EAST LANSING — Five months after DeAnthony VanAtten, 20, was shot dead by police in the parking lot of an East Lansing Meijer store, the ramifications of the incident are still unfolding in the city.
This week, VanAtten’s family criticized Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s decision to charge him with multiple crimes, citizens asked the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission to hold a public hearing on police training practices and a police official informed the city council of an ongoing internal procedure. investigation into the shooting which began after police were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Nessel cleared officers Jose Viera and Jim Menser of wrongdoing last month while announcing seven felony counts, including four counts of assaulting or obstructing police, and one misdemeanor count of fraud in the detail against VanAtten.
VanAtten would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.
“That’s the same number of years that he’s been alive,” Karen Hoene, of the East Lansing Human Rights Commission, told city council Tuesday night.
The shooting happened after police responded to a report from a 911 caller that a man with a gun entered the Meijer store on Lake Lansing Road. The caller told a dispatcher the man was black and wore a mask that covered “his entire face except his eyes”. Police chased VanAtten from inside the store to the parking lot, where Viera and Menser shot him after an officer shouted that the suspect had a gun. VanAtten was shot in the leg and abdomen.
‘My heart is broken’
“I’m just speechless,” VanAtten’s great-aunt Jean Fedewa told city council members on Tuesday.
Fedewa said Nessel’s proclamation and the results are “so far removed from what actually happened.”
“And I think it just shows the prevalent colonial attitudes in government and the police,” she said. “It continues – generation after generation – that people are not allowed to take charge of their own lives and raise their children in a safe environment.”
DeAnthony’s aunt, Charity VanAtten, said she had nothing but positive things to say about the police department. But now, when she sees a police car drive into her building, she almost has a panic attack.
“I am appalled and heartbroken,” she said at the reunion. “I have young black kids myself and up until this situation I always felt that, you know, given the right opportunity, the right situation, anyone and everyone could be held accountable for their own actions. And I don’t see that happening here.”
The timetable has not yet been set for the internal investigation
After Nessel’s announcement, East Lansing said the police department would initiate an internal investigation into the shooting to determine whether any officers involved violated department policy or protocol.
East Lansing captain Chad Pride said the complaint for the investigation was withdrawn and filed as both a disciplinary and political complaint.
At the Police Review Board meeting on Wednesday, he told commissioners he had no timetable for the investigation, but hoped to send the commission a redacted complaint by the end of the week.
He also requested investigative documents from Michigan State Police, the agency that investigated the shooting, but had not yet received a response as of Wednesday, he said.
One officer is still out due to family medical leave and another has returned to the department, but not in a patrol duty, Pride said.
He said Viera and Menser would return to patrol duties at the discretion of East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson.
Residents call for a public hearing
Thirty-three residents have signed a petition asking the Police Oversight Commission to hold a special hearing on police training in the use of force.
The commission must hold special meetings if 20 or more residents sign a petition indicating a concern about a particular policing issue.
The petition says residents are asking the commission to hold a special hearing to seek testimony from experts and members of the public on national best practices in policies and procedures, as well as recommended training for use. of force, “particularly with regard to policing black, indigenous, and people of color.”
The commission is working on organizing the public hearing and hopes to have it before its next meeting in October, said chairman Erick Williams.
The Commission asks for the charges to be dropped
The commission on Wednesday passed a resolution saying members would submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the Michigan State Police for their investigative reports regarding the shooting.
The commission is also formally asking the East Lansing City Council to demand that Nessel drop all charges against VanAtten, or that the case be transferred to Ingham County jurisdiction, where County Attorney Carol Siemon could take a charging decision. Siemon criticized the disparate impact of the criminal justice system on black residents.
Commissioner Noel Garcia, a retired police lieutenant from Lansing, said he was not surprised the officers were not charged, but he was “shocked” by Nessel’s decision to charge VanAtten, adding that the 20-year-old’s conduct did not register him as a suspect in his mind.
The commission will also submit a separate public records request to the state police requesting copies of investigative reports regarding Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr, who killed Patrick Lyoya on April 4.
Commission Vice Chair Christine Root said she thinks having the Grand Rapids investigation documents would be helpful in knowing what the standard is for such state investigations. Schurr has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Lyoya’s death, Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker announced Thursday.
VanAtten makes brief court appearance
VanAtten appeared briefly in District Court 54B Thursday on Zoom from Ingham County Jail. He is represented by the Ingham County Public Defender’s Office, while the case is being prosecuted by Yasmine Tucker, an assistant attorney general.
VanAtten’s preliminary examination was rescheduled for 9 a.m. on Oct. 6, with a probable cause conference scheduled the previous week.