Detroit Cops Face New Accusations of Police Brutality

Oct. 2, 2011
The hits were caught on video: a Detroit police officer taking down a patron at the MGM Grand Detroit casino.

The hits were caught on video: a Detroit police officer taking down a patron at the MGM Grand Detroit casino.

The punches led Patrick Poisson of Livonia to file a federal lawsuit against two Detroit police officers and the city last month.

In the wake of his suit, new cases have surfaced with similar allegations of Detroit police officers roughing up patrons at MGM.

The cases come around the same time that the Detroit Police Department is being credited for making strides toward compliance with federally mandated reforms -- including curbing excessive force -- that the department agreed in 2003 to implement.

In a quarterly report filed Monday, a court-appointed federal monitor said the department has complied with 78% of the reforms, up from 72% in the monitor's June report.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said he couldn't comment on the pending lawsuits. But he has said Poisson's case is being investigated by the Force Investigation Unit of Internal Affairs, and the officer involved in the scuffle was placed on restricted duty.

Attorneys representing clients in cases against Detroit officers say the officers' responses were excessive.

"These are bullies with badges," said Wolfgang Mueller, Poisson's attorney.

Godbee said any level of force used has to be appropriate, but given the nature of police work, there's no expectation force won't be used.

"But the expectation is you have accountability mechanisms in place to assess, No. 1, was the force necessary?" he said.

And if it was necessary, he said, was it within policy?

Godbee said Thursday that, so far this year, the Force Investigation Unit of Internal Affairs has opened 62 cases classified as Category 1. That categorization is used in cases such as fatalities, critical firearms use, chases that resulted in accidents or broken bones or hospitalization, said Detroit police Cmdr. Brian Stair of Internal Affairs.

Of the 62 cases, 10 have been closed, Stair said.

He said some sort of sustained misconduct was found in four of the 10 closed cases, but officers in two of those cases were exonerated on use-of-force allegations. Misconduct, Stair said, doesn't always mean an improper use of force -- it could also mean some other violation of departmental rules and regulations.

The federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, said in his recent report that the department still has trouble investigating use-of-force incidents in a timely manner.

Stair said a number of external factors contribute to closing a case, including whether there are pending criminal charges.

"While we make every effort to complete the investigation within the allotted time lines, the most important thing is that we get it right," he said.

Some allegations of force also are reported to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners Office of the Chief Investigator. Stair said those cases are more minor than the ones investigated by the Force Investigation Unit.

According to the board, as of Thursday, 239 allegations of use of force had been reported to the Office of the Chief Investigator, compared with 265 during the same period in 2010. A board official said only a small number of cases are sustained, but sometimes even unfounded cases are forwarded to the police chief if a pattern of force complaints against an officer is discovered.

Other complaints of use of force

In addition to Poisson's lawsuit, which also accuses police of misrepresenting the July scuffle when they sought criminal charges against him that were ultimately dropped, another federal lawsuit was filed Thursday.

That suit claims a 34-year-old Detroit landscaper was choked and beaten by two Detroit officers at MGM casino in January.

DaJuan Moncrief said at a news conference Thursday that he and his fiancee were standing in the lobby of the casino waiting for a cab when officers told him to wait outside. Moncrief said he protested, and one of the officers put him in a choke hold, while the other hit him with a police baton.

Moncrief said he spent three days in jail without medical treatment for broken ribs and other injuries before the charges were dropped.

The suit identified the officers as William Brewster and John Appling.

Appling, along with Officer Paul Johnson, is also named in a Wayne County Circuit Court case filed Tuesday, alleging the officers used excessive force against Barque McAllister at MGM in March.

David Robinson, McAllister's attorney, said his client rented a space within the lounge of a casino club. He said McAllister had a dispute with the club, and management called police. According to the lawsuit, the officers assaulted and arrested McAllister. He was charged with defrauding an innkeeper and was later exonerated at trial, the suit says.

Appling also was named in the now-settled case of Gary Ringer, who said he is a Detroit firefighter.

According to court documents, Ringer was at MGM in June 2009 and went to the food court, where two casino security guards told him it was closed.

After Ringer asked to speak to a manager, the lawsuit says, Appling approached and asked him to leave the casino. The lawsuit alleged Appling put his hands on Ringer as he was escorting him to the exit. The lawsuit claims that after Ringer shrugged off his grip and asked not to be touched, the officer punched Ringer in the face and other officers tackled and assaulted him.

In an October 2010 deposition, Appling said he stepped in when Ringer was arguing with casino security. Appling testified that as officers escorted him out, Ringer stopped and began to talk again, so Appling motioned with his hands for Ringer to keep walking. Appling said that's when Ringer swatted his hand away and had a stance that appeared he was going to fight.

Appling -- who at the time said he had worked under the department's gaming division since 1999 -- testified he gave Ringer an "open hand push to the face to distract him" as officers took him down.

Attempts by the Free Press to reach Appling were unsuccessful.

Ringer said he pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge. The city recently settled the lawsuit for $33,000, Ringer's attorney Ben Gonek said.

A little force is normal

As a general rule, police officers are taught to use slightly more force than needed to maintain control of situations, said Dennis Jay Kenney, a former police officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

When a person is verbally resistant to police, Kenney said, officers are taught to engage the person in conversation first. But, he said, officers are often making decisions under stress -- and fear is a major factor.

"Guys who resist the police are dangerous," Kenney said. "You can get hurt."

Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, which pushed for the federally mandated reforms, said officers are routinely confrontational with citizens.

"It's not individual officers, it's the culture," he said, adding that he believes the culture comes from mid-level management.

Contact Gina Damron: 313-223-4526 or [email protected]

Copyright 2011 - Detroit Free Press

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