young people of color see their situations.

East Lansing High School student Ruby Solis Cothran said, “Our school is diverse, so I think that [what happened] brings caution to the students.”

Lansing Everett High School student Mikeise May told ELi, “I feel like it’s affecting [kids at that school] because they can’t really leave their house or go have fun because they don’t wanna be pulled over for anything or arrested.”

The crowd started outside ELPD offices and moved toward Abbot Road (photo by Raymond Holt)

On the eve of the protest, organizers posted a request on Facebook to keep the protest peaceful. The group asked for attendees “to be respectful and obey the laws and those who are paid to enforce it (police officers). This is a peaceful protest and not an anti-police.”

Farhan Sheikh-Omar, a friend of Gasito who has previously spoken out against ELPD’s handling of the arrest at East Lansing’s Human Relations Committee (HRC), spoke to the crowd on Sunday. Sheikh-Omar sees Gasito’s arrest as uncalled for. Moreover, he voiced his frustration with being told to wait for answers from ELPD.

Reiterating that the event was not “anti-police,” he stated that both he and Gasito moved to the U.S. as refugees from Africa and have called Lansing home for a long time. He explained that he appreciated living in a country that has police and expressed his respect for the law.

“What we don’t want is racial profiling,” Sheikh-Omar explained. “What we don’t want is violence against unarmed black men.”

Sheikh-Omar reminded the crowd that ELPD officers are paid by the community’s tax dollars. He feels they should be held accountable as public servants.

“We are calling on the East Lansing Police Department, calling on the Police Chief to hold his police officers accountable, to release the [video] footage,” Sheikh-Omar said. “He works for the people, he’s a public servant just like his police officers. They are paid by us to be public servants, not to be masters. So he needs to do what’s in the interest of the people, not for his department or for his police officers.”

Sheikh-Omar also called for some specific reforms that ELPD could implement, echoing concerns that he raised at the HRC. He mentioned an instance, discussed at the HRC, that he said suggested the police see themselves as above the law.

A resident of Lansing, Sheikh-Omar also alleged that ELPD engages in “stop and frisk,” the oft-criticized policy most associated with New York City. Sheikh-Omar stated he has never been pulled over in Lansing but claimed that ELPD has stopped him when he has been driving to the Islamic Center of East Lansing.

He pointed out that when police stops are racially motivated, it puts an unfair burden on communities of color. “African-American men are being targeted simply for being black,” he told those gathered.

Members of the HRC have also vocalized lack of trust with ELPD for its handling of Gasito’s arrest. Gasito’s arrest occurred early on Feb. 9, but when Chief Sparkes and Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez met with the HRC on Feb. 12, they made no mention of the incident. Members of the HRC expressed grave concern over this apparent lapse in communication.

At Sunday’s event, Sheikh-Omar called for an end to discriminatory practices by ELPD and called for an outside law enforcement agency to investigate ELPD’s treatment of Gasito. He sees ELPD investigating itself as inherently unfair and biased.

Photo by Raymond Holt

Despite additional urgings from the HRC, ELPD has declined to release the body cam footage of the arrests before Thursday’s special meeting. WILX aired a short and muted clip of Gasito’s phone video, but it is not enough to provide clarity about what happened.

Ordinarily, City Council accepts public comment near the start of its meetings, but it is unclear whether tomorrow’s meeting will follow that format. City Council can be reached in writing through a special email address, council@cityofeastlansing.com. All communications sent to Council are published as part of the Council’s records.

eastlansinginfo.org © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info