Tresa Baldas Detroit Free Press
Published 12:01 p.m. UTC Jun 21, 2018
Melvindale police officer Matthew Furman has been suspended twice for excessive force.
Once for forcing a woman over the hood of her car with her two toddler children in the back seat, court records show. A second time for splitting open the top of a man’s head while placing him into a patrol car.
Furman still has his job. But the chief who punished him does not, which is a key issue in an ongoing employment dispute that has morphed into a public corruption scandal alleging mischief of all sorts — an abusive cop running a towing scam, public officials turning a blind eye to the scam, and retaliation against those trying to fight the corruption.
Ex-Melvindale Police Chief Chad Hayse claims the city is using a rogue police officer to help eliminate its $1-million debt through improper impounds. Specifically, he claims Furman fails to use discretion in towing vehicles by sitting on Schaefer Road all day, waiting for poor people in beat-up cars to drive by so that he can run their plates, ticket and tow them.
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Hayse made this claim in a wrongful termination lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging he was fired in 2016 for failing to meet ticket and towing quotas and for trying to rein in Furman, whom he has described as a cash cow for the city. The lawsuit is against the City of Melvindale, the City Council and six named council members, none of whom responded to requests for comment.
According to the lawsuit — and Furman’s own deposition — he was responsible for nearly 80 percent of all the city’s tows in 2015-16, towing up to eight cars in a day and generating nearly $500,000 a year for the city.
And while he did this, Furman ran into some people with outstanding warrants, but he let them go and instead only towed their cars, a practice he admitted to in a March deposition. Furman maintained that was only done on a discretionary basis and said that he prides himself on getting unlicensed or uninsured drivers off the road while helping the city make money off of tows.
In the 118-page deposition obtained by the Free Press, Furman claims that Hayse is the bad guy and accuses him of being a racist police chief who had it out for him, directed officers to ticket only minorities and deserved to be fired. Hayse has denied all the claims. Out of 25 depositions taken in the case, including one involving the city’s current police chief, Furman is the only police employee who claimed Hayse was racist.
The city also never cited racism as a reason for his termination. According to council meeting minutes and court records, the city maintains it was justified in terminating Hayse and offered several reasons, including: posting negative comments on Facebook about a potential police dispatch merger; making misleading statements about the merger; suspending Furman twice for alleged excessive force without going through proper procedures, and ordering police officers to stop towing vehicles unless absolutely necessary.
The city also has denied using tows to make money, stating in court records: “At no time … have defendants engaged in ‘Policing for Revenue.’ “
The city also has denied claims that Furman was engaged in police brutality, noting he was investigated by Michigan State Police in one incident but cleared.
Hayse, meanwhile, paints a different picture of Furman.
“Throughout Furman’s short career, Furman received dozens of citizen complaints alleging he was rude, improperly enforced the traffic code, inflicted verbal and physical abuse on citizens and prisoners and … displayed racial biases and poor decision-making capabilities” the lawsuit states, alleging he “removed sick and elderly citizens, as well as infants from cars, in order to impound vehicles.”
Furman is not named in the lawsuit. He was not available for comment, though police officials have said he is not authorized to comment.
Bigger than employment dispute?
Since filing the lawsuit in October, lawyers for Hayse say the case has morphed into something bigger than an employment dispute. They say they have unearthed several new details about Furman, the city’s handling of excessive force complaints about him, and close ties between city officials and the towing contractor.
Among the new findings:
- Furman once bragged to a co-worker that “he needed to keep towing cars in order to make the city money because we had a deficit.”
- The president of Goch & Sons Towing, the city’s towing contractor, is friends with the mayor, city administrator, city attorney and Furman — one of the only city employees who attends the towing firm’s Christmas party, goes to dinner with the owner at his home and at restaurants and has socialized on his boat.
- The city has threatened the ex-chief’s key witnesses with retaliation: a police lieutenant whose job is on the line for testifying in the Hayse lawsuit.
Earlier this month, lawyers for Hayse filed a request for a temporary restraining order, asking the court to block the defendants from “engaging in further acts of retaliation and intimidation against witnesses.”
“The whole thing is a complete sham,” Hayse’s attorney, Deborah Gordon said of her client’s firing in 2016. “I knew they wanted him gone … The city literally made up fake charges to get rid of the Chief because he was attempting to rein in Furman.”
The city attorney, Lawrence Coogan, declined comment, citing policy not to comment on pending litigation. Melvindale’s current police chief, John Allen, also declined comment but defended the former chief in a recent deposition.
“I got along with Chad my whole career and I was concerned about him losing his job,” Allen said in the June 13 deposition.
Allen said that he never reported any wrongdoing by Hayse, never heard him tell Furman to racially profile people and knows of no reason why he was fired. He said Hayse was a professional chief and that the atmosphere at the police department was fine under his watch.
In his deposition, Allen also supported Hayse’s decision to suspend Furman without pay for slamming a man’s head into a patrol car while he was handcuffed.
