Ferndale Police Battle Prosecutors Office
By, Crystal A. Proxmire
A brewing feud between the Ferndale Police Department and the Oakland County Prosecutors Office has reached public attention as Ferndale City Manager Bob Bruner has released letters and other correspondence after a freedom of information act request from Fox 2 News asking for communications between Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and the City of Ferndale.
On Feb. 16, 2010 Cooper’s office ceased all telephone and e mail communications with the Ferndale Police, forcing police to drive to Pontiac to obtain warrants in person. Her decision came after learning that Ferndale Police were recording all telephone conversations and releasing such tapes to Fox 2 News.
Cooper also made serious accusations against Ferndale Police Department leaders in letters to Mayor Craig Covey and council dated March 1, 2010 and Feb. 20, 2010. The complaints included inappropriate taping of privileged conversations and the release of those tapes to Fox 2 News including a tape of a detective giving a victim false information, failing to turn over recorded phone calls to defense attorneys, withholding information from warrant requests, and holding an individual in custody for 72 hours without grounds to keep him locked up.
The Prosecutor’s letter explains the potential legal ramifications these actions could have for the City, including possible “criminal and civil consequences.” She said that “because of all these concerns we have no choice but to require that all warrant requests from the Ferndale Police Department be presented in person.”
“Ferndale is the only agency where, sadly, we have come to question the wisdom of some of the decisions made by a few members of the command staff. We process over 20,000 warrant requests a year without much incident. I have now had to expend untold hours, and my staff has had to expend untold hours because of the serious ethical, legal and constitutional issues that have arisen as a result of the conduct of these individuals,” the letter stated.
Mayor Covey asked the Police Department to respond to the accusations, which they did in a March 5, 2010 letter from Captain Timothy D. Collins. “Quite frankly I am offended by some of the distortions that she [Cooper] presents as she casts unfair aspersion on our organization and will remind you that had her assistant written what in most cases is a routine warrant none of these events would have transpired,” Collins wrote in reference to a Feb. 6, 2010 assault case where phone calls were released to Fox 2 after a FOIA request. “Now that the City Attorney knows that telephone calls in the detective bureau are recorded, he has officially made the determination that these conversations are indeed protected from release under FOIA. …we have no objection to this what-so-ever, it just happens to be an issue that has never been raised or discussed prior to this,” Collins wrote.
The letter also said Cooper’s action “appears to be a canard to distract attention away from the decision making that prompted the media attention.”
Captain Collins noted that “the Ferndale Police Department is not the only police department in Oakland County or contingous counties that records telephone calls between detectives and prosecutors.”
“Further we have informed the Prosecutor’s office that every Ferndale detective has a city issued cell phone (also standard and common practice) that is not recorded, which can be used for communication between detectives and assistant prosecutors.”
Collins wrote “The Prosecutor’s decision in this matter is preventing us from using equipment provided by the taxpayers to expedite the transfer of data in the most cost effective manner.” He also wrote “I would very much like to defend ourselves in specifics on these two matters, however, because I do not believe that this communication is free from yet another FOIA request, I would be negligent in expressing the specifics in this forum. …I will say however that the information provided by the Prosecutor is not accurate and/or is taken out of context to take what I suggest is yet another unwarranted ‘cheap shot’ at the Ferndale Police Department.”
“The Department stands ready to meet with any one of your honorable body to explain these false and/or misleading allegations, provided that the information presented would not prejudice any of the criminal proceedings.”
The Prosecutor’s Office and the Police Department clashed publicly last October after Police Chief Kitchen sent press releases to several media sources criticizing the Prosecutor’s handling of an assault case that involved a Highland Park man bringing a gun to Ferndale High School and allegedly striking a former student with the gun during a dispute. The man was not charged with felonious assault, but pled to lesser charges. Kitchen publicly denounced the handling of the case, and strained relations between the two departments have escalated since.
“The Police Department stands ready and willing to work with the Prosecutor’s office to resolve any and all issues,” Collins said.
The Ferndale City Council, who is the ultimate governing body of the Police Department, is expected to hear more information about the situation at their March 22, 2010 council meeting.