Lansing cops closed the case. A local mother is still searching for clues.

Lansing mother ups reward to $5K for tips on closed accidental drowning case

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THURSDAY, Jan. 28 — A Lansing woman is still searching for answers nearly seven years after her son was found dead in the Grand River, upping a reward this week from $2,000 to $5,000 for tips that lead to the prosecution of anyone that might be responsible.

Brandon Mitchner, 22, was out drinking with friends in downtown Lansing on June 28, 2014. After their party bus stopped at a bar, nearby security footage showed him and another man walking toward the river on South Street, then in the early hours of June 29.

About 11 seconds later, the tape showed his friend walking away alone.

Shortly thereafter, police suspect that Mitchner meandered about 30 feet down the dead end of South Street, stumbled off a steep but navigable embankment, plunged into the river and drowned. Autopsy reports label his death an accidental drowning with no signs of injuries. His blood-alcohol level was 0.22, suggesting he had consumed eight or nine drinks.

A Lansing Police Department investigation that was later reviewed by the Michigan State Police determined Mitchner’s friend from that night had been “open and honest” with cops and showed no signs that he was lying or trying to hide information, police reports showed.

“I do not find where anyone is criminally liable for his death nor do I see any potential for criminal charges related to this case,”  MSP Lt. Erik Darling reaffirmed in June after he was asked to review the case. “I do not recommend reopening LPD's investigation or keeping it open. If any new information surfaces, it can still be followed up on and documented even if the investigation is closed.”

But Mitchner’s mother, Shirley, still believes there’s justice to be served.

“It became clear to me that the police, the prosecutors — nobody was going to investigate this, that they want more information, so I’m trying to give it to them,” she said. “I’m not done trying. I’m tired, frustrated, but I can’t give up, not with God’s strength to keep me going.”

Mitchner would like the Michigan State Police to redraw its own investigation rather than review the 2014 Lansing Police Department probe. She argued that more interviews must be done — including witnesses who purportedly saw her son in the water.

“I was told they had 67 cold cases and didn’t want to have one more to deal with,” Mitchner said. “There are just too many holes in this case. Timelines don’t add up. The Lansing Police Department does not investigate. They show up at the scene, gather information and if nothing sticks out, they’re done. There’s just too much eagerness to keep these cases closed.”

A Lansing Police Department spokesman said that two senior detectives independently investigated the case between 2014 and 2018, as well as the Michigan State Police in 2017 and 2020. The latest review labeled local cops’ police work as “thorough, detailed and adequate.”

Each authority involved in the case, including the Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office, didn’t find evidence of a crime. Everyone concurred: It “was an accident,” reports state.

In the meantime, Mitchner has hired a private investigator to keep searching for details.

And while the police investigation remains closed in Lansing, Mitchner is also encouraging anyone with tips to contact the Lansing Police Department at 517-483-4600. If that information leads to an arrest or prosecution, Mitchner promises a $5,000 payout.

“The only potential for criminal charges would be if someone could be determined to be the proximate cause of Brandon Mitchner’s death,” Darling concluded in his police report, noting “it does not appear possible” that the only person with him at the time could have been responsible.

“Nor is there any indication that he would have had any motive to do so,” Darling stated.

Still, a Lansing Police Department spokesman said the department still “expresses sympathy to the Mitchner family for the loss of their son” and will actively investigate any new information.

Mitchner has also lobbied for legislation to enact a “duty to act” standard in Michigan, which would create criminal consequences for silent observers who fail to help others in mortal peril — something that doesn’t exist in state law. A bill introduced in 2019 by state Rep. Julie Brixie would have essentially required people to assist others who find themselves in dangerous situations, but it died in committee.

At least 10 states have passed “duty to act” laws that establish misdemeanors for failing to help others in danger. Mitchner said she’s working with state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, a Michigan Democrat,  to bring back another bill.

“It’s not done yet. That’s something we’re still actively working on,” Mitchner added.

Mitchner is also relaunching her son’s urban fashion line in October, which is called MIYM — Make It Your Mission, a moniker that Brandon Mitchner thought up. 

Lansing since installed guardrails and a sign warning about the dangerous incline along the stretch of riverside where Brandon Mitchner reportedly fell to his death. Mitchner is also pushing to rename the street after her son and to have a mural painted somewhere nearby.

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