VIDEO: East Lansing Police Tackle Suspect, City to Pay $35,000 to Settle Complaint

By: Josh Sidorowicz Email
By: Josh Sidorowicz Email

"It happened and we want the public to know that we take these matters seriously and if something like this does happen we're going to deal with it."

-- Chief Juli Liebler, East Lansing Police

East Lansing city council approved a $35,000 settlement offer of a claim against the city involving a police officer Monday night.

The claim, which was filed in May 2013, alleged a East Lansing police officer Tom Burtch used "excessive force" during a January 2013 arrest involving two Michigan State University students.

The incident occurred around 1:30 am near Ann and Bailey Streets when police stopped 21-year-old Saewoong Paik and 21-year-old Brian Park for disorderly conduct, according to a police incident report.

The report goes on to say the two students were asked by police to walk toward a different street to avoid downed power lines, but they refused prompting the officer to approach them .

Police dash cam video shows the ensuing struggle as officers attempted to arrest the individuals, tackling them to the ground to handcuff them, after calling for back-up.

"It happened and we want the public to know that we take these matters seriously and if something like this does happen we're going to deal with it," said East Lansing Police Chief Juli Liebler.

Liebler said the city and department wanted to be as transparent as possible about the process and investigation into the claim, adding claims of "excessive force" are rare.

"Of the number of complaints we receive every year, there are only about ten, and very few of them are actually for excessive force, if any," she said.

The investigation into this particular incident did reveal the officer used excessive force but ultimately concluded the intent was not malicious. The officer is still employed by ELPD, according to Liebler.

"In his actions he believed he was acting in his training so we felt that it was a matter that there were corrective measures that should be taken," said George Lahanas, East Lansing city manager.

"It's a difficult job being a police officer but we expect people to operate within their training and make right decisions."

City council was required to approve the settlement because the figure was greater than $20,000.

Lahanas said there wasn't much to compare the $35,000 settlement to because he couldn't remember another similar case, though he did acknowledge the city is currently facing a similar lawsuit with claims made by another MSU student alleging they were "maliciously" prosecuted by ELPD in 2010.

The incident involving undergraduate Justin Socha happened in September 2010 the weekend of an MSU football game.

Socha says two East Lansing police officers ordered him to sweep broken glass in the street and spread it in a parking lot, and he was charged with urinating in public, a disorderly conduct charge, but eventually was found not guilty by a jury.

Lahanas nor Liebler would comment on the case, saying it was still in litigation and under investigation.

"In my career I don't think I've ever seen two lawsuits, much less two lawsuits which happen to come together at the same time," Liebler said.

"I think we have a very good track record, these are just two isolated incidents that unfortunately happened to come up at the same time."

George Brookover, legal counsel for Brian Park issued a statement Monday night thanking city council for addressing the incident.

"We did not request the release of the police video, nor did we intend to release it ourselves, the Council's commitment to transparency and open government is deeply appreciated," he said in the statement. "We are confident this was an isolated incident."


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