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MSP completes review of ELPD's use of force in two separate incidents, finding use of force in both cases appropriate

Posted at 11:58 AM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 11:58:07-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan State Police said it has completed its review of the use of force used by East Lansing Police Department officers during two separate occasions.

The two incidents occurred several months ago. The first, a traffic stop and arrest, took place back on Dec. 28, 2019.

For the Dec. 28 incident, police records said ELPD Officer Austin Nelson made a traffic stop in the area of Lake Lansing and Pryde Road after a vehicle turned out of the nearby Meijer without using a turn signal.

Police said the individual had an expired driver's license and the officer decided to arrest the individual for driving with the expired license. Police records indicate two other ELPD officers, Andy Stephenson and Evan Siemen, arrived on scene to assist with the arrest.

Police records said the individual was asked to step out of the vehicle, notifying him that he would be placed under arrest for the offense of Driving While Suspended. Police documents say the individual sat back into his vehicle and said, "Come and get me," and began honking the horn.

Police documents said the individual was then removed from his vehicle and after resisting, was taken to the ground to be placed in handcuffs. Police documents say the individual was then placed in the patrol car.

Police documents say the individual complained about the handcuffs being too tight a couple of times and when he was asked by Officer Stephenson if they needed to be adjusted he told them he "was fine, (and) they did not need to be adjusted."

According to police records, the individual said that he felt police didn't have the right to arrest him for a suspended license, but only to cite him. Police records said the individual also said the officers slammed him to the ground and then slammed his head into the ground three times after he was taken down.

Police records said the individual also said one of the officers' knees was on his upper back. Police records say body-cam footage was able to confirm that, but said there was nothing outside of ELPD's training guidelines in doing so.

Police records from ELPD indicate that after reviewing all evidence and interviewing all officers involved, the department believed there was a valid reason for the traffic stop and the officers "conducted themselves professionally with training guidelines and used reasonable force for the situation."

The second incident took place back on Feb. 9, 2020, when a man claimed he and his brother were unlawfully arrested and assaulted by ELPD.

"They came and put handcuffs on me. At first, I was scared because I didn't know why they arrested me so I was resisting a little bit and then all of a sudden they drop me to the ground," said Uwimana Gasito.

He said he and his brother were just going to 7/11 to pick up a drink when a guy accused him of touching his girlfriend and a fight broke out and in a matter of minutes the East Lansing Police showed up.

"While recording three officers arrested me. They threw me to the ground. While I was on the ground in handcuffs, the officer was pushing my head into the ground, scraping my forehead back and forth," the teen said in his Facebook post.

A protest was planned to support Gasito and the charges against him were eventually dropped.

MSP said the investigator tasked with reviewing both incidents was provided with ELPD case reports and all associated video for both cases.

MSP said for the incident occurring on Dec. 28, it has concluded that according to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MOLES) use of force continuum and based on the MSP investigator's training and experience, "the officer's use of force was appropriate to the individual's level of resistance and in light of the totality of the circumstances."

MSP said the internal investigation into the Dec. 28 traffic stops will be closed with an "exonerated disposition" and the officer placed on administrative leave will be re-instated.

For the Feb. 9 cases involving Gasito, MSP said it has concluded that "the officer's use of physical controls would be appropriate in light in the totality of the circumstances, although the investigator does note in the report that it is not possible to see specific interactions between the individual being arrested and the officers."

MSP said ELPD is reviewing the technique of "head stabilization" as a method to gain physical control over a resisting subject during an arrest. MSP said East Lansing City Council plans to move forward with implementing a public safety citizen oversight commission.

“In light of these arrests and the subsequent investigations, as well as the officer-initiated contact data and the community feedback we have received, we remain committed to moving forward with a public safety oversight commission as quickly as possible, and ELPD has also committed to implementing several departmental changes, some of which have already occurred,” said East Lansing Mayor Ruth Beier. “We will continue to work to make all necessary changes so that everyone feels safe and welcome in the City of East Lansing.”

To view documents related to the December 2019 incident, click here.

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