Under former police chief James Craig, the Detroit Police Department missed a chance to fire an officer who has accumulated 85 citizen complaints — more than ten times the department average — and promoted him several months later, raising perennial questions about its ability to root out problem cops, WXYZ reports.
Craig signed off on Officer Stephen Kue's promotion to sergeant and a Craig appointee who has since left to be a police chief elsewhere prevented his firing, a department official tells Deadline Detroit. Command officers appointed by the then-chief to handle disciplinary appeals were responsible for a previous failure to penalize the officer.
Craig left the department last month to run for governor.
Over 12 years as a Detroit officer, Kue has repeatedly been accused of excessive force, harassment and using hostile and racist language, including at least twice calling citizens the N-word — with the overwhelming majority of allegations against him dismissed for lack of evidence, WXYZ reports.
But on at least three occasions where he was found to have committed wrongdoing — in particular, willfully lying to investigators with the department or its oversight board, an offense that today often results in termination — the findings were either overturned on appeal or through the intercession of a higher-up, Detroit Police Professional Standards Section director Chris Graveline confirmed Wednesday in an interview with Deadline Detroit.
Kue made two of the alleged false statements in 2010 and 2013, Graveline said. The latter charge was sustained then dismissed on appeal at a so-called chief's hearing in 2014 by an official appointed by Craig to make a determination, he said.
In a separate incident highlighted by WXYZ, a charge against Kue for allegedly calling someone the N-word during an arrest was dismissed even though four people told investigators it happened.
In 2018, Kue was up for termination for apparently lying in the course of an investigation into his 2015 shooting of a dog. Kue said he didn't shoot the animal, but ballistics evidence showed he did, WXYZ reported. But the then-head of the department's disciplinary section, Elaine Bryant, who had just been appointed to the job by Craig, dismissed the case because she determined that it had taken too long to play out. The department explained Friday that she made that decision based on "past binding arbitration cases dismissing matters for lack of timely adjudication and in consultation with the chief’s office."
Bryant left last month to run the Columbus Police Department as Craig left to mull a bid for governor as a Republican; he opened an exploratory committee Wednesday. Craig and a representative for Bryant did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
While Craig is indirectly responsible for keeping Kue around, he's also responsible for a new policy designed to remove liars from the force, one that says the presumptive penalty for false statements is termination. It was put in place after Kue's case was adjudicated, Graveline said. Craig also later ordered that internal investigations into potential officer misconduct be completed within a year.
WXYZ asks but does not answer why the officer was elevated to sergeant in 2018. It may stem from a union contract provision that says the department can’t take disciplinary history into account when officers come up for promotion, though there are potential workarounds.
Kue currently works in the department's tactical services section, which handles riots and crowd control, but has been reassigned to desk duty since the TV story, according to interim Chief James White, a former Craig deputy.
White, in a statement, said he launched an investigation into Kue and would review each complaint against him.
“The Detroit Police Department is deeply troubled and disappointed by the perceived pattern of conduct and behavior shown by Sergeant Kue," he said in a statement. "This does not represent the values of the hardworking and dedicated men and women of this police department. Our community expects and should receive policing excellence, respect, and integrity.”
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