No charges for cops in violent Baker Street arrest

Prosecutor: Police conduct ‘concerning’ but not illegal

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FRIDAY, March 5 — Three Lansing Police Department officers won’t face criminal charges for their role in a violent arrest last year on Baker Street. Prosecutors labeled their conduct “concerning,” but found today it “did not rise to the level" of a violation of the law. 

“While we do not endorse the behavior of the officers, we review only to determine whether the evidence supports a reasonable doubt that the officers’ actions violated a criminal statute,” according to a memorandum released today from Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office. “We have determined that the evidence does not support proof beyond a reasonable doubt that officers committed a crime; therefore, we are declining prosecution in all three warrant requests.”

Officers Alex Rojas, Morgan Schafer and Alex Slobin were placed on paid leave in November after they repeatedly struck and arrested a 25-year-old Black man, identified by prosecutors as Johnathon Hardy,  along Baker Street in southeast Lansing. 

Click here to watch footage of the arrest.

Video of the struggle made waves on social media. Michigan State Police investigators were called in to review the incident and help prosecutors determine whether or not the officers violated internal police policies or state statutes that prescribe their use of force. 

Police Chief Daryl Green told City Pulse last November: “I saw something that was definitely concerning to me. The initial contact, the verbal communication just at the start of the video, was disappointing and concerning to me. From that, I wanted to make sure that the officer did not return to the street until we had a chance to review all the video and reports.”

And after a three-month review, Siemon's office decided today that the officers won't be charged.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvements to internal policies and state law, she added.

This is not a review of whether a different response by any individual on that day might have been better. It is not second-guessing the involved community member or the three officers. It is not an internal affairs or employment review for discipline, nor can it hold individuals accountable in the way that a different process, such as a police oversight board or a civil lawsuit may be able to,” Siemon said. “This review, like each warrant review our office undertakes, looks at the available evidence and the law, and determines if there is a basis to issue criminal charges. We cannot authorize criminal charges in the absence of sufficient evidence.”

Hardy carried a backpack and a plastic wiffle ball bat to McNamara Party Store on Nov. 10, according to reports from the prosecutor’s office. A friendly conversation with a small group of people eventually “became heated” before a fight broke out. Reports state a woman eventually chased Hardy down the street with a metal bat. Another man tried to run him over with an SUV.

The next segment of surveillance footage cuts to Rojas arriving on scene in response to calls of a fight, reports showed.

The group pointed toward Hardy: “He started this,” someone told Rojas.

Hardy — who was visibly agitated after the fight — can be seen clenching his fists while talking with Rojas on the sidewalk, walking away and returning to the scene. “Ain’t shit happen,” he yelled as he stepped toward Rojas.

Rojas pushed Hardy and told him to stay back.

Officer Melinda Hutchings then arrived on scene. Rojas told Hardy to leave.

The three briefly discussed the fight that occurred before Hardy snapped back at Rojas: “Shut up, cop.”

Rojas then decided to arrest Hardy for “loud and boisterous conduct” — which is prohibited under city ordinances, reports showed. Hardy backed away. “Get off me, I didn’t do shit,” he said. Rojas and Hutchings pushed Hardy against the wall of the party store, visibly struggling to keep him under control while they waited for additional officers to arrive on Baker Street, reports showed.

Hardy broke free and pushed Rojas against the wall, asking: “How does that feel?”

Officers Christie Chiles and Morgan Schafer arrived on scene. Chiles tasered Hardy, which had “minimal effect,” reports showed. The cops brought Hardy to the ground. Schafer struck him 10 times in the head. Rojas swung punches.

Officers Alex Slobin, Aaron Bush and Sgt. Corey Cambell also arrived amid the struggle. Seven cops were on the scene. Campbell tried to handcuff Hardy while Slobin threw in more punches, one that stunned Hardy long enough for cops to get him in handcuffs.

The investigation ultimately resulted in warrant requests for Rojas, Schafer and Slobin, as well as charges of resisting and obstructing arrest against Hardy. And Siemon’s office passed on criminal charges for all four of them today.

“To determine whether a crime was committed, the ultimate question is whether the officer’s use of force exceeded that which was reasonably necessary to make the arrest,” Siemon wrote in a memorandum released this morning. “As Mr. Hardy increased his level of resistance, the officers were legally allowed to use corresponding levels of physical control to respond.”

As for Hardy? “It is not in the interests of justice to charge him,” Siemon wrote.

“These decisions come in the context of trying to address the historical wrongs of our criminal justice system and partner with our community and local law enforcement agencies to reimagine what keeping our communities safer and more fair, just, and equitable looks like,” Siemon said. “The legal decision that we are making today is in the context of the overall time and circumstances in which we live, but the decision is made based on the facts, evidence, and the law. Utilizing this as part of an ongoing conversation, we can explore creating new expectations and responses for police interactions with community members, and hopefully reduce or eliminate future situations that place community members and law enforcement at risk.”

A Police Department spokesperson said all three officers remain on paid leave. Green said officers involved would still undergo additional training as a result, but wasn’t immediately available to answer additional questions about policies and procedures.

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