Probe tar­gets city fire union chief

So­cial me­dia posts al­legedly un­der­mined slay­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY CHRIS­TINE FERRETTI The Detroit News

Detroit — Po­lice have launched a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that the city’s fire union head outed homi­cide wit­nesses on so­cial me­dia, po­ten­tially en­dan­ger­ing them.

Po­lice Chief James Craig con­firmed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion Thurs­day af­ter­noon dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, say­ing the Wayne County Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice will de­ter­mine whether Detroit Fire Fighter As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Mike Nevin will face charges.

“It not only un­der­mines a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in this case a homi­cide, but it also can, and does, put a wit­ness to a homi­cide in harm’s way,” Craig told re­porters at po­lice head­quar­ters, adding Nevin later re­moved the post­ings, which con­tained unredacted po­lice re­ports that con­tained “con­fi­den­tial and sen­si­tive” in­for­ma­tion about at least two po­ten­tial wit­nesses to the

crime.

Nevin sent the me­dia a pack­age, which he also re­port­edly posted on Face­book, that in­cluded au­dio files of po­lice dis­patches, and a po­lice re­port of a shoot­ing that oc­curred Nov. 23 at Junc­tion and War­ren on Detroit’s west side. The re­port in­cluded the first name of a woman who told po­lice about the shoot­ing, along with her phone num­ber and ad­dress.

“The Detroit Fire Fighters As­so­ci­a­tion will con­tinue to ex­press pro­fes­sional fac­tual con­cern pub­licly over Detroit Po­lice / Fire and EMS mis­man­age­ment, ma­nip­u­la­tion and flat-out mis­rep­re­sent­ing pub­lic safety re­sponse to the pub­lic,” Nevin said in the re­lease.

Craig said re­leas­ing that in­for­ma­tion put the tip­ster in dan­ger. He didn’t elab­o­rate Thurs­day on which charges he’d seek, telling re­porters that he didn’t want to dis­cuss pos­si­ble charges. He said his in­ves­ti­ga­tors have had sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions with as­sis­tant Wayne County pros­e­cu­tors and spoke with Wayne County Prose­cu­tor Kym Wor­thy about the case. The county’s pub­lic cor­rup­tion unit is re­view­ing the facts.

Nevin in re­cent months has been wag­ing a bit­ter bat­tle with the Fire Depart­ment over the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new re­sponse pol­icy that has fire­fight­ers re­spond­ing to some calls on a less emer­gent ba­sis with­out lights and sirens.

It’s not clear what, if any, laws might have been bro­ken with Nevin’s post­ings. At least one le­gal ex­pert be­lieves post­ing a po­ten­tial crime wit­ness’ in­for­ma­tion on­line could pose problems.

Since some­one could use the per­sonal de­tails to find the wit­ness and their as­so­ciates, “that’s invit­ing trou­ble,” said Brad Shear, a Mary­land-based at­tor­ney who fo­cuses on so­cial me­dia law re­lated is­sues.

“... Just

the

fact

this per­son may have some in­for­ma­tion that could con­vict some­one puts them or their fam­ily in harm’s way,” he said.

Mike Rataj, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Nevin, would not ad­dress why his client shared posts with unredacted po­lice re­ports. He said city of­fi­cials are “try­ing to si­lence” Nevin for ex­er­cis­ing his “First Amend­ment right to speak out on be­half of his mem­bers.”

Rataj said the Po­lice Depart­ment on Wed­nes­day at­tempted to Mi­ran­dize Nevin, but Rataj con­tacted in­ter­nal af­fairs and told them “he’s not mak­ing a state­ment,” he said.

“They are try­ing to con­coct some kind of crim­i­nal case against him,” Rataj said. “There’s no crime. To use the crim­i­nal process to try to si­lence some­body who is try­ing to pro­tect mem­bers and let the pub­lic know what’s go­ing on, that’s crim­i­nal.”

Rataj con­tends that Craig, Fire Com­mis­sioner Eric Jones and the Dug­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion are com­ing down on Nevin for his on­go­ing crit­i­cism of pub­lic safety lead­er­ship in Detroit.

“The chief should be very care­ful and the mayor should be very care­ful if they are go­ing to go down that road,” Rataj said. “File that one un­der: Be care­ful what you ask for.”

The new re­sponse sys­tem, which Jones and Mayor Mike Dug­gan have de­fended as “sound pol­icy,” has been the sub­ject of a re­cent un­fair la­bor charge.

The union in Novem­ber ar­gued that the pol­icy was “uni­lat­er­ally im­posed” with­out re­gard for the bar­gain­ing unit or the pub­lic. The city’s Law Depart­ment has coun­tered the claim is “base­less.”

Jones put the new sys­tem in place in Au­gust that clas­si­fies runs by two codes: one for emer­gent runs, which uses lights and sirens, and the other for none­mer­gent calls, which does not.

Jones has ar­gued that dis­re­gard­ing traf­fic sig­nals and speed lim­its with the ac­ti­va­tion of lights and sirens for ev­ery sin­gle run is un­nec­es­sar­ily dan­ger­ous.

Jones and his staff have noted the depart­ment re­ceives 400 to 500 re­quests for fire-re­lated in­ci­dents per week. About 50 per­cent, they con­tend, are non-lifethreat­en­ing. Dur­ing a coun­cil com­mit­tee ses­sion last month, the fire ad­min­is­tra­tion said the depart­ment had 17 fire­fighter-in­volved crashes in 2017.

But the union has de­tailed nu­mer­ous runs that have been dis­patched im­prop­erly since the code sys­tem went into place.

“This data speaks for it­self, it is sick­en­ing and re­peats it­self in many forms ev­ery day/night in the streets of Detroit,” Nevin said in the re­lease of the unredacted re­ports to the me­dia. “If Detroit Pub­lic Safety per­son­nel is so dis­or­ga­nized and un­der­manned as to not have the abil­ity to prop­erly back each other in emer­gency events, what re­sponse can the 911 caller ex­pect?”

He called for po­lice, fire and EMS to be re­stored to “ad­e­quate strength to prop­erly pro­tect the city’s 139 square miles, hu­man life de­pends on it.”

Craig de­nied Thurs­day there was any ef­fort on the part of the Po­lice Depart­ment to si­lence Nevin. Craig stressed he alone sought the crim­i­nal re­view of Nevin’s al­leged con­duct on so­cial me­dia. “The mayor and Jones were not in­volved in the de­ci­sion to launch a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. I never con­sulted the mayor about this; he leaves those de­ci­sions up to me,” Craig said.

“Launch­ing this crim­i­nal probe had noth­ing to do with his crit­i­cism of this depart­ment and its re­sponse time to this homi­cide. How­ever, it had ev­ery­thing to do with the re­lease of in­for­ma­tion con­tain­ing con­fi­den­tial and sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion rel­a­tive to sev­eral wit­nesses to a homi­cide.”

Dug­gan’s spokesman, John Roach, de­clined to com­ment on Rataj’s claims. The fire com­mis­sioner could not be im­me­di­ately reached.

Craig said the ini­tial call was put out by dis­patch­ers as an un­known trou­ble call, which typ­i­cally isn’t treated as a pri­or­ity.

Fire­fight­ers ar­rived on the scene and de­ter­mined there was a shoot­ing vic­tim and then con­tacted dis­patch for as­sis­tance.

Rataj said he in­tends to take ac­tion on Nevin’s be­half, but he de­clined to pro­vide de­tails.

Craig

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