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Michigan AG: East Lansing officers justified in use of force; Ogemaw County deputy to face charges

East Lansing Police.jpg
Sarah Lehr
/
WKAR-MSU
East Lansing police block entrances to the Lake Lansing Road Meijer store following a shooting on Monday, April 25, 2022.

Two use-of-force cases reviewed by the Michigan attorney general's Public Integrity Unit reached two different results, Attorney General Dana Nessel said Wednesday.

Nessel will not pursue charges against East Lansing Police Department officers who shot a suspect in a Meijer parking lot this past April, but the attorney general's office will charge an Ogemaw County sheriff's deputy who Nessel said assaulted an autistic resident of an assisted living home while responding to a call last year.

State authorities said the East Lansing officers fired a total of eight rounds at 20-year-old DeAnthony VanAtten after responding to a call about someone entering the Meijer while wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office feels “very confident” about clearing the officers in the case.

“We look at the totality of the circumstances and we look to see whether or not there was a deadly threat that was posed either to law enforcement or to members of the public,” Nessel told reporters in Detroit Wednesday.

VanAtten now faces seven felony charges. Those include carrying a concealed weapon, receiving and concealing a firearm and retail fraud.

Authorities allege VanAtten dropped a loaded gun in the parking lot while running from the police. They also allege he neglected to pay for ears of corn at a Meijer checkout prior to the confrontation.

Video released by the department appears to show law enforcement chasing VanAtten through a Meijer parking lot before shooting him twice.

The City of East Lansing also released security camera footage from inside the store.

The East Lansing Police Department has been criticized by Black Lives Matter Lansing activists who have said VanAtten was buying groceries for a cookout and was caught “shopping while Black.”

In response to VanAtten’s charges, the group stated on Facebook that the charges against VanAtten are “stacked against him for having the audacity to still be alive and to justify the cops opening fire in a Meijer's parking lot with children present.”

“The police showed up like they had an active shooter situation,” BLM Lansing leader Reverend Sean Holland said. “And so it’s because of this man’s ethnicity, because he was a young Black man identified, that narrative kicks in.”

Holland said VanAtten wasn’t an immediate threat or danger, and had the initial 911 call — which he said was an example of racial profiling — not been placed, VanAtten would’ve returned to his car.

Nessel did not give further details about what the officers knew about VanAtten before chasing him out of the store and into the parking lot. But she reiterated the investigation was thorough.

“Just because there are videos that have been released through various outlets to the public, that does not mean that what have been available to the media and available to the public is each and every video that our office has reviewed,” Nessel said.

When asked if VanAtten ever pointed a gun at anyone during the incident, Nessel advised reporters to review video evidence during expected court proceedings.

The decision over not charging the East Lansing officers came as part of a Public Integrity Unit investigation within the Department of Attorney General.

The Ogemaw County sheriff's deputy accused of assault, Matthew Viviano, could face up to five years if convicted of assault and battery and misconduct in office.

Nessel said Viviano did not comply with department rules on use of force.

“It should be noted that Deputy Viviano did not report his use of force to anyone and never completed a report regarding his use of force and never reported that he responded to the scene at all,” Nessel said.

She said state troopers who also responded to the call had reported the incident.