Not enough evidence to show Detroit Councilman George Cushingberry, Jr. abused his power

A new report issued late this afternoon says there is “insufficient evidence” to show that Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry, Jr. abused his position as an elected official during a January police traffic stop.

The city’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued today report, following a six month investigation into the night Detroit police pulled over Cushingberry when he and a friend were leaving the Penthouse Lounge.

“The question is not whether Councilman Cushingberry exhibited model citizen behavior during his encounter with the officers. Rather, it is whether his conduct and statements crossed the line into abusing his authority as a member of city council,” says the report.

The lack of tangible video and audio evidence documenting the incident makes supporting a finding that Councilman Cushingberry’s demeanor and statements crossed this threshold difficult.

Action News was first to report Cushingberry’s January traffic stop. At the time, the newly-elected councilman told us he did not have open alcohol in the car. Cushingberry also claimed that police targeted him because he is black, though one of the officers involved in the traffic stop is also African-American.

Police have maintained that they had pulled over Cushingberry because he had cut them off. When they approached him on foot, he began to drive away and then stopped, they said. The officers reached into remove his keys when they found marijuana and an open container of alcohol in his car.

Inspector General James Heath, who heads the OIG, led the investigation and wrote the report. The report says there were two critical issues to the OIG’s investigation:

“Whether Councilman Cushingberry attempted to display his city council identification instead of providing his State of Michigan operator’s license as requested by police; and the extent to which Councilman Cushingberry’s statements regarding his status as a member of city council evidenced an effort to improperly influence the outcome of the police investigation.”

The two officers who pulled over Cushingberry told the OIG that the councilman identified himself by holding his city council bade out the car window and asked, “Do you know who I am?” The officers then asked for his driver’s license, the report says.

But Cushingberry told the OIG that he either placed his driver’s license on his car when the officer asked for it, or handed it directly to the officer. He also says he never got his driver’s license back from the officers.

Cushingberry also says that he placed his city council ID on top of his car at the same time he provided his driver’s license. As a public official, he believed he was required to provide it, says the OIG report.

Sergeant William Carter, the supervising officer who was called to the scene told the OIG that Cushingberry told him he gave his license to one of the officers and never got it back.

Carter also said that the officers who pulled over Cushingberry, told him “…that they had received the license and that another officer might be in possession of it. This is persuasive in supporting the councilman’s contention that he did not present his council identification card in lieu of his operator’s license,” says the OIG report.

Several police officers were called to the scene that night and were later dismissed.

Sgt. Carter, who did not arrive to the scene for an hour after he was contacted by the officers, described Cushingberry “as being relatively cooperative.”

Richard Clement, who is n Cushingberry’s friend and was a passenger that night, also said Cushingberry provided his driver’s license to the police. Clement, who also works for Cushingberry carries a medical marijuana card.

In late January at a press conference, Detroit Police Chief James Craig denied that the officers pulled over Cushingberry because he is African-American. Craig also said that officers did their jobs properly, contacting their sergeant when they discovered the driver was a city official, as is dictated by department policy.

However, Craig criticized the Sgt. Carter for failing to administer a breathalyzer though a half-cup of open alcohol was found in the car. He said Sgt. Carter also failed to collect into evidence a partially-smoked marijuana joint also found in Cushingberry’s car. Sgt. Carter instead ordered the officers to issue the councilman a ticket for failing to use his turn signal and released him.

The OIG made two recommendations including that the city government formulate guidelines which govern employees’ ‘non-official’ interaction with law enforcement and other city personnel.”

The OIG was created in 2012 to investigate employees, as well as elected and appointed officials, according to the city web site.

7 Action News has reached out to Cushingberry for comment.