FRIDAY, Feb. 28 — East Lansing Police Department officials claimed at a special city council meeting Thursday that excessive force was not used during the arrest of Uwimana Gasito.
ELPD’s internal investigation into the case of Gasito determined that its officers acted appropriately. ELPD asserted that because Gasito was resisting arrest, the amount of force used was justified.
Though members of the public objected to the officials’ claims, East Lansing City Council appeared to be in near-total agreement with the Police Department. Mayor Ruth Beier wrote Police Chief Larry Sparkes a letter thanking him for his work on the internal investigation.
Councilman Mark Meadows told the public, “Good cops don’t want to protect bad cops.”
Earlier this month, Gasito,19, of Lansing, claimed in a widely shared Facebook post that ELPD officers used excessive force against him. A grisly photo of Gasito’s abraded bloody forehead accompanied the post. Police injured him during an incident involving a fight between his friend, Anthony Zarwea, and Chandler Lee, who claims to have seen Gasito slap his female friend on the butt.
Captain Chad Connelly presented a heavily edited version of the video footage from the incident. He contended that Gasito resisted arrest, prompting the officers to act in the way that they did. Gasito was attempting to film Zarwea’s arrest when officers first confronted him.
According to police officials, Gasito was too close to an officer. Police officials’ comments during the meeting suggested that Gasito should have acted differently. At no point did any member of the ELPD admit to wrongdoing or apologize.
“It is unsafe for an officer to be affecting an arrest on someone with someone right behind an officer,” Connelly said. He also said that the officers only intervened in this incident because they believe that there is a pattern of people becoming injured or killed during drunken encounters in East Lansing.
Connelly also repeatedly pointed out that all three boys involved in the incident were intoxicated at the time.
During his presentation, Connelly zoomed in on an image of Gasito’s hand balled into a fist, claiming that the fist made officers feel unsafe. This, he said, partly justified their use of force.
In reference to Gasito’s abrasions, the police officials offered no explanation. Connelly blamed the asphalt for Gasito’s injuries, not the hand of the officer who was pushing his face into the ground.
Connelly stated that officer Stemen was forced to “stabilize Gasito’s head, neck and shoulders.” In the video, Stemen can be seen with his hands on Gasito’s head. Then, he got on top of Gasito, pushing him further into the asphalt.
According to Connelly, this was necessary force. He said that, as soon as Gasito was handcuffed, the officers backed off.
Members of the public took issue with multiple aspects of ELPD’s claims and the Council’s response.
Farhan Sheikh-Omar, the organizer of a Feb. 23 rally in support of Gasito, spoke to the Council wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Gasito’s abraded face on the front. “I knew this was going to happen. What a miscarriage of justice,” he said.
“These police officers used violence against Gasito and claim that they don’t know how his face ended up looking like this. For you guys to accept that as a conclusion — shame on all of you,” Sheikh-Omar added.
The definition of “excessive” was a recurring theme in the meeting. Police officials and the Council both pushed the narrative that officers at the scene acted professionally and did nothing wrong. They emphatically denied any accusations of excessive force.
Nearly every member of the public who addressed the board expressed some sort of skepticism about the police department’s investigation.
Several members of the public objected to the fact that, though Gasito cried out in pain repeatedly in the video, there was no sign that officers acknowledged his pain or assured him that he would receive medical care.
There was no clear path forward at the end of the meeting. Beier pointed to the creation of a citizens’ public safety oversight board as a possible solution to public mistrust and fear of the ELPD, though the specifics of this group — how members will be chosen and what power it will hold — still remain unclear.
City Pulse has uploaded all of the unedited footage released by the East Lansing Police Department to its YouTube account. Follow each link to watch the corresponding video:
7-Eleven security footage
ELPD officer bodycams: