EAST LANSING — The East Lansing City Council on Tuesday agreed to “demand” that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel drop charges against a man who was shot by city police officers in April or, barring that, have his case transferred to Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon.
Mayor Ron Bacon and Councilmembers Dana Watson and Jessy Gregg voted in favor of the motion. Councilmember George Brookover was the dissenting vote and Councilmember Lisa Babcock abstained from because she is a 54B District Court judicial candidate running unopposed.
“These type of motions coming in front of us let’s our community know how we stand as a city council,” Watson said during council discussions.
East Lansing City Council also voted to send a letter to Nessel requesting the investigation file for the case.
The Department of Attorney General does not make documents and files of open and ongoing cases available, Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Nessel, said in an email Wednesday morning.
“Officer-involved shootings are complex cases that elicit passionate reactions from the community,” she said. “The Attorney General understands that there are those who disagree with the decision in this case, but she is duty-bound to evaluate the evidence and pursue appropriate charges in accordance with the law.”
In April, 20-year-old DeAnthony VanAtten was shot by police officers Jose Viera and Jim Menser in an East Lansing Meijer parking lot.
The shooting happened after police responded to a 911 caller’s report of a man with a gun entering the Meijer store on Lake Lansing Road. The caller told a dispatcher the man was Black and was wearing a mask that covered “every bit of his face except for his eyes.”
Police chased VanAtten from inside the store to the parking lot, where Viera and Menser fired rounds at him after an officer yelled VanAtten had a gun. VanAtten was shot in the leg and abdomen.
Nessel cleared the officers of wrongdoing, making the announcement during a Detroit news conference in August. She also announced seven felony charges, including four counts of assaulting or obstructing police, and a misdemeanor retail fraud count against VanAtten.
The motions came before East Lansing City Council at the request of East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission, which had previously voted to ask that Nessel drop all charges against VanAtten or to have the case moved to Siemon’s office. Siemon has been critical of the criminal justice system’s disparate impact on Black residents.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Watson said Nessel requested a meeting with Bacon and Elaine Hardy, East Lansing’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Both Watson and Bacon said that after they spoke with Nessel it seemed it was not likely the charges would be dropped.
Bacon said he thinks the political implications of not charging VanAtten for Nessel, who is seeking a second term in November, may be too high. He said Nessel’s press conference clearing officers Viera and Menser announcing the charges against VanAtten was “political theater.” She wanted to show she was tough on officers, criminally charging an Ogemaw County deputy, Matthew Viviano, in connection with a 2021 incident, and tough on crime with the charges against VanAtten.
“So this is really complicated for me,” Bacon said.
Brookover said he voted against the motion because there are pending charges and a city shouldn’t discuss evidence, either implicitly or explicitly.
“I believe in the work of the police commission … I do believe that it is one of our most critical advisory bodies, and it’s one that has been put to the test before our eyes,” he said.
However, he thinks VanAtten should have his day in court. There’s a continuing internal investigation by the East Lansing Police Department and “I don’t think this is a judicious use of our resources at this point in time,” Brookover said.
VanAtten’s preliminary exam is scheduled at 9 a.m. Oct. 6.
Contact Bryce Airgood at 517-267-0448 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bairgood123.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: East Lansing council demands Nessel drop charges against man shot by police
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