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East Lansing IDs officers who fired shots at Black man; Board requests more video

Commission members gather around tables in a conference room
Sarah Lehr
East Lansing's Independent Police Oversight Commission gathers for a meeting in the Hannah Community Center on Monday, May 9, 2022.

Two East Lansing police officers who fired shots at a Black man outside a Meijer grocery store in late April have been identified as Jose Viera and Jim Menser.

They're both on leave while Michigan State Police investigate the April 25th incident.

Police Chief Kim Johnson had previously pledged not to identify them while that inquiry is ongoing.

But their names became public on Monday as part of a report submitted to a newly created Independent Police Oversight Commission.

Those monthly reports must include a summary of every time officers used force against someone, along with the names and demographic categories of the officers, according to an ordinance passed by City Council in 2021. The summary describes Viera as Hispanic and Menser as white.

Officer Jeff Horn, who is white, also displayed his weapon, according to the report. Family members and Black Lives Matter activists have identified the man who was shot as DeAnthony VanAtten. He spent a week in the hospital before being jailed and later released on a probation violation.

Police oversight commission calls for release of more video

Meanwhile, the citizen-led oversight commission is calling on the police department to publish additional video from the incident.

During a May 5 press conference, city officials shared body camera footage from multiple officers along with security footage showing the store parking lot after officers arrived. That's after the commission passed a non-binding resolution on April 28 asking to see full video within no more than a week.

Police spokesman Capt. Chad Pride told commissioners during their meeting Monday that he focused on publishing the most "relevant" video after reviewing hours of footage before blurring faces and license plates to preserve privacy.

"I worked on that with another sergeant up until that (press conference) was held to redact all the video that you are asking for," he said. "There would have been no way I would have got that done before that meeting."

But commissioners say they aren't satisfied with that limited release. They voted Monday to request the release within no more than seven days of security video from inside the store, beginning from the time of the 911 call. They also want to see any additional "relevant" video showing officers interacting with bystanders in the parking lot.

Commissioner Sharon Hobbs says police need to be held accountable and that the footage shared by the city may not have told full story.

"We want to see that Meijer tape," she said. "I mean, was he running around and brandishing a gun? I haven't heard that. But, if that's what the tape says, I'll make that my evening entertainment, watching it."

What the video shared by the city showed

In a 911 call shared by the city, a dispatcher describes a report of a Black man taking a gun out of his vehicle and putting it in his pocket.

"He's not threatening anyone with it," the dispatcher says. "He just walked inside the store."

Video released by the city later shows VanAtten running out of the store while carrying what looks like a plastic grocery bag.

Police order him repeatedly to get to the ground and show his hands while VanAtten keeps running. An officer warns VanAtten he will be tased, and an officer can be heard shouting "He's got a gun" and "He's reaching."

One officer fired his gun at VanAtten six times from behind a truck and another shot twice from behind an SUV, body camera footage indicates. Two bullets hit VanAtten, according to accounts from police and his family.

After handcuffing VanAtten, police patted him down for a gun but did not find it on his person. Video later shows them finding a gun under a car in the busy Meijer parking lot.

Attorney: Officer couldn't tell whether man dropped gun before shooting

Attorney Mike Nichols says his client, Officer Viera, responded appropriately to a situation that could have endangered police and people at the store. He says he believes the video indicates VanAtten dropped the gun under a car during the chase.

“The officers couldn't know that he had slid it under the car because he ducked down out of their view, " Nichols said. "And then when he, if you look at the video, rises back up, slowly, surely turns around, takes off. When those shots are fired, they didn't know what his intention was, and they didn't know if he still had that gun or not."

Nichols said he met Viera at the police station on the night of shooting.

"And within about five seconds, he said, 'Mr. Nichols, help me with two things, I want to know if my wife is OK, and I want to know if that young man that was shot was OK,'" Nichols said. "We did not want this kid to get hurt."

Pride, the police spokesman, told commissioners an internal investigation into whether East Lansing officers violated administrative policies will not begin until MSP's criminal investigation concludes. That MSP probe could result in the Michigan Attorney General's Office filing charges against the officers or the man who was shot.

"We do not want to taint that investigation by the state police," Pride said.

But community member Joy Gleason questioned whether that inquiry will be independent.

"The Michigan State Police are comprised of people who are on the same side of the blue line as anyone they investigate," she said during Monday's meeting.

Sarah Lehr is a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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