In The News

In The News

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Story That Media Seems to be Unable or Unwilling to Tell:

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Michael J. Nichols

I literally had to “negotiate” a quote in the Lansing State Journal.

I am sure that it is extremely difficult to be a police officer in the current political and social climate of 2022. Perhaps there is some merit to the narrative that has been cast by many. It is also difficult to represent a police officer who is under investigation for using physical response tactics to the resistance of a subject, especially a subject who is non-white.

The Nichols Law Firm represents Officer Jose Viera of the East Lansing Police Department. Officer Viera was involved in a shooting on April 25, 2022. This is the story that none of the media outlets in the greater Lansing community or frankly, the State of Michigan, appear to be able to tell. The City of East Lansing has released several videos in two “waves”. The first six videos include an exterior video from the parking lot of the major grocery store at which the shooting occurred. If one watches that video and utilizes either slow motion or pause and takes the time to rewatch the video, a big part of this story is told. Aggregate that with  what is shown on that video (which does not contain audio) with the body worn camera (BWC) of the four officers who were at the scene of this store shooting and the picture becomes clear. The BWC does contain audio.

The four officers were dispatched to a call with the following major facts:

  • Black male who left his car and turned around and went back to his car to retrieve a gun and put it in his pants. Man then runs back toward the store.
  • Man was wearing a coat with yellow on the shoulder.

With a call like that, law enforcement would be grossly negligent if they failed to at least detain and question whoever fit that description to find out why they were carrying a gun and what they were doing in the store. That is what these officers set out to do.

When they arrived at the store, the BWC for Officers 3 and 4 depicts them entering the store and within seconds, starting to walk and then run while yelling commands to “hey, stop”. The man did not stop and indeed was running and running fast which is depicted in the body worn camera of Officer 2 who was getting traffic about the direction that the man was running inside the store He set up with his gun drawn and ordered the man to show his hands and stop. This young man opened up one palm to the officer while carrying a bag of what turned out to be items that are apparently stolen.

The subsequent exchange is captured back on the exterior footage from the grocery store’s monitor: the man is running at a high rate of speed away from the officers who are yelling to him to stop. He does not stop. Instead, he circles back around in a semi loop toward where his car was parked. He gets down on the ground between cars but before he does, he pulls out of his pants what appears to be a gun. At that point, Officer 1 begins yelling frenetically, “he’s got a gun, he’s got a gun, he’s reaching”. Officer 2 sets up behind a car to take cover while the man is ducking down between vehicles within maybe 10 feet of Officer 2. Two shots are fired. The man remains down for several seconds, and he is evidentially, sliding his gun underneath one of the parked vehicles. He then slowly gets almost upright and then turns and runs back towards the store at a high rate of speed. As he runs by Officer 2, Officer 2 fires six times putting him on the ground. The officers then get him under control by handcuffing him, and then they commence administering first aid with alacrity.

The second wave of video were released on Monday, May 16, 2022. The interior video really adds little to the issue of why the officers were justified in shooting a many who was potentially a threat of violence to officers or the public (please see Tennessee v Garner). The video does show a few interesting points in two ways: when the young man checks out from the store, in my opinion, he pretty clearly is pulling the old “pay for one item at the self-checkout but don’t scan another item and walk out with a retail fraud under your belt” game. The second point is that as soon as he makes eye contact with the two officers (Officers 3 and 4) who entered the building’s west entrance (the grocery entrance), he does a 180 and walks the other direction. The officers pursue him and this coincides with the audio from the body worn camera for Officers 3 and 4 and which they start yelling, “hey!, wait!, stop!”.

Astonishingly, I could not believe when I watched the news stories, for which I took the time during the evening to meet with TV crews instead of eating dinner at home with Wendy. I also attempted to reach out to the Lansing State Journal to point out those two observations on behalf of Jose and the other officers. None of that appeared on air nor in the Lansing State Journal.

On Tuesday morning, instead of preparing for my Wednesday trial as I should have been, I took time out of the morning to send an email to: Managing Editor Stephanie Angel, Reporter Kara Berg, Reporter Bryce Airgood and Reporter Ken Palmer. It was not a pleasant email. I received an email response from both Kara and Ken indicating that they would attempt to include my perspective. They never did. They refused to even repeat my opinion statement about the young man stealing the corn. Not that it is any big deal that he committed a retail fraud but it certainly speaks to his state of mind when he made eye contact with the officers and further, his state of mind when he continued to run. Ken slightly rewrote my comment/quote and told me that if I did not want the quote to be aired that he would not air it. I finally had to say literally “just run it; it is better than losing in the Court of public opinion by default”.

We are living in a time when people seem to want to feed a narrative rather than let the facts control the conclusion. When I attended the Police Oversight Commission meeting in East Lansing the prior week on May 9, 2022, I could not believe how reasonably intelligent people were so closed-minded about the concept that the officers had certain, specific training about the psychology of responding to resistance and not to mention the use of a gun by a subject. It is my hope that the City of East Lansing Police Oversight Commission gets its own legal advisor, who can at least give the members and the body educated opinions and analysis of sometimes complex but sometimes simple legal concepts. The Commission is there for a reason: we have mistrust in law enforcement and that mistrust is born from the history of America and other high profile acts of police brutality. However, the passions of the Commissioners are blinding the mission of the body. I hope that the media, as I always believed that it was the fourth branch of government or the “fourth estate”, can re-grip its hold on its venerable mission to watch government with objectivity and dispatch. To this point, I have been sadly and sorely disappointed.

Need a Lawyer?

Get an online consultation or call 517-432-9000

Online Consultation »

Do the Medicines You Take Criminalize Your Driving?

Family Law encompasses a broad range of issues that occur between family members. Our team can help you in all of these areas...

More »

Personal Injury / Traumatic Brain Injury Experts

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is one of the most frightening and serious forms of injury...

More »

Criminal Defense

We are skilled, experienced and committed to resuts in both the serious and misdemenor criminal case

Personal Injury

We have successfully represented clients with serious and traumatic injuries

What our clients are saying

more testimonials »

Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.