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Detroit police chief talks changes at 6th Precinct; fired officers aim to get jobs back

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

An “environmental audit” of northwest Detroit’s 6th police precinct has revealed pockets of racist behavior that was tolerated by command staff there, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said on Wednesday.

The audit was sparked by a January Snapchat video from a white 6th Precinct officer, Gary Steele. The video shows Steele and partner Michael Garrison mocking African American motorist Ariel Moore after having her car towed for expired tags, and included seemingly racist commentary like “this is what black girl magic looks like.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig has fired Steele and Garrison. The two officers are now appealing their terminations and have filed for arbitration in an attempt to get their jobs back, the Detroit Police Officers Association confirmed on Wednesday.

Craig says the audit, which the department did not immediately release on Wednesday, found a culture of racially insensitive behavior among some officers there, particularly on Steele and Garrison’s afternoon shift, and that command staff did little to counter it.

“I believe that many who worked here became racially tone deaf,” Craig said. “Where they heard the comments, and it didn’t resonate with them as being racially inappropriate.”

Craig has shaken up the command staff at the 6th Precinct. The precinct will also implement cultural diversity training for all employees, as well as additional intensive, peer review training for younger officers trained by Steele and Garrison.

Craig says the environmental audit will now serve as a template for “future cases where issues of discriminatory work environment or practices are raised.” The department will also implement cultural diversity training for all officers.

“We took care of the officers who engaged in it. But now we want to make sure it never happens again,” Craig said.

As for Steele and Garrison’s efforts to get their jobs back, Craig says that’s their right.

But he added: “we hope and pray that the arbitrator does the right thing, not only for this department but for the community we serve,” Craig said. “So that’s out of my hands, that part of it.”

Garrison had been fired from the department before, but won his job back through arbitration. The precise details behind Garrison’s first termination have never been released, but Craig has said charges included making false statements to investigators, conduct unbecoming, and unjustifiable use of a firearm.

Steele was charged with assault with intent to commit murder and torture, among a slew of other charges, for firing a gun near his ex-girlfriend’s head in 2008. He ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge and served a year of probation. He was suspended from the Detroit Police Department without pay but eventually reinstated.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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