Ex-Detroit Police Chief James Craig denies fleeing suspected carjacking

LANSING – Shortly after returning to Detroit in 2013 to become police chief, James Craig told a community meeting how he escaped one night from a suspected car thief who approached his unmarked police car while stopped at a red light at Jefferson’s became.

The image of a police chief driving a police vehicle fleeing an alleged criminal instead of arresting – or at least calling for support – was criticized at the time.

The incident is re-examining in light of Craig’s position as the frontrunner in the Republican race for governor.

And although he had not previously attempted to correct the reports on the 2013 incident, Craig denied in an interview with the Free Press on Thursday that he feared for his safety or fled the scene.

Craig, 65, who retired in June, has made his police record a centerpiece of his campaign, touting a campaign theme by “Lead From the Front” and claiming that “we are not retreating here in Detroit” when he talked about the How police dealt with demonstrations following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black, by Minneapolis police.

But in October 2013, he said at a community meeting that he had pulled back quickly when he was the obvious target of an attempted car theft about two weeks earlier.

“A suspect jumped out and ran to the passenger side of my vehicle,” reported the Detroit News, as Craig said at a meeting with about 50 residents.

“As soon as I saw the suspect run to my car, I accelerated out of danger.”

Detroit police officers later said no laws were broken and no police report was drawn up. Craig did not describe calling for reinforcements or staying in the area to make sure the suspect was arrested and questioned.

“You can’t just arrest someone for approaching your car,” Police Sgt. Michael Woody told the news. “Maybe the guy wanted to ask directions. The chief did exactly what he should have done under the circumstances: drive away and get to safety.”

On Thursday, Craig said Woody, who was a police spokesman at the time, had inaccurately described his actions.

“I didn’t want to go away and get to safety,” said Craig. “If Woody said that, I don’t remember him saying that.

Craig said when he saw the man running towards his car, “as my training would dictate, I made an evasive move – an evasive tactic, if you will. I made a U-turn and got behind the car. When I did, that young man who, although I still don’t see a gun, ran back to the car he got out of. “

Craig said he wanted a license plate so he could check through the police department, but the car drove away at high speed. He said he did not track the vehicle because he did not see a gun in the man’s hand and saw no crime. The police are not allowed to initiate high-speed chases in unmarked vehicles. He said he still doesn’t know what the man was up to, and while it could have been an attempted car theft, there are more innocent explanations as well.

“I served in the police force for 44 years,” said Craig. “I was ambushed. I’ve always run into danger, not danger. ”He condemned” any claim that I was afraid for my life in this one incident “as false.

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In 2013, Craig’s description of his own behavior resulted in a quick negative reaction, with many readers of the article using the online comment forum to question why Craig didn’t see to it that the suspect was taken off the street rather than possibly directed to someone else Falling victim.

It’s not clear why Craig didn’t try to correct or even expand the data set before Thursday. He said he does not regret calling the incident a possible attempted car theft in his 2013 speech to a community group, although he doesn’t know then or now whether it was the man’s intention.

“It was just such a strange thing,” said Greg Bowens, who was press secretary for former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and who wrote a 2013 column for Deadline Detroit about the attempted carjacking incident entitled “Barely a Profile in Courage”.

“The irony that someone who is a police chief gets into a potentially criminal situation in which he as a chief feared for his safety and instead of facing the danger he said he was facing, he drove away. “

In the 2013 column, Bowens, a public relations and policy advisor, said, “We’re all a little more insecure because you, Chief Craig, let a car thief get away.”

Bowens said Thursday that Craig’s behavior at the time was as bogus as he thought the boss had gained enough credibility and stature in his eight years as head of the department that he would have thought such a reaction from Craig was even less likely, when Craig quit the job.

However, Craig faced similar criticism when he officially announced his candidacy for governor on September 14. Protesters chased Craig away from his planned campaign launch on Belle Isle, prompting him to head to an alternate venue.

Ricardo Moore, a retired Detroit police lieutenant who served on the Board of Police Commissioners from 2014 to 2017 while Craig was in charge, said the carjacking incident showed Craig is a “showboat” with much less courage than he normally projects when you face the danger one-on-one.

“He should have called at least 911 to report the incident,” said Moore, who also served on the Michigan Parole Board from 2017 through earlier this year. “He never did that. And then he should have stayed in the area. He’s the chief of police. He can mobilize the entire police force.

Craig said he couldn’t remember using his police radio at the time, but said that without getting a license plate number of the vehicle, he couldn’t tell the dispatcher anything.

If he had been able to get the license plate and “if the car had been wanted for a crime, I would have called in reinforcements and then I would have sent a couple of uniformed cars to stop the car.”

Another current – and possibly related – controversy surrounding Craig is the fact that while serving as Detroit Police Chief, he was not a certified officer by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. The possible connection with the alleged carjacking incident relates to the police’s authority to make an arrest.

The commission does not require certification for police chiefs, although most are certified. Certified police officers can arrest someone if there is reasonable suspicion that they have committed or committed a crime. A citizen can only be arrested after a citizen has witnessed a crime.

Craig said he had arrest powers while serving as the Detroit Police Chief for being represented by the Wayne County Sheriff, although he said he was not sure he was still represented at the time of the alleged carjacking attempt.

“Why should I arrest someone despite my arrest warrant – someone ran to my car? What crime was committed? “

In 2013, Detroit Police Department spokeswoman Kelly Miner told the Free Press that Craig would voluntarily obtain his commission certification while serving as Detroit chief. The Free Press reiterated Miner’s statement in an October 13 article.

Craig said Thursday was the first time he’d heard of such a promise but never made it.

“I didn’t tell her or anyone else that my plan was to get accredited,” said Craig.

The only other GOP candidate with police experience, Michigan State Police’s Captain Mike Brown, said both the carjacking incident and the accreditation issue “reflect decision-making and credibility.”

“There are many unanswered questions,” said Brown of Stevensville.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and former Livonian police chief, said he could not speak on the alleged car theft but the accreditation issue was “much ado about nothing”.

Craig “is respected as a police leader” and was the keynote speaker at the association’s summer leadership conference, Stevenson said.

Other candidates for the GOP nomination include Conservative cable television commentator Tudor Dixon, Kalamazoo chiropractor Garrett Soldano, Oakland County pastor Ralph Rebandt, Ottawa County’s real estate agent, Ryan Kelley, Livingston County’s evangelist and assistant teacher Bob Scott, the Detroit-based document specialist Articia Bomer, Lansing businessman Evan Space, Grand Rapids entrepreneur and US Army veteran Austin Chenge, and Grand Rapids businesswoman Donna Brandenburg.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ paulegan4. Read more about Michigan politics and sign up for our newsletter to vote.

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