“I agreed that he should be suspended. I think I even told him I think I would have suspended him without pay,” Allen said, in the deposition.
Allen was working on the night of the incident and interviewed the injured suspect, who was arrested on a drug charge and was accused of stealing a wagon. The man did time and now has a pending federal lawsuit against Furman alleging a civil rights violation.
The lawsuit includes Allen’s police report from that incident, in which he wrote that he witnessed the man getting his head slammed into the police car by Furman and took photographs of the injuries.
“I informed (the suspect) that I would not sweep that incident under the rug,” Allen wrote.
‘He injured himself’
In April 2016, Furman was suspended after a woman complained that he had used excessive force on her during a traffic stop and impound: He allegedly pulled her out of the car and forced her over the hood of the car, with her two toddler children in the back seat.
In a March deposition, Furman explained that he had put the woman in an arm-bar — a police technique that involves grabbing someone by the arm and wrist to maintain control of their body. He said the woman refused to get out of the car as instructed, so he pulled her out.
“After doing everything I could to get her to voluntarily leave the vehicle and she refused, yes, she was physically extracted from the vehicle,” Furman said in his deposition.
According to Furman, the woman had a warrant for her arrest, no car insurance and a yellow plastic cover over the license plate, which is illegal in the state of Michigan. He was suspended for three days. He maintains he acted appropriately and noted his
“I was very retaliated against. I was retaliated against for the last couple years of Mr. Hayse’s career,” Furman said in his deposition.
Following that incident, Chief Hayse issued a memo instructing Furman to use discretion in towing vehicles and required him to call the desk first and explain why he planned to tow a vehicle.
A few months after the April incident, Furman was disciplined again. He was suspended in July for five weeks — a third of it paid — for injuring the robbery suspect’s head.
“He struggled with me, and I had to force him into the car.·Now, he was not happy to be arrested. He had just led us on at least a half-hour pursuit,” Furman said of the incident in a deposition.
When asked how the man’s head got injured, Furman stated:
“He was bouncing around and struck it on the vehicle. … As I tried to get him in the vehicle, he was bouncing around trying not to go in the vehicle, and he injured himself in the process.·Unfortunately, that does happen.”
Furman’s initial suspension was with pay. On July 28, he was suspended without pay. Days later, Hayse was suspended and ultimately fired.
During the time, that Furman was being disciplined, court records show, the city’s towing revenue dropped drastically, from the typical $15,000-$30,000 a month to $7,000.
“My client was a lifelong police officer with a great record. He has been publicly humiliated and was fired for things like ‘malfeasance,’ ” Gordon said of Hayse, who worked for the police department for 25 years. “The City set out to embarrass and humiliate him because he dared to enforce the law. They have done so. This lawsuit was filed to correct the lies and clear his name. … He is hoping to get the truth out and to hold them accountable.”
Michigan State Police investigated the incident involving the injured robbery suspect and determined no charges were warranted.
In court documents, Gordon said she has numerous citizen complaints against Furman that she is prepared to show in this case, including excessive force reports “that the city never wanted us to see.”
“The city swept them all under the rug and put him back on the road,” Gordon said, noting Furman is still on the job.
In a testy exchange with the ex-chief’s lawyer, Furman said he knew complaints had been filed against him, but not how many.
”I’m very proactive and … I like to make traffic stops. I like to — to investigate things. I certainly don’t mind, you know, arresting people if they need it.· But a lot of people are unhappy to be arrested,” said Furman, in his deposition. “They’re unhappy to have their vehicle impounded.·They’re unhappy to get a ticket.·I’ve had people come in and make parking ticket complaints, such as the Snowgate issue.”
He was referring to a snow policy in the winter, when the chief — he claims — ordered officers to ticket people who had parked on the streets when only a few inches of snow had fallen.
He also explained why he lets some people with outstanding arrest warrants go, but still impounded their car.
“Removing the vehicle from the roadway eliminates the safety hazard to the other motoring public.·Whether they go to jail or not, a lot of times you try and help
Furman said sometimes, he gives breaks to first-time offenders who have outstanding warrants for minor issues. ”For example, we run into people with warrants sometimes, and rather than take them to jail, we’ll let them stay out of jail and use it as leverage.· Like, ‘Listen, you need to cooperate and behave, or we’re going to take you to jail today.’ “
Furman also said that he has socialized with the owner of the city’s towing contractor on multiple occasions, including going out on his boat, having dinner at his home and meeting him and his girlfriend at a restaurant.
That towing contractor is Mike Goch, owner of Goch & Sons, who was awarded the Melvindale towing contract in 2015. Under the contract, Goch & Sons kept 85 percent of every towing fee collected by police; the city got the rest.
According to court records, after Goch & Sons got the contract, Furman’s towing numbers skyrocketed, from 460 cars towed a year to 1,137 cars towed.
The case is pending.
Contact: Tresa Baldas: [email protected] Follow her on twitter @Tbaldas
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