LeDuff: A Political Hit-and-Run? Union Boss Could Be Charged

December 07, 2018, 7:35 AM

Chief Craig (left) and Mike Nevin

By Charlie LeDuff

The Detroit police chief warned the president of the firefighters union last week through television cameras to "stay in his lane" after the union boss complained of dangerously poor response times by police.

We were all left to wonder what that meant. Now we know.

Internal Affairs detectives requested Mike Nevin, the president of the Detroit Firefighters Association to present himself on Wednesday to be read his rights on possible obstruction of justice charges. The union boss, through his lawyer, politely told the police to kiss his ass.

Nevin's lawyer calls it a political hit-and-run worthy of Nixon Administration dirty tricks.

"The police are trying to silence a public servant who is blowing the whistle," said attorney Mike Rataj. "The brass is lying about response times and my client is trying to protect his members and the public."

Stranded on the street

It all began last week when Nevin called out Chief of Police James Craig as a showboat in a patent leather cap after four firefighters were stranded in the middle of an active homicide scene with no police available after midnight Nov. 23. [Background is here.]

"He tells you the people are safe," Nevin said then. "It's bullshit. Take it from me: we don't have enough police to protect emergency workers much less the public. And that's not the cops' fault. That's management's fault. He can dance in as many videos as he wants to. It doesn't change the facts on the streets." (Watch YouTube video.)   

The chief struck back with a menacing little TV sound bite pointed at Nevin: "Stay in your lane."

Now, Internal Affairs investigators, who report directly to Chief Craig, have opened a highly unusual criminal investigation into a public safety union president who is not suspected of stealing or accepting bribes. Internal Affairs does not comment on ongoing cases.

Potential charges include obstruction of justice, Rataj said, as Nevin posted online police reports about the incident, showing it  took more than a half-hour from the first 911 call for police to arrive despite firefighters repeatedly radiong-in that the murderer could still be lurking in the shadows.

But the unredacted reports posted by Nevin also show the the first name of a potential witness and her cell phone number.

A need to inform the public

"It's his First Amendment right as a union representative to release the information," Rataj said. "Firefighters (were) in an active homicide scene, where there is a guy with his brains blown out and people lurking in the shadows, and they can't get a car. The Pentagon Papers should not have been released, but the people needed to know what was going on in Vietnam. This is the same thing."

The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret 7,000-page dossier that was leaked to the press in 1970 by defense contractor Daniel Ellsberg. The papers showed that American officials long knew that the Viet Nam war was unwinnable, but they escalated anyway. The Supreme Court ruled that it was in the public's interest to publish the dossier and Ellsberg avoided 100 years in prison.

"They made people understand that presidents lie all the time -- not just occasionally, but all the time," Ellsberg said in 2016. "Not everything they say is a lie, but anything they say could be a lie.”

 And so it is in Detroit with the police department embroiled in a towing bribery scandal, the FBI rejecting the department's crime statistics last year as unbelievable and media outlets calling out the homicide closure rate as phony and over inflated.

Nevin, known as a brash and out-spoken advocate for firefighters, was twice fired for "looting" a screen door from an abandoned structure to hang in a firehouse that had none. Nevin was reinstated by a judge who ruled that he had been fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the department in 2008, when a homing alarm worn by Firefighter Walt Harris did not trigger after a roof fell in on him, leading to his death by suffocation.

"Nevin had his friend die in his arms for God's sake," Rataj said. "If anything, the city should be thanking him. They know they're undermanned. I will defend him vigorously."

 A press conference is scheduled for Friday morning.

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