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DPD moved to fire cop hit with 85 complaints, accusations of racist language. Why was he promoted?

Sgt. accused of harassing, threatening Black residents for years
Posted: 11:59 AM, Jul 21, 2021
Updated: 2021-07-21 19:09:24-04

There was a time when Jay Brown dreamt of becoming a Detroit cop. That all changed the day he came face-to-face with one.

In broad daylight in September of 2015, Brown said he was pulling up to a rental property he helped manage near Fenkell and Greenfield when Officer Stephen Kue pulled up to him.

“He told me not to move. Asked me where the drugs are. Are the drugs in my vehicle? Are the drugs in the house that I’m approaching? What am I doing here?” Brown recalled.

“I said, ‘No, sir. I do not know what’s going on. I’m just here to check on some rental property for my father. That’s it.’”

Nearly the whole time, Brown said Kue’s gun was trained on his chest.

“Still holding a gun on (me) after three minutes, four minutes, and I’m asking you, pleading with you, can you please lower your weapon?” Brown said.

“If you feel that strongly about the color of my skin, you probably shouldn’t be an officer in the City of Detroit." - Jay Brown

Kue searched his vehicle, DPD records show, finding he had no criminal history, no drugs and no stolen weapons. But before he left, Brown says Kue gave him a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt—even though he maintains he was seated in a parked car— and used a racist slur.

“He just said, ‘He’s just another stupid (n-word),’” Brown said.

Brown filed a citizen complaint against Kue that included allegations he used racist language and unnecessary force. Kue denied both.

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“Do you have any doubt at all that he used the n-word?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“I have no doubt in my mind that he used that word,” Brown said. “If you feel that strongly about the color of my skin, you probably shouldn’t be an officer in the City of Detroit."

The allegations against Kue were investigated by the Office of the Chief Investigator, a unit inside the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners that probes complaints against officers.

Kue denied the allegation. Investigators concluded that without more evidence, there were “insufficient facts” to determine what was said.

But it was hardly the first time Kue had been accused.

'It was mind-blowing'

The average uniformed officer in Detroit has received just over eight citizen complaints, according to internal data provided by the Detroit Police Department. Some officers go their entire career without receiving one.

But in Kue’s 12 years of service with Detroit Police, he has amassed 85 complaints—more than ten times the department average.

“It was mind-blowing, frankly,” said Julie Hurwitz, an attorney suing Kue and the department today on behalf of a man she says was wrongly shot at and arrested.

Hurwitz said Kue “had a history of citizen complaints and force investigations within the department that was as long, longer, more extensive than any officer’s personnel history I’ve ever seen.”

7 Action News could not find any officer who has amassed as many complaints as quickly as Kue.

More striking than the number of complaints is the racial makeup of those lodging them.

For complainants who identified their race, nearly every one of them is listed as a person of color, according to internal department records.

See the races of those who filed complaints against Kue in the video below


“It’s somewhat of a concerning pattern, simply because you probably would want to see a mix of different races that we’re talking about,” said Chris Graveline, the director of DPD’s Professional Standards Division.

Since he joined the force, Kue has been accused repeatedly of excessive force, using hostile and racist language and harassing people of color who say their biggest crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

DeAndre Reed and his brother were standing outside on the street where they live when Kue and his partner pulled up.

“They rolled the window down and they asked us: Do we have any guns or drugs on us?” Reed recalled.

“We said no, they told us to lift up our shirt and do a complete circle so they could see our waistband,” he said. “We complied.”

He said Kue handcuffed both brothers, searched them but found nothing on their persons. But when he found that DeAndre had an outstanding traffic warrant, he said Kue uttered a racist slur.

“Thank my dumb (n-word) brother that I’m going to jail,” he recalls Kue saying, adding: “He said it like it’s something he always says. He was very confident in saying it.”

Reed filed a complaint, and investigators interviewed him, his brother and sister—both present—along with Bill Fleming, who lived nearby and also witnessed the exchange.

“He told the other brother, put your hands behind your back…and he was like, this is because of your (n-word) brother,” Fleming recalled. “And I was like whoa, man hold on. Wait a minute.”

Reed was jailed but quickly released.

In all, four people told investigators that Kue used the N-word; the only person who didn’t was Kue.

The complaint was sustained, but Kue appealed and — with no reason documented — his commanding officer later dismissed the charge.

Even today, DPD couldn’t tell us why.

“It’s very troubling when that kind of language is used toward any of our citizens,” said Chris Graveline, DPD’s director of professional standards. “We take it very seriously and we have disciplined members of the department strenuously when using that type of language. Especially with citizens.”

“Not him, though,” pointed out Channel 7’s Jones.

“Not in 2015, apparently,” Graveline said. “But I can’t state with confidence what occurred at that hearing when he appealed it.”

Graveline joined DPD in 2019 and said he doesn’t know why the sustained complaint against Kue was dismissed, as it happened before his arrival.

DPD’s records from back then don’t provide a reason for the sustained charge’s dismissal as well as other sustained findings against Kue that later went away.

“For you to say stuff like that, you just know your best intention is not to protect people like me,” Reed said. “You don’t like people like me.”

Telling the same story

More alarming than the number of complaints against Kue is their consistency.

He has been accused repeatedly of targeting people of color, of using the same demeaning language and, at least eight times, of using or threatening to use excessive force.

Independent of one another, several citizens claimed in their complaints or later in interviews that Kue appeared to be provoking them.

Details from some of the complaints below

“He’s a gangster with a badge,” said Quory Collins, who encountered Kue in July of 2017 while he said he was crossing the street where his mother and grandmother both live.

That’s when Kue and fellow officers pulled up.

“They asked me, can they search me?” Collins said. “I said no, I haven’t did nothing.”

“My trigger finger is itching. I dare you to move. I dare you to move."

Kue and his partner frisked Collins anyway, later saying he was impeding traffic when he crossed the street. Collins was not found to be in possession of anything illegal.

According to Collin’s complaint filed with the city, he and the officers traded insults before Kue ultimately cuffed him, and then made a threat.

“My trigger finger is itching. I dare you to move. I dare you to move,” he recalled Kue saying.

“What does that mean to you?” Jones asked. “Blow my head off,” Collins replied.

“I never had no police threaten my life,” Collins said. “He threatened my life.”

Collins was later released, not charged with anything.

Kue denied the allegation. His fellow officers on the scene later told investigators that they “did not recall” hearing Kue use that language, according to investigators.

After looking into Collins’ complaint, the Office of Chief Investigator said they could not sustain that Kue threatened Collins.

“There are insufficient facts to decide whether the alleged misconduct occurred,” the investigation concluded.

Four years since he came face-to-face with Kue, Collins has no doubt what he heard.

“I’m 38 years old,” he said. “I ain’t never seen no evil like that. Never in my life.”

A finding of “not sustained” doesn’t mean the allegation didn’t happen, but rather that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it either way.

It’s the most common outcome for citizen complaints against Kue and other officers.

In the absence of witnesses, many of the complaints boil down to a citizen’s word against an officer's. If an officer’s body-worn camera is turned off, or never turned on in the first place, arriving at the truth can be impossible.

Twice since 2019, Kue has been disciplined for not activating his body-worn camera.

“They’re able to justify reaching that conclusion by ignoring the vast history of virtually identical behavior alleged against these officers in the past because they’re not sustained,” said Hurwitz, the attorney suing Kue today in federal court.

“They intentionally pay no attention…to any of this officer’s patterns or practice, despite the remarkable similarity between all of these people’s complaints between all of these officers and Sgt. Kue in particular,” she said.

Kue nearly fired

In 2018, Kue faced his harshest punishment yet following his role in a drug raid where a dog was shot and killed.

When internal affairs investigated, Kue said he never fired his weapon, but ballistics confirmed that wasn’t true. When confronted, Kue said he just forgot.

Because he and other officers on the scene were deemed untruthful, the entire drug case was dismissed.

"He should not be a Detroit police officer. That’s something he should not be.”

The disciplinary sergeant recommended Kue be terminated, but instead of dolling out any punishment, his commanding officer dismissed the entire case for “timeliness,” saying it had dragged on for too long.

Just three months later, after a recommendation to fire him, Stephen Kue was promoted to sergeant.
Promotion letter for Stephen Kue by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd


Today, Kue works out of the department’s tactical services section.

Reached by phone this month, he declined to comment for this report. Today, as a result of this story, DPD Interim Chief James White said he has removed him from patrol and placed him on administrative duty. The full statement from White reads:

"The Detroit Police Department is deeply troubled and disappointed by the perceived pattern of conduct and behavior shown by Sergeant Kue. I’ve immediately launched a full investigation and removed him from patrol and placed him on administrative duty.I will personally review each complaint against Sgt. Kue as well as, review the previous actions of the command team member(s) who dismissed the disturbing allegations. This does not represent the values of the hardworking and dedicated men and women of this police department. Our community expects and should receive policing excellence, respect, and integrity.”

Those already familiar with Kue wonder why it didn’t happen much sooner.

“He should not be a Detroit police officer,” said Richard Reed. “That’s something that he should not be.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466