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Two police officers in Michigan were fired Wednesday, accused of concealing and manipulating evidence in the case of a Black woman who died while in custody, according to reports.
Harper Woods Deputy Chief John Vorgitch and Patrol Officer Michael Pineau both violated police department “policy and procedure” in connection with the June 10 death of detainee Pricilla Slater, authorities told FOX 2 of Detroit.
The two officers allegedly redacted important information from a police report on Slater’s death, the station reported, citing information from an attorney representing Harper Woods.
"The internal investigation recently began when an employee of the city of Harper Woods indicated that a deputy chief of police had directed one of the police officers to remove information from his police report that may have been relevant to the death of Ms. Slater,” John Gillooly, the attorney for Harper Woods, told the station.
“Immediately upon receiving that information, the administration of the Harper Woods Police Department … confirmed that this information was true,” he added.
Gillooly would not say what information was removed from the report. But he said the city was not ruling out criminal charges against the fired officers, pending the outcome of a Michigan State Police investigation.
He urged the public “not to jump to conclusions” about the case “even though this is somewhat a stain on these two individual police officers' careers.”
Harper Woods, a city of 14,000 residents just 13 miles outside Detroit, has seen protests and pressure on public officials since Slater’s death – with the situation becoming worse in July, when Mayor Kenneth Poynter, who is White, resigned over statements made in a private meeting in which he claimed he understood why a White person might become a White supremacist, FOX 2 reported.
Slater, 38, was taken into custody June 8 on gun charges in connection with a shooting at a Harper Woods motel, according to the station. Two days later she was found unresponsive inside a holding cell, where she was awaiting legal action in her case.
Speaking to FOX 2, an attorney representing Slater’s family suggested that race played a role in the woman’s death.
“She didn’t just die from a heart attack, she laid on a floor and died. Why didn’t anybody help her?” Geoffrey Fieger asked while speaking with FOX 2. “The indifference of the authorities, the powers that be, to Black lives is astounding. It doesn’t happen to rich white people.
“There is no possible way that police taking care of her would not see someone was in a serious medical need and obtain medical help,” Fieger continued. “She didn’t just up and die in the jail. She was there for 36 hours.”
Acting City Manager John Szymanski stressed that the death of Slater remained under investigation by the Michigan State Police.
“Unfortunately,” Szymanski added in a statement, “our city has discovered that members of its police department attempted to conceal and manipulate evidence in the ‘in custody death investigation’ of Ms. Pricilla Slater. As a result, the city has immediately terminated the following police officers: Deputy Chief John Vorgitch and Patrol Officer Michael Pineau.”
No official cause of death has yet been listed for Slater, the city medical examiner’s office told FOX 2.
A total of six city employees – a mix of police and civilians — were currently on paid leave in connection with the case, the Detroit Free Press reported.
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