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Michigan lawmakers concerned over Lansing PD withdrawal from Capitol in March

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MahurinPointing_Thumb1_1167.jpg

The release of radio traffic from the March 16 arrest incidents at the Capitol has lawmakers asking questions and raising concerns about the role politics may have played in the decision to withdraw Lansing Police officers during the March 16 Capitol protest.

“It’s an extremely abnormal situation,” State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) said. Jones is a former Eaton County Sheriff and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It would lead me to speculate that someone above the police chief ordered her to recall the officers. The only one I can think of would be Virg Bernero.”

Michigan Messenger reported exclusively on Tuesday that radio traffic obtained from the Lansing Police Department through a Freedom of Information Act request appeared to contradict a formal statement from Lansing Police Chief Teresa Syzmanski. The Chief told media in March that her decision to order officers to leave the Capitol on March 16 was made after she determined that Michigan State Police had the situation under control.

However, the radio traffic showed officers had been dispatched to the Capitol to transport protesters arrested at the Capitol that day. While on site preparing the arrested individuals for transport, protesters surrounded the Lansing Police cars, and officers on scene called for backup. Shortly after the call for backup was made, officers were ordered to clear the scene, without the prisoners.

Michigan State Police Captain Gary Nix, who was in command of the operations at the Capitol on March 16, says he was told that Lansing officers were operating under a brand new policy about arresting protesters at the Capitol.

“The policy, in a nutshell, was that Lansing police will continue to respond to the Capitol to assist. however, they won’t arrest or lodge demonstrators that are involved in passive resistance,” Nix said in an interview with Michigan Messenger.

Nix says that LPD officials did not inform him, or other MSP officials about the new policy until the evening of March 16 when LPD was sent to the Capitol to transport three people arrested inside the building. Nix noted there was ample opportunity for LPD to discuss the new policy with MSP, and thus arrange for assistance from other area law enforcement agencies, before the LPD officers were sent in.

“We’d communicated with the shift commander that day to let them know about the protests and that we might have arrests,” Nix said. “There was no mention of the new policy.”

Lansing officials continue to refuse to respond to email questions and phone calls. Michigan Messenger has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city seeking all documents related to the development of the new policy, as well as the new policy itself, which has never been made public.

In fact, no one who has responded to questions about this policy seems to have been aware of its existence prior to being asked about it.

City Attorney Brigham Smith was asked about the new policy after a City Council Public Safety meeting Thursday evening. “I’ve got nothing on it,” Smith said.

All three Public Safety Committee members — Tina Houghton, A’Lynne Robinson and Carol Wood — said after the meeting they knew nothing about the policy.

“I have not seen it. I was not aware of it, and I can’t comment on it until I have a chance to review it,” said Robinson, who is also president of the City Council.

“I’d definitely like to see that policy,” said Houghton, who represents the city’s second ward. “I think I definitely want to know more about it.”

Wood, who serves as an at-large member of the city council and chair of the Public Safety Committee, says the committee will review the situation next week.

Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said the information that is surfacing supports his original belief that the decision to remove the officers from the Capitol was a political decision.

“They’re choosing to put politics over the law,” Bolger told Messenger. “They are saying the politics of the people demonstrating is more important than the law. Since they have made this about demonstrators at the capitol it is quite clearly about politics.”

Bolger said this situation might lead to state investigations, but he could not confirm such actions would be taken until state officials had an opportunity to review the legal issues in the situation.

State Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) was less ready to jump to conclusions, but said the situation was concerning and deserved investigation.

“It raises some potential concerns about public safety and the integrity of the state Capitol building,” Bieda said. “The merits of the situation need to be looked into.”

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