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Erica Grey and the Lansing Police Department might have different interpretations of the word “help.”
Grey’s 15-year-old son and his 16-year-old girlfriend had been “on the run,” for weeks, she said. They missed classes at school. Grey hadn’t seen the young couple in several days. She told the boy's older sister to call the cops — if only for their own safety — next time they came back around the house while she was gone.
“They had been gone too long,” Grey said. “They were too young. They didn’t need to be out there like that.”
That 911 call came Friday morning. Grey only wanted to get her son some help to put him back on the right path. But what came next, she said, might’ve been the exact opposite — and it has since rattled the city.
After two Lansing Police Department officers arrived on the scene that morning, both teenagers darted down Dakin Street, which is in the Potter-Walsh neighborhood near the zoo. Soon, screams were heard echoing down the block as neighbors poked outside, cameras in hand.
Video footage showed that Grey’s son was quickly apprehended, but after a brief chase his girlfriend had managed to squirm loose from handcuffs. Officers caught her and dragged her down the street into the back of a cruiser. Then, as she continued to put up a fight, Officer Lindsey Howley cocked back her fist and swung.
All told, the girl was struck at least 14 times — mostly in the legs — in what would later be described by Police Chief Michael Yankowski as “not the conduct of what we want from our Lansing police officers.” Howley walked away with a sprained wrist. The girl was left with some big bruises, according to her mother, Tonia Lilly.
Lilly didn’t hear details about her daughter’s arrest until it appeared on the evening news, she said.
“She was assaulted,” Lilly explained during a demonstration later that evening. “What has been happening, especially for African American people, is that they’re being taken into custody and assaulted by the police. I was angry, very angry. I just want everyone to be aware this is happening. It could be your kid next.”
Both teens are black. Howley, the police officer, is white.
Body camera footage and eyewitness iPhone videos captured the whole encounter. Both Howley and accompanying Officer Bailey Ueberroth have since been placed on administrative leave while an internal investigation into possible excessive force continues.
Lilly has asked for both officers to be fired from the department for what she and others have labeled as clear police brutality. She has also asked for an unnamed amount of compensation for emotional and physical trauma. Black Lives Matter activists have also called for wholesale revisions to Lansing Police Department policies.
“Cops need to be copped,” said the boy’s sister, Mya Lynn. “Police take care of us, supposedly, but who is taking care of the cops? It’s police brutality.
Referring to audio from a body cam recording the police released Saturday, Lynn said that Howley “said she was going to break her leg and started punching her. That’s brutality. Two grown people can’t handle a 16-year-old girl? You’re cops. You’re trained. Do your jobs.”
Yankowski called a press conference Friday after videos of the incident spread across social media. While announcing a routine investigation into the use of force, he also noted that “training tactics” were used “as a distraction” and led to a “successful arrest.” The community wasn’t exactly satisfied with the response.
Lilly and about a dozen protesters gathered at the Lansing Police Department on Friday night, taking a knee every 15 minutes while the national anthem looped from a nearby boombox. Dozens more had arrived on Saturday as the small gathering transitioned itself into a full-fledged Black Lives Matter demonstration. Scores protested on the courtyard in front of City Hall.
“I’m out here to protect the citizens of this city because we’re fired up right now,” said organizer Michael Lynn Jr., a black firefighter who is suing the city over an alleged racist incident aimed at him. “What’s that going to do? It’s going to bring more police action. More people are going to get hurt. How can we simmer down? This whole thing was scary to me and a lot of other people. We’re just ready for it to stop.”
Added Ingham County Commissioner Derrell Slaughter: “I was disgusted by what was shown in the video. I’ve had some really good interactions with LPD. I don’t see this as a systemic problem, but we need to address this somewhat quickly and make sure there are repercussions for this type of activity. We need to do something.”
Howley has been on the force for about a year, Ueberroth about six months. Representatives from the local Black Lives Matter chapter said the officers’ actions — or inactions — showcase symptoms of a much larger, nationwide problem with police violence.
“We want to make sure they’re not just using these police officers as scapegoats,” said Black Lives Matter activist Jordan X. Evans. “These are tactics that are being trained and are actively being used, and it needs to be changed. There is a systemic issue of state-sanctioned violence in this country, and it can’t be allowed in Lansing.”
Added Lansing City Councilwoman Jody Washington in a Facebook post: “Neither myself nor my colleagues take this matter lightly. We are engaged and involved. We are getting reports. None of us will ever tolerate police brutality. Unfortunately, gathering information and completing an investigation takes time.”
Angela Waters Austin, co-founder of Lansing’s Black Lives Matter chapter, wants to keep Lansing “on notice.”
“If it indeed was standard protocol, then we need to go deeper because those protocols are harming our community,” Austin added. “We want to let the city of Lansing know that this is unacceptable behavior. We expect more from our local police force and we will not allow this to be covered up and swept under the rug.”
Austin also suggested that a “community-driven accountability council” could help hold officers responsible.
“Police policing themselves will never lead to justice,” Austin added.
Yankowski said internal investigations into the use of force can sometimes last up to three months. Mayor Andy Schor’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, in the meantime, is expected to release “some kind of response” to the incident within the next few days, said Mark Brown, a council member.
“There’s a certain lens on policy,” Brown added. “That might say, based on the steps the officers took, that this was within their purview.
However, the community’s lens, that perception, matters as well. It’ll be important for the public to be able to have that conversation on how to move forward at the Lansing Police Department.”
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for video footage of the arrest and for continued coverage as the investigation continues.