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How troubled Detroit cops 'slipped through the cracks,' and a new chief’s plan to fix it

DPD rolls out Risk Management Unit, promises better accountability
Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 12:14:39-04

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — Newly appointed Detroit Police Chief James White is forming a new unit of oversight to hold accountable officers repeatedly accused of misconduct that, until recently, had “slipped through the cracks.”

The creation of a new risk management unit comes in direct response to a 7 Action News investigation revealing officers with lengthy records of misconduct allegations, discipline and in some cases, criminal charges that received little or no scrutiny.

On the force today, 113 officers have tallied at least 30 citizen complaints. 58 have been sued at least five times and 93 have been disciplined at least 10 times—with one officer racking up 85 separate cases of discipline.

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“When we have bad officers,” said Commissioner William Davis, “they should not be getting 80 chances to keep being bad.”

The data comes from an internal DPD database obtained by 7 Action News called the Management Awareness System, or MAS. It was first put into place while the department was under federal oversight to help flag problem officers and patterns of bad behavior.

Craig resisted sharing records

Much of the alleged officer misconduct revealed by 7 Action News took place under former Chief James Craig, who retired over the summer to run for governor.

“When there is an issue with an officer who crosses the line, that they’re held accountable,” Craig said at a campaign event in Birmingham. “I’ve demonstrated that, and we do it in a very transparent way.”

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

But Craig actually resisted turning over the disciplinary records ultimately obtained by 7 Action News, only after the mayor’s office convinced Craig that the information should be released.

One of the most notable cases revealed by 7 Action News involved Sgt. Stephen Kue, who racked up 85 civilian complaints.

Kue was repeatedly accused of racial profiling, using racist language, excessive force and harassment. He was nearly fired in 2018 for being untruthful about firing his gun. But instead, while Craig was still chief, Kue was promoted.

Questioned about how Kue could be promoted after racking up such a significant history of alleged and documented misconduct, Craig blamed police union contracts and the arbitration process, which allows a mediator to overrule department discipline.

But in Sgt. Kue’s case, he was seldom disciplined in the first place because the cases against him were repeatedly dismissed by commanders with no reason given.

When asked whether Kue should have been promoted, Craig said he wasn’t sure.

“With that person, I don’t have all the data to know what happened,” he said.

New unit formed

Today, under new Chief James White and as a direct result of our reports, DPD is creating a Risk Management Unit whose sole purpose will be to identify troubling patterns and troubled officers.

“We saw some outliers, we saw some opportunities to make some improvements,” White said. “We saw some things that—candidly—slipped through the cracks.”

Professional Standards Director Chris Graveline says the department was failing by only judging officers by complaints that were sustained.

Inconclusive allegations—which could neither proven nor disprove—were discarded, even if similar allegations were being made repeatedly.

“That was our blind spot in this,” Graveline said. “Just because it’s not sustained, are we developing a pattern here that could be problematic?”

Graveline says his goal is to rehabilitate cops detected through the risk management unit, but said egregious conduct will lead to termination.

As a result of our reporting, Sgt. Stephen Kue has been put on desk duty while under investigation.

Sgt. Jason Tonti, disciplined 29 times and hit with 56 complaints, suddenly retired last month.

Officers William Zeolla, Lemuel Sims, Harold Lewis and Tyrone Gray—who each received dozens of complaints—are now under review by the department’s risk management unit.

In total, the department is looking into at least 10 officers, a number that is expected to grow.

RELATED: Troubled Detroit sergeant sued at least 8 times, costing city $830k in settlements

Police Commissioner William Davis is thankful the department is taking action now, but is disappointed it didn’t do it sooner without the prompting of our reporting.

“Sometimes I get the impression that a number of people look at bad behavior and just do not act on it,” Davis said.

Graveline said the department is acknowledging where it failed and is taking action to address them.

“Any organization will have some blind spots,” he said. “What would be more troubling is when those blind spots are pointed out to them, that they didn’t do anything about it.”

Chief White says he hopes to have the new Risk Management Unit fully operational before year’s end. It will be headed a new lieutenant who will report directly to him.

“There’s certain conduct that’s unacceptable and certain language you cannot use,” White said. “And if that’s the case, then I have to have the courageous conversation with the officer that perhaps they may not be a part of this department going forward.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.Maren Machles contributed to the data analysis for this report.