On Tuesday, the Detroit Branch of the NAACP will hold a press conference over the policies and practices of the Michigan State Police. Specifically, the group seeks to focus on Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue and her leadership of the agency in the wake of the controversial death of a black teen. Etue has also faced criticism since September over meme she posted to her personal Facebook account that described NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem as "anti-American degenerates." Members of the black caucus in Michigan’s legislature have refused her apology and are calling on her to resign. 

Joining the press conference on Tuesday will be US Rep. John Conyers (D) and a representative of the Arab-American Civil Rights League.

Etue’s Facebook post came after the fatal ATV crash of a 15-year-old black boy in August. An autopsy report showed that Damon Grimes was felled by a shock from a Taser fired by a state trooper from a moving MSP vehicle. 

Governor refuses to fire MSP chief

On Monday, there was a rally in Highland Park, a Detroit suburb, where black clergy and activists also called for Etue’s departure. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has said he wants to keep Etue at her post, even after her planned retirement in early 2018. David Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church said before Monday’s rally, “Colonel Etue is unfit. Damon Grimes is dead and nobody seems to care. People are taking a knee because these white cops are out of control from Colonel Etue to the beat cop.”  W.J. Rideout III said, “It is a shame that this was ruled an accident,” who added “How can we trust a police agency run by a Colonel that calls black folks degenerates? It is simple, we cannot. We demand justice.” 

Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Mike Shaw said that the department has not gotten answers from either Bullock and Rideout in response to appeals for dialogue. "They're acting like nobody talked to them or nobody cares and that's not the case at all. We're more than happy to work with them, we just don't think the media is the proper venue to sit down and solve problems. Quite honestly, if they're not in the media, they're not interested, and you can quote me on that." Shaw added that despite Rideout's assertion, the Grimes case has not been deemed an accident. 

MSP is working with the Wayne County prosecutor’s office to investigate Grimes’ death, said Shaw. He said that investigators have found information that may lead to criminal charges for three MSP employees. He asked for the community to wait for the Wayne County prosecutor to complete her investigation.

State trooper Mark Bessner, who Tasered the teen who subsequently died, resigned last week. He fired his Taser from his moving patrol vehicle against MSP policy. He is currently the object of a $50 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Grimes's parents by veteran politician and celebrity attorney Geoffrey Fieger. 

Grimes, according to an autopsy report, was Tasered from behind while fleeing on an ATV. The report showed that the coroner found leads from a "conducted electrical weapon" were embedded in the boy’s hair on the back of his head and lower back. Last week, there was a court hearing into whether a State Police employee may have discarded physical evidence from the Taser.  

On August 26, Grimes was riding his on Detroit's impoverished east side when police attempted to stop him. Trooper Bessner allegedly fired a Taser shock gun at Grimes out of the window of a patrol car, sources have said. Grimes then crashed the ATV and later died of blunt-force trauma, suffering several contusions, lacerations and abrasions, as well as other injuries. The autopsy ruled the death an accident. 

Toxicology test results show that there were no alcohol or drugs were found in his system. Grimes was dead on arrival at St. John Hospital in Detroit.

Trooper Bessner was suspended from the force, but later resigned on Sept. 22. According to MSP, two other State Police employees were suspended on Sept. 26 in connection with Grimes' death. 

In a federal court last week, a judge threw out a request by the Grimes family attorney for a hearing to determine whether a trooper destroyed evidence in the case. This followed allegations published by the Detroit News that a MSP sergeant took Taser wires and prongs from the scene and discarded them. The autopsy report says, however, "There were leads from a conducted electrical weapon embedded in the hair on the back of left side of the head and the skin of the left lower back. The leads were recovered and retained." 

A report from a nurse at St. John Hospital on Moross said Grimes was fleeing from police when he "flew off the ATV on Gratiot and Rossini in Detroit and sustained massive head trauma." He was dead when he arrived to the hospital, the report said.   

Trooper Bessner’s lawyer, Richard Convertino, said in a press statement that Grimes recklessly and dangerously drove the ATV "as he actively resisted and evaded arrest." Bessner, he said, made a split-second decision in difficult circumstances. He called Grimes' death tragic. 

Bessner was a passenger in the MSP vehicle, which was being driven by a sergeant. It is that sergeant who was alleged by the media to have discarded the stun gun’s wires and prongs. The names of the other troopers allegedly involved have yet to be revealed officially. Charges against them are still being contemplated.

Because the incident has generated several public protests, MSP has pulled troopers out of the 9th Precinct of Detroit temporarily in an effort to improve community relations. MSP had deployed troopers to the 9th Precinct as part of Michigan’s Secure Cities Partnership, which places troopers in cities where violent crime has proven to be a challenge to local police. Among the cities where MSP operates is Flint, which has one of the highest murder rates in the United States.

MSP has also altered agency policy regarding high-speed chases in order to conform to the practices of Detroit police. MSP will now engage in high-speed pursuits only in cases of a perceived danger to the community. Before now, MSP troopers routinely chased traffic violators and others committing nonviolent crimes.

Ninth Precinct dangers

Precinct 9, on Detroit’s northeast side, is the city’s most dangerous precinct at 6.32 homicides per 10,000 people. The district covers 11.85 square miles and had a population of 74,348 as of the 2010 census. It contains the following neighborhoods: Burbank, City Airport, Conner, Denby, Greensbriar, LaSalle College Park, Mohican Regent, Pulaski, Ravendale, Regent Park, State Fair-Gratiot, and Von Steuben. 

According to Detroit police department statistics, in 2012 there were 1,260 aggravated assaults, 2,221 burglaries, 52 homicides, 1,493 larcenies, 601 robberies and 1,773 stolen cars. In 2013, there were 1,217 aggravated assaults, 1,863 burglaries, 44 homicides, 1,450 larcenies, 503 robberies and 1,680 stolen cars. In 2014, there were 1,348 aggravated assaults, 1,627 burglaries, 44 homicides, 1,117 larcenies, 556 robberies and 1,217 stolen cars. 


 

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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