December 05, 2013Grosse Pointe Park — Five public safety officers will face disciplinary action as the result of an investigation into videotapes of a mentally impaired Detroit resident, Michael Scipio, that were taken and exchanged between the officers.
The officers, all members of the same shift, face suspensions without pay ranging from 24 hours to 60 days, and all will remain on probation for one year. The entire shift, including command officers, has been reassigned.
In addition, counselors from the Northeast Guidance Center will be brought in to conduct sensitivity training with the entire department.
"I am deeply disappointed by the action of the officers involved in this incident," said Park Police Chief David Hiller at a news conference held Wednesday, Nov. 27. "This type of behavior is unacceptable by any standard and will not be tolerated by the department. I apologize to Mr. Michael Scipio, the people of Grosse Pointe Park and everyone who has been touched by this disturbing incident for the actions of these officers. We are holding those responsible accountable and taking steps to insure this kind of incident will never happen again."
Hiller did not release the names or ranks of the officers involved, citing employment law regulations, but did say he was disturbed by the "shift culture" that allowed this type of incident to occur, noting the entire shift has been reassigned.
The investigation began after videos, shot in March 2012, surfaced showing Scipio, who lives in a group home in Detroit, being encouraged to sing and dance. At least one of the videos showed Scipio in the backseat of a squad car. The videos were first shown in mid-November on a website, Motor City Muckraker, and when contacted by the owner of the website, Steve Neavling, Park officials questioned their validity. As news of the videos spread, the Park determined its officers were involved and an investigation was launched by Hiller and Capt. David Loch.
Hiller said as the investigation commenced, all the officers involved were forthcoming and he believed the investigation is now complete. He said the officers' involvement ranged from engaging Scipio in similar behavior, shooting the video, sharing it and not reporting it to command officers.
He also thanked the officers' union for its cooperation.
In addition to sensitivity training, Hiller said the entire department will receive "extensive training" in the proper way to use social media.
"I take full responsibility for the lack of training in diversity issues in recent years," Hiller said, citing budget and manpower cuts.
The news conference announcing the results of the internal investigation was held in the social hall of St. Ambrose Catholic Church. It was coordinated by Greg Bowens, a public relations consultant hired by the Park when the investigation began. In addition to the chief, several people spoke in support of the Park and its diversity. The press conference opened and closed with a prayer by St. Ambrose minister, Rev. Timothy Pelc.
The first person to speak was Park city administrator Dale Krajniak, who said the Park shares a unique bond with the City of Detroit.
"The Park shares a deep connection with the City of Detroit," he said, citing the large number of Park residents who do volunteer work in Detroit.
He also noted the Park is the most diverse of all the Grosse Pointes and praised the public safety officers for their hard work and dedication.
"We all make mistakes," Krajniak said, "but we learn from them and move on."
The Rev. Marsha Farrow also spoke. She formerly presided over the Grace United Church of Christ on Kercheval, which was sold to the Atwater Brewery, and now oversees Higher Grounds ministries on Mack and Nottingham in the Park.
"I throw my full support behind Chief Hiller," she said. "The police are always right there when we need them. They always take care of business."
She said Scipio frequently visits the coffee shop her church runs, and noted, "I have laughed at Michael myself," when he makes funny sounds.
Following the press conference, the Rev. Malik Shabazz, a social activist from Detroit who had organized a protest against the Park police a week earlier and met privately with Hiller following the protest, spoke with reporters.
"I was not invited to this press conference and I didn't know anything about it until a reporter called me, " he said. "I think what we saw today was part truth and part whitewash."
Park Mayor Palmer Heenan attended the press conference, but declined to speak to reporters. He did, however, issue a written statement.
"I applaud Chief Hiller for holding the officers responsible for this incident accountable for their actions," it said. "I am optimistic the steps he is taking to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future will be successful. We are all saddened by this incident and offer our sincere and deepest apologies to Mr. Scipio. We will learn from this and move forward."