LeDuff: Detroit police's simulated purse snatching goes awry - New York News

LeDuff: Detroit police's simulated purse snatching goes awry

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Police headquarters in downtown Detroit Police headquarters in downtown Detroit
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DETROIT (WJBK) -

An FBI agent almost shot a Detroit cop on Wednesday at a gas station while filling up. It wasn't the agent or the cop's fault. It was the cop's bosses, who came up with the lame brain idea to simulate a purse snatching and then invite a TV crew to film your reaction Detroit. The immediate supervisor of these cops had no idea this was happening until they called him.

"The event takes place. The officer takes the purse, runs around the gas station. As he's running, an off-duty FBI agent is pumping gas. He witnesses the whole thing. He gives chase. He pulls his weapon, and as he turns the corner around the gas station, he's stopped by another officer, who identifies herself as a police officer and don't shoot, don't shoot, this is a scenario," said Inspector Shawn Gargalino with the Detroit Police Department.

That is the same description of events we got from four other ranking law enforcement officials, including Lieutenant Chuck Flannagan, a 28-year veteran of DPD.

"It's a tragedy waiting to happen. In fact, I understand an FBI agent did pull a weapon because he didn't believe it was a staged, and some officers had to run forward to prevent him from possibly shooting an officer. We have enough robberies at gas stations that most people aren't going to assume it's a mock robbery," he said.

"You had citizens who could've been hurt. A lot of people out here have CPLs now and carry weapons. They're tired of the crime that's going on in Detroit, and they might want to stand up and help somebody that's in this type of situation. It just so happened it's a gas station where the FBI fills up all their vehicles," Gargalino said.

This is the part of the story where we go to find the principals who put this bone-headed idea together. First, Sergeant Eren Stephens, the head of Public Information for DPD, wouldn't come outside to speak with us on camera.

Inspector Dwayne Blackmon from Homicide was there, but he wouldn't come outside either. He did say by phone that it all went down just like that except for the fact there was no gun. That simply the agent made a move.

Late Thursday afternoon, Stephens emailed the following statement.

"WDIV Channel 4's request to have two members of the Detroit Police Department participate in its "How to Be a Better Witness" story was approved by DPD leadership. The simulated crime occurred in front of actual witnesses, in order to demonstrate what the witnesses did or did not see, which is very important during the process of an investigation. WDIV's goal was to educate the public on safety and crime prevention. The demonstration involved an unarmed suspect (played by a police officer) snatching a woman's purse as she (WDIV Associate) exited a local gas station located at Michigan and 11th Street. As the unarmed "suspect" fled with the purse, an FBI agent who was coincidentally at the scene of the demonstration initiated a brief enforcement action, taking two steps forward, then was immediately informed by a uniformed police officer that there was no actual crime in progress. Ironically, this demonstration revealed that when a crime occurs in the community, we never know who will be watching."

We asked Gargalino what happened after this incident.

"Basically it was do you want to do this scenario again, and the officers were basically absolutely not," he said.

No one in management at WDIV would return calls to explain what happened.

It is also important to remember that right now Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley is on trial for manslaughter for the 2010 accidental killing of a seven-year-old girl, a situation made all the worse by a cable film crew being in tow.

Police were after a homicide suspect, and who was in charge of the Homicide squad back then? Inspector Blackmon, who is in charge of the Homicide squad now, who was at the scene of the fake purse caper.

"We have an officer right now fighting for his freedom because someone up the chain decided to accommodate television producers, at least that's the theory of the prosecution, the A&E people. I look at this as more theatrics," Flannagan.

"Somebody could've got hurt, and I think it's my job as the commanding officer of the 1st and 13th Precincts to make sure that anything like this never happens again," Gargalino said.

James Craig, the incoming chief of police, said he was outraged. This could've cost somebody their life, and he promised to get to the bottom of things.

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