As I See It? 8-1
Friday, January 30, 2009

By Todd Heywood

(COMMENTARY) DELTA TOWNSHIP-- On Sunday I was visiting the Lansing Mall located in mostly affluent white Delta Township, when I became witness to a bizarre incident.

As I was getting ready to check out with my purchase at FYE, (a lovely collection of Oliver Stone films at the amazingly cheap price of $10), I heard a commotion out in the main hall of the mall. Being a curious man, I went out and witnessed two white security officers attempting to subdue an African American female. I witnessed and took pictures of the incident. During which time I saw the security members use a choke hold to take the woman to the ground, and one of the security officers used their knee to assist in placing handcuffs on the woman. The knee was driven into the back of the woman's neck.

After the woman was handcuffed, she was escorted back to the security office and I returned to FYE to finish my transaction. I then went to the mall security where I identified myself as a reporter who had taken pictures of the incident and asked what had occurred.

Security officials said the woman they subdued allegedly assaulted another person in the mall, but declined to further comment. In fact, the officer I spoke to identified himself as the officer in charge, and walked away from me. He returned a short time later and told me I had to leave, even though he had contacted Eaton County Sheriff Officials and a criminal investigation was about to be instituted.  I told the officer I would wait for the Eaton County Sheriff to arrive, and the officer begrudgingly allowed that.

However, when the ECSD deputy John Davidson arrived on scene and started an investigation, security officers refused to identify me as a witness or a reporter. It was not until a woman who had also witnessed the event realized I was reporter and started complaining because I was asking what had happened that the Sheriff even knew I was there or had evidence of what had occurred.

Eaton County Sheriff Lt. Jeff Warder who supervises the Delta Township patrol, told me Monday that no charges were forthcoming for the security officials, but that three or four other people were facing charges of disorderly conduct and possibly other charges. He said one security official was grabbed in the groin. Warrants and such are expected to be issued within the next month.

"They were acting in self defense," Warder told me in a phone interview. "They were also acting to protect others."

Warder noted the incident was caught on video tape.

Now in order to do a little more reporting, I called Lansing Mall manager Michael Cook Monday, and he declined to discuss the case, saying only that it was "a legal matter." He did say however, "We are aware of the situation. We are comfortable with how security handled it."

But what came next was a shocker to me. Cook was completely unable to explain to me what the training and qualifications of his security team were, nor was he able to tell me how many security officers he employed or what their racial make up was. He told me the mall contracted the security services from Valor Security.

Delta Township, according to the U.S. Census data provided by their Wikipedia entry is 85.5 percent White, 8.00 percent African American, 0.40 percent Native American, 2.58% percent, 0.04 percent Pacific Islander, 1.20 percent from other races, and 2.10 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.72 percent. The mall attracts a largely African American clientele, and I visit it often because I value the diversity I find there.

One would think a business as large as the Lansing Mall could easily tell you the racial make up and training of it security force. But they couldn't. Calls to Valor Security's Bob Birdsong were forwarded to a spokesperson for the company, who called and took my questions and promised to return the call by 5 p.m. The return call was not made by 5:30 p.m.

Lt. Warder said he is unaware of what training, if any, the mall security teams undergo, or what if any licensing they have. He did say the officers had the right, like anyone else, to make a citizen's arrest. However, a search of Michigan's Compiled Laws found not one single entry for "citizen's arrest." I made inquiries to the Eaton County Prosecutor, who declined to comment because that office might prosecute. But Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said that a citizen's arrest was a real thing, but was unable to cite law to support it either.

"They have a right to make a citizen's arrest," Dunnings said, "but normally we say call the police."

Now I also had some serious concerns about the mall officials asking me to leave, when I was a witness to an alleged crime (whether you note the subduing of the female by the officers or the alleged disorderly conduct, I was there, and I took pictures). Was it obstruction of justice. Teresa O'Dell in the office of Eaton County Prosecutor Jeff Sauter became very cold when asked, and put me on hold. When she came back on the line, she declined to comment.

On the other hand Dunnings said that such a case would have to be reviewed based on the facts of the case. But there were obstruction of justice laws from both the state and local municipalities.

Wikipedia defines obstruction of justice this way:

"Obstruction charges can also be laid if a person alters or destroys physical evidence, even if he was under no compulsion at any time to produce such evidence."

Isn't telling a person not to present such evidence an attempt to alter or destroy evidence?

Anyway, I am now left with a series of unanswered and very important questions.

1. What is the number and racial make up of the Lansing Mall security force?
2. What training and licensing to these Mall security officers get and maintain for their jobs?
3. Why is it that no criminal action is being taken against security officers, who in my humble opinion, used excessive force? What constitutes legal force for a citizen's arrest? What laws allow citizen's arrests? And are they provided in such a way to prevent excesses not allowed for licensed law enforcement?
4. Why is there no criminal investigation of obstruction of justice allegations against the security officers involved in directing a witness to leave the scene of a crime, with physical evidence in his possession?
5. And finally, was this a racially motivated situation?


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