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Ingham Co. releases 911 call describing man running with gun minutes before EL police shot him

ELPD blocking Meijer entrance.png
Sarah Lehr
East Lansing police blocked entrances to the Lake Lansing Road Meijer store following an officer-involved shooting on April 25.

WKAR obtained the call, which officials have not previously shared with the public, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

911 calls from the minutes before East Lansing Police shot a man outside a Meijer grocery store on April 25 have been released.

In one call, which spans more than two minutes, a person describes a man taking a gun from his car, putting it into his pocket and "running" into the store.

Ingham County, which operates a regional dispatch center, released the records to WKAR Friday afternoon in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

East Lansing placed the officers who fired shots, Jose Viera and Jim Menser, on leave the night of the shooting pending investigation by Michigan State Police.

State police have since completed their review and referred it Friday to the Michigan Attorney General's Office, MSP confirmed. That probe could result in the AG filing criminal charges against any of the people involved.

During a May 5 news conference, East Lansing officials played audio of a dispatcher relaying a message about "a 20-year-old Black man" wearing a mask who pulled a gun from his car and went into the grocery store.

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

City officials did not share during that news conference the original 911 calls made by someone in the vicinity of the store. That audio became public, however, through WKAR's records request.

What newly released calls include

In one call released through FOIA, two people can be heard describing the situation.

Listen: First 911 call made on April 25 before East Lansing shooting
A 911 call made on April 25 before police shot a man outside a grocery store in East Lansing.

"Some guy just went, got out of his car, started in towards the store, came back and pulled a gun out of his car and ran into the store," the first person says.

"What does he look like?" the dispatcher asks about 20 seconds into the call. "Is he Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indian?"

"He's Black," one person on the call responds, before answering the dispatcher's questions about how old the man appeared and the clothes he was wearing.

One of the callers says the man's mask was covering "every bit of his face except for his eyes" and the other describes the gun he pocketed as "silver with black markings."

A dispatcher relays the situation, saying, "The Meijer on Lake Lansing, there was a male that grabbed a gun and walked into the store."

The caller then corrects the dispatcher, saying, "No, not, like, walked. Ran in. Running in."

"Did he threaten anyone with it?" a dispatcher asks in reference to the gun.

"No, but he smacked the side of my car," one person says.

Listen: Second 911 call made on April 25 before East Lansing shooting
A 911 call made on April 25 before police shot a man outside a grocery store in East Lansing.

The person calls dispatch back a second time to relay the man's license plate number, during a 911 call lasting one minute and 14 seconds.

In that call, they tell dispatch, as far as they know, the man is still inside store and says a woman they believe to be the man's girlfriend is inside a car in the parking lot.

Police found gun under car, video shows

Officers were dispatched to the scene at 6:36 p.m. before arriving at 6:43 p.m. and reporting shots fired at 6:46 p.m., according to city officials.

Family members have identified the man who was shot as 20-year-old DeAnthony VanAtten. He was hospitalized with gun shot wounds before being booked into and later released from the Ingham County Jail on a probation violation.

Officers patted VanAtten down after shooting and handcuffing him, but did not find a gun on his person. Officers later found a gun under a vehicle in the store parking lot, police body camera video published by the city shows.

Mike Nichols, an attorney for Officer Viera, has said his client responded appropriately to a situation that could have endangered police and bystanders.

"The unvarnished fact is that the young man had a gun, and he was not carrying it lawfully inside the store," Nichols said in a statement.

Open and concealed carry of guns is legal in Michigan with a valid permit, although businesses may ban guns on their property. A sign observed outside the Lake Lansing Meijer this month shows a picture of a gun with a slash through it.

Attorneys for VanAtten and Menser, the other officer, did not immediately provide comment Friday afternoon.

Police oversight board has zeroed in on nature of 911 call

Members of East Lansing's citizen-led Independent Police Oversight Commission have asked officials to investigate the 911 call, itself, suggesting that it could have violated a 2020 East Lansing ordinance that prohibits making 911 calls with biased motivations.

That ordinance sets misdemeanor penalties for "knowingly" and "intentionally" making a complaint to police or the 911 center based "in significant part" on a person's race rather than "reasonable suspicion" that the person has committed or will commit a crime.

"We need to remind our community members that we simply cannot call the police every time you see a Black person," Commissioner Amanda Morgan said during a April 28 meeting convened to address the shooting by police.

East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson and spokesman Lt. Chad Pride have said previously that, in order to avoid interfering with MSP's investigation, any such examination in light of the biased 911 calls ordinance would not begin until MSP's inquiry concludes.

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