East Lansing Police officer cleared in excessive force probe

Officer expected to return to duty after recent exoneration

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MONDAY, May 4 — An East Lansing Police Department officer recently accused of using excessive force is expected to return to the job after he was cleared of any alleged misconduct.

City officials announced today that Officer Andrew Stephenson will return from paid administrative leave after a Michigan State Police investigation determined that he was entirely justified in using force to apprehend two suspects during arrests on Dec. 29, 2019, and Feb. 9.

“We’re glad to see this result but it doesn’t mean that we still don’t have work to do,” said East Lansing Mayor Ruth Beier. “I wouldn’t say the accusations aren't credible. They showed force, just not excessive force according to police procedure. That doesn’t mean we want that particular kind of force to be used in our community. That’ll be something we need to review.”

Last month, Beier ordered the Police Department to release portions of videos and investigative reports from an incident during which Stephenson, a white man, had allegedly used excessive force to arrest a black man with a suspended driver’s license that failed to signal as he left a grocery store.

The complaints led to Stephenson’s paid leave while the State Police examined the accusations. That investigation concluded today, exonerating Stephenson.

“I believe there was a valid reason for this traffic stop, that the officers conducted themselves professionally within training guidelines and used reasonable force for the situation they encountered to affect the arrest,” according to MSP conclusions from the recent investigation.

Reports released so far confirmed that three officers made a traffic stop on Lake Lansing Road at about midnight Dec. 29, 2019. A middle-aged black man — identified only as Anthony “The Can Man” and Mr. Loggins — allegedly failed to signal while pulling out of a nearby Meijer.

Records showed officers were suspicious because his car, a black Malibu, also matched the description of a vehicle that darted away from Lansing Township officers the night before. The driver had either an expired or suspended driver’s license, reports state.

The driver was allowed to retrieve insurance paperwork from his trunk, but officers pulled out a pair of handcuffs. Video shows the suspect yelling “come and get me” before the tape cuts off. City officials still haven’t released any footage of the ensuing physical encounter.

Reports state that officers pulled the man from his vehicle — because he was resisting arrest — before taking him to the ground where he scraped his forehead. Stephenson held a knee to the man’s back, but it was “nothing outside of ELPD’s training guidelines,” investigators found.

Officers later “went out of their way,” offering to loosen the man’s handcuffs and retrieve his personal belongings before hauling him off to jail. An ambulance was also called to assess his injuries. The man contended that he never resisted arrest. Video footage showed otherwise.

Reports stated the man was “feeling agitated” and “immediately turned and squared off” with officers when they tried to arrest him. Officers said the man, at some point, had also reached into his car when officers advanced, possibly to retrieve a weapon — “a huge safety issue,” the report stated.

A subsequent search of the vehicle didn’t appear to turn up any weapons, according to reports. The man can later be heard telling officers that they were in trouble as he questioned the necessity of their aggressive arrest and threatening legal action. He filed a complaint a few days later.

Officers requested charges of disorderly conduct and driving with a suspended license. Reports show those charges were dropped for two felony charges of resisting and obstructing a police officer, but it’s unclear how the case panned out in the courtroom. The suspect’s identity was not revealed in the police reports, making a reliable search of public court records impossible.

Video footage of the encounter still hasn’t been released. Beier maintained that its release could jeopardize the integrity of the suspect’s ongoing criminal proceedings. She failed, however, to adequately explain that justification under law. City Pulse has filed another formal appeal.

In the meantime, Stephenson is expected to immediately return to the line of duty while the Police Department continues to review its “head stabilization” technique as a method to gain physical control over a resisting subject during an arrest. As recent incidents have shown, the arrest strategy has been shown to cause injuries and should only be used sparingly, if at all.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, training sessions for use of force — including a formal retraining on the “head stabilization” technique — have been rescheduled to the summer.

Beier said the City Council will also have a public hearing on May 26 to discuss implementing a community relations improvement plan for the Police Department — including an independent review board for allegations levied against uniformed officers in the city.

“Maybe we’ll want this body to take an outside look at accusations in the future,” Beier added.

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

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