Four of the executive board members of the Saginaw Police Officers Association. Left to right: President Phil Graves, Sergeant-at-arms Rick DeLong, Vice President Julian Guevara, and Treasurer Ryan Jerewski.
SAGINAW, MI — In the wake of two Saginaw Police officers facing criminal charges for allegedly not intervening when a state trooper punched a civilian during a traffic stop, their peers in the department are defending them. While they condemn the alleged actions of the trooper, they maintain the Michigan Attorney General’s decision to charge their colleagues was an overreach, one that can cast a black eye on the officers’ reputations and worsen relations within the community.
Michigan State Police troopers Bram L. Schroeder, 26, and Zachary W. Tebedo, 31, and Saginaw Police Department officers Jordan Engelhart, 31, and Dominic Vasquez, 30, were arraigned in Saginaw County District Court on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
Schroeder is charged with misconduct in office and aggravated assault. The former is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, while the latter is a one-year misdemeanor.
Tebedo, Engelhart, and Vasquez each face one count of neglect of duty, also one-year misdemeanor.
The afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 1, four executive board members of the Saginaw Police Officers Association held a press conference in the agency’s lobby. Union President and Saginaw Police Detective Phil Graves said he wanted the public to know Engelhart and Vasquez did not punch Vance D. Martin, 48, during the March traffic stop.
“We’ve had contact with various community leaders and they’re all on the same page we are — our guys are not deserving of this,” Graves said. “Trooper Tebedo, in our eyes, is not deserving of this. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office obviously feels different.”
An internal investigation cleared Engelhart and Vasquez of any wrongdoing or policy violations, Graves said.
“We want to make the record clear our guys are not the ones who committed this assault,” he continued. “None of our officers or board members agree with what (Schroeder) did.”
He added that he’s not besmirching the Michigan State Police, saying Saginaw officers work well with troopers on a daily basis.
“By no means is this representative of them,” Graves said. “It’s the actions of one person.
“We are fully supportive of our guys and we think, in the end, they will be vindicated.”
Graves said he has watched the entirety of video footage recorded of the incident from officers’ body-worn cameras. In the footage, Engelhart and Vasquez did what they were supposed to do, he said.
“They attempted a lot of de-escalation techniques,” he said. “They performed medical aid. They contacted medical. They contacted supervisors. They wrote reports. They followed our policies for what we are supposed to do in these types of situations.”
Regarding the prosecution’s allegation that Engelhart and Vasquez did not intervene, Graves said they had no opportunity to do so.
“It was fast and it came out of nowhere,” Graves said of the assault. “They can’t read (Schroeder)’s mind. I don’t think the opportunity presented itself properly. Had it been a continuous type of assault, absolutely I think they would have intervened, without question. It happened, it ended.”
Freedom of Information Act requests sent by MLive seeking video footage from officers’ body-worn cameras have not been granted.
“Everybody that’s seen these videos from start to finish — our command staff, city leadership, community leaders — they’re all on the same page,” Graves said. “Everybody agrees the trooper did wrong; we don’t want to condone that. We also don’t see what our guys or Trooper Tebedo did wrong.”
Officer Rick DeLong, the union’s sergeant- at-arms, added that Engelhart and Vasquez have good reputations within the department and in the community. Engelhart, a K-9 handler, was named the department’s Officer of the Year in 2019.
“They’re all good officers,” DeLong said. “This could have a ripple effect that can be disheartening to officers. It’s going to cause officers to second-guess themselves, and that’s what we don’t need. It’s going to create tensions between us and the citizens. We’re trying to build good relations and something like this is a major blow in the wrong direction.”
Detective Julian Guevara, the union’s vice president, said the department already has trouble recruiting new officers and this may only make hiring worse.
“This isn’t an attack on officers for alleged wrongdoing,” Graves said. “This is an attack on our community. It’s going to give them bad reputations. These are the officers you want working out here, being police officers.”
Terry Pruitt, Saginaw NAACP Branch President, said he and numerous other community leaders recently spent about an hour and a half watching video footage of Martin’s arrest from various angles. He said the overall feeling among viewers was that Schroeder’s actions warranted charges, but Tebedo’s and the Saginaw officers’ did not.
“Based on my personal view, I didn’t see anything the Saginaw officers did that would be in violation of policies or rules,” Pruitt said.
Pastor Robert Davis Jr. of the Saginaw Citizens Advisory Committee, who also viewed the video footage, described the March incident as an unfortunate situation.
“It’s unfortunate because Mr. Martin is clearly handcuffed and to be assaulted by this state trooper, that’s out of line and certainly distasteful,” Davis said. “What I’m seeing with what happened in that situation, the trooper was not, to me, properly prepared to handle this moment. The city police officers, from what I’ve seen and I’m limited on everything that happened, they appeared to be just giving assistance. Of course, it appears they’re blindsided by what occurred. We’re just waiting to see the outcome.”
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office, is prosecuting the case as the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office requested a special prosecutor handle the matter. Their attorneys are alleging Schroeder and Tebedo were on patrol in Saginaw the evening of March 28 when they pulled over a red Pontiac Grand Am driver by Martin as it turned onto eastbound Annesley Street for speeding and failing to use a turn signal. Martin appeared to be inebriated and was uncooperative with Schroder and Tebedo as they tried arresting him on suspicion of drunken driving, the AG’s Office said.
Engelhart and Vasquez arrived on the scene to assist.
While Martin had his wrists cuffed behind his back, Schroder allegedly punched him in his face, knocking him unconscious. Paramedics were called to the scene to evaluate Martin, then left.
Schroder again punched Martin while officers tried putting him in the back of an MSP vehicle, the AG’s Office alleged. The officers took Martin to the Saginaw Police Department then to a local hospital for an evaluation.
“Law enforcement officers are duty-bound to uphold the law, not violate it,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “It is incumbent upon those who wear a badge to ensure trust in public service and act when they witness a fellow officer committing a crime.”
The MSP suspended Schroder on March 29 and Tebedo on Aug. 23.
“Our department has a long-standing tradition of demanding the highest possible standards of professional
conduct from both our enforcement and civilian members,” said Col. Joe Gasper, director of the MSP. “To preserve public trust and maintain accountability, all allegations of wrongdoing are fully investigated, which is what occurred in this case.”
Gasper said agency policy strictly outlines use of force and prohibits force that is objectively unreasonable or excessive. The agency also has a policy requiring troopers to intervene and take all reasonable steps to prevent or stop excessive use of force or unnecessary violence perpetrated in their presence.
“The use of excessive force is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Gasper said.
Engelhart and Vasquez remain on duty.
Schroeder, the only one of the quartet facing a felony, is to appear for a preliminary examination at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 21.
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