Human Rights Commission

Another issue which stirred a lot of debate within the police department, was the City's Human Rights Commission (HRC), which focused on matters of race. A subgroup of the HRC was formed in 1968 to focus on police-community relations, especially the relations with the black community.

The first meeting of the subgroup and citizens took place on March 14, 1968. Remember the civil unrest that the country was having during this period to appreciate the mistrust between the police department and the black community.

The meeting was interesting as it started with a local attorney speaking, at one point warning that the police department refused to “even admit there was a problem.” Instead of rallying around him, members of the crowd became upset at what they perceived was an outsider, telling them what they should and should not fear. Once this issue was settled, those in attendance questioned Chief Krasny as to why he was attempting to recruit 50 auxiliary police officers. They felt that this was an attempt for the department to target the black community.

They also expressed concerns over rumors that the fire department was being trained in the use of firearms and the dispersion of chemical mace for crowd control. Chief Krasny denied this, saying the fire department was never asked or been recruited for either of these activities.

As for the auxiliaries, the chief defended their use and necessity to control costs associated with university functions, including traffic control.

Complaints against officers were often investigated by the Human Rights Commission but these investigations did not have any disciplinary authority over the officers. Due to the climate of distrust, Chief Krasny decided to release all minor and major infractions found against an officers, to the public. He stated, “This was a hard decision to come to, but we have our dirty linen just like anyone else and it is better that the public should get the information from us, rather than picking up rumors here and there.”

The chief spoke of the pressure the officers were under due to the outsiders constantly judging them, stating, “Whenever one of my men does something in the line of duty he's threatened with the loss of his job, a complaint filed with the Human Relations Commission or with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or with the state Civil Rights Commission. This type of thing is bound to build up pressure in a man. Things are pulling further apart today than they have for the past 29 years.”

The Human Rights Commission was also involved in the controversial resignation of Officer Wade Wagner, on May 10, 1969. Wagner arrested a HRC undercover staff investigator, for disorderly conduct at the Star Bar on N. Main. The investigator had been sent there due to claims that discrimination was occurring at the bar. While there, Officer Wade Wagner was sent to the bar to investigate a disorderly person complaint.

The investigator was arrested by Officer Wagner for disorderly conduct and taken to the police station. Both sides would differ drastically on why the investigator was arrested. While in an interview room, he was allegedly hit twice and knocked to the floor while handcuffed. He was released on bond and a complaint was later made with the Human Rights Commission. Needless to say this caused a major controversy for the department. Many felt and still do, that Officer Wagner was “set up” by the HRC.

Within days an internal investigation was launched by the department and the Human Rights Commission. The charges against the investigator were dropped and the bond money was returned.

Officer Wagner was suspended with pay and initially told his job was not in jeopardy. HRC Director David Cowley said the incident “is symbolic of what happens to black people when they are brought into the police station.”

Chief Krasny responded by saying Cowley's statement was a complete “falsehood.” Chief Krasny also stated, “The police are always accused of harassment and intimidation. But, the very same people making this accusation, used this method on a local merchant to prove their point and then decided to press the police officer into a confrontation.

“I was under the impression the staff of the Human Relations Commission was trained to use restraint and solve problems, not create them. The fact this person (the investigator) was a city employee, does not give him amnesty from arrest and I would expect an employee on assignment to conduct himself as a gentleman. Before the commission decides to start a testing program for the police, I would suggest they take a good look at their own staff and the manner in which they perform.”

On May 20, the report on the incident was complete and that same day Officer Wagner submitted his resignation with the police department. The completed report contained four major points:

  1. No criminal charges would be pressed against the investigator.
  2. Officer Wagner submitted his resignation from the Ann Arbor Police Department.
  3. The police department “recognized” that certain rules were violated and disciplinary action was “anticipated.”
  4. The city administrator would review policies and procedures of the Human Relations staff and would take whatever remedial or disciplinary action that was required.

This internal investigation was 80 pages long and over 30 witnesses were interviewed. It was found that the actions at the bar by the officer was proper, however, the city attorney did not authorize a warrant against the investigator.

The resignation of Officer Wagner did not end the controversy however, as on May 24, 1969, Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas Harvey hired Wagner as a deputy. Ann Arbor Mayor Robert Harris blasted Harvey and the sheriff's department for the hiring.

Mayor Harris stated, “Sheriff Harvey just hired a police officer who resigned from the Ann Arbor Police Department while relieved from duty for suspected serious misconduct. After the investigation the deputy chief informed him if he did not resign, dismissal hearings would take place. The chief's decision was based entirely on the facts admitted by the officer himself.

“As one who has been shown these admissions, I can say that Sheriff Harvey undoubtedly uses lower standards to judge the fitness of police officers, than those used by the Ann Arbor Police Department. Sheriff Harvey's apparent disregard of the importance in professional police work of avoiding excessive force is a threat to the citizens of the county.”

Sheriff Harvey responded to the criticisms of his department and their personnel. “We were satisfied (after conducting a background investigation on Wagner) that the arrest made was legal and proper. We are also satisfied that the later incident occurred after a good deal of planning and provocation by the prisoner. If a person has no more respect for law and order and for the badge which represents it, than to take a swing at a policeman, he is asking for the firmest of treatment. It's about time the decent people in our society got some backbone and started supporting their law and their policeman. The investigator wasn't swinging at Wagner when he tried to slug him, he was swinging at every law abiding citizen in society. I would expect any officer of mine to react as quickly and decisively as did Wagner when attacked.”

The Human Relations Commission tried to stop the hiring of Wagner by going to the county commissioners, but were unsