East Lansing censors all footage of alleged police brutality

Redacted records raise more questions at the East Lansing Police Department

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FRIDAY, April 3 — Despite a plea for transparency from East Lansing Mayor Ruth Beier, some city officials are still refusing to provide records of an alleged incident of police brutality.

Beier ordered the East Lansing Police Department yesterday to release portions of videos and investigative reports from an incident where ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson had allegedly used excessive force to arrest a man for driving with a suspended license on Dec. 29, 2019.

Stephenson remains on paid administrative leave while Michigan State Police investigate the incident and make a determination on whether overly aggressive arrest tactics had been used.

Video footage and police reports released today, however, don’t shine much light on the incident. Reports describing the encounter are heavily redacted. Several dashcam and bodycam tapes also provided to City Pulse failed to include any physical encounter during the incident.

Notably, a copy of a “summary report from the pending internal investigation” was also not included in today’s records. Under law, officials are required to segregate the exempt information from non-exempt information within public records when they’re released.

Officials also failed to provide any reason for the redactions or censored video footage.

Beier, with final say over public records requests in the city, overruled the Police Department yesterday after officials there denied prior requests from City Pulse in their entirety. City Pulse again appealed to Beier today for a more judicious review of footage and investigative reports.

Reports showed that at least three officers responded to a traffic stop on Lake Lansing Road at about midnight on Dec. 29, 2019. A middle-aged black man — identified only as Anthony “The Can Man” in reports — had allegedly failed to signal as he pulled out of a nearby Meijer.

Records also showed the man’s car, a black Malibu, also matched the description of a “dark unknown vehicle, possibly a Malibu” that darted away Lansing Township officers on Dec. 28.

Videos show Office Austin Nelson asking for identification, registration and insurance information before discovering the man either had an expired or suspended driver’s license. Officers Evan Siemen and Andrew Stephenson arrived to assist several minutes later.

After suggesting that the suspect could retrieve his insurance information from his trunk, the officers attempted to place him under arrest for driving with a suspended driver’s license. The man seemed confused, questioned why he was being arrested and sat back down in his car.

Then, the video footage cuts out altogether for what presumably sparked the excessive force allegations. The footage resumes to show the man being handcuffed and escorted into a cruiser.

Reports contended the man was “feeling agitated” with officers. Stephenson also reported that the man “immediately turned and squared off” with officers when they tried to arrest him. Austin said the man, at some point, also reached into his car — “a huge officer safety issue.”

The man can be seen questioning officers about whether he’s going to be arrested, pleading to be turned loose and requesting a ticket rather than a trip to jail. He also turned to face Nelson when he was told he was being arrested. It’s unclear whether the man “reached” into his car.

An officer can later be heard saying the man has “a little knot on his head,” but no injuries were visible on the video footage. The suspect could later be heard telling officers that they were in trouble, questioning the necessity of their aggressive arrest and threatening further legal action.

Reports show officers requested charges of disorderly conduct and driving with a suspended license. It’s unclear how the case panned out; The suspect’s identity was not revealed. Reports showed he received medical attention and was later released on a personal recognizance bond.

A few days later, on Jan. 3, the man returned to the police station to file a formal complaint. Reports alleged that the officers involved had “used excessive force” and caused a head injury.

In their denial to City Pulse last month, officials said the release of those records would’ve interfered with law enforcement proceedings and deprived Stephenson of “the right to a fair trial or impartial administrative adjudication” and would’ve constituted an invasion of privacy.

That same official — Sgt. Adrian Ojerio — also attempted to charge City Pulse more than $500 to obtain video footage of another alleged incident of police brutality involving Stephenson in February. After a brief dispute, those tapes were released to the public at no cost.

Officials ultimately cleared Stephenson of any wrongdoing tied to the February incident.

ELPD officials released data this week that showed officers had disproportionately stopped black drivers in the city over the last two months. Beier labeled the findings as “unacceptable” and has since urged officers to rethink their approach to traffic enforcement in East Lansing.

“We are committed to making these changes and any other changes needed to make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome in the City of East Lansing,” Beier said yesterday.

Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage as the investigation proceeds.

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