The West Bloomfield Township Board met Monday night at Town Hall and voted down a motion to consider an internal investigation of the Police Department's handling of information concerning the Aug. 13 traffic stop of Matthew Ureste.
An overflow crowd watched as Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste explained, "The supervisor and the police chief may be at odds and cannot work together."
Ureste continued that she felt as though a report from WDIV-TV alleging that she was a passenger with husband Matthew Ureste when he tested over the legal limit on a preliminary breath test Aug. 13, was shown only after a request made to Chief Michael Patton that he create a "misleading" report to media.
Ureste and Kaplan were the yea votes as the motion was voted down 5-2. Clerk Catherine Shaughnessy disputed Ureste's claim, saying information from the report was acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. From there, the debate centered on whether or not to pursue an investigation to determine who leaked the incident to the media.
"You'll never know," said retired police officer Michael Madigan in public comment. "Nobody will have an idea where that stuff came from, unless you call Channel 2, Channel 4, whatever, and they're not going to give you their source. You're just blowing smoke."
"Considering the past circumstances, I think it was approrpriate to investigate the release of information," said Matthew Ureste in public comment. "If officers are talking about those kinds of things out in public, they should have some better scrutiny about where they hold those discussions."
Debate over supervisor's decision to overturn suspension
Ureste announced her decision to overturn the suspension of an officer involved in an incident last July during which a handcuffed man escaped after a domestic incident and was found several hours later hiding in a swamp.
The decision was decried by some board members who alleged that Ureste was attempting to retaliate at Patton for the traffic stop incident. "It all smacks of too much coincidence," said trustee Howard Rosenberg. "It looks personal."
Patton, who described the incident as "unfortunate," explained that he made the decision to suspend the officer after a police department investigation concluded in August. Patton said that the suspect, who was handcuffed from the back after threatening two females with a knife, was placed in the back of a squad car and left unattended twice.
The first time the suspect was left unattended, Patton said, the suspect worked his handcuffs around to the front of his body. Patton explained that the officer realized this and made a tactical decision to leave the suspect in the car instead of re-applying his handcuffs.
After being left unattended a second time, Patton said, the suspect freed himself using his mouth and managed to roll down the squad car's back window, after which he escaped.
After a manhunt involving several police departments, the suspect was eventually found two to three hours later in a swamp.
"We cited a number of policy and procedural things that we felt were violated. The job is difficult and we appreciate the efforts that the officers made, but you’ve got to keep your guard up and you’ve got to keep guard on your prisoners. This can’t happen. We’re not trying to be overly harsh, but the nature of the discipline we felt was appropriate," Patton said.
Ureste disagreed, reminding Patton that the officer is a first-time offender with a good record. She noted that the police officer's union had filed a grievance — the first grievance Patton had dealt with since becoming chief last year — which was denied by Patton.
It was eventually revealed in debate that the supervisor had received a union appeal of the chief's denial due to a clerical error. The supervisor rescinded her decision.
Other highlights included:
- The board adopted an amendment to the township's noise ordinance, which was initially brought forth at the Aug. 15 meeting. After several public comments from concerned residents living nearby West Bloomfield High School, WBHS supporters and Superintendent JoAnn Andrees, the board voted to strike down section 12 of the proposed amendment restricting noise on school property.
"I don’t feel that this ordinance is going to address this issue," said Shaughnessy. "Noise is not something you can harness, but I do believe there’s an amplification process. I don’t think this ordinance is the answer for that, but we do need to address it."
- The board voted unanimously against the consideration of a zoning ordinance text amendment to allow for the keeping of chickens, keeping with the planning commission's recommendation Aug. 23.
- The board voted to approve agreements on union contracts for the public workers including those in the water and sewer departments, police dispatchers, general employees, and supervisors.
- The board voted to appoint Mark Miller to replace Albert Abbo on the planning commission after Abbo retired in August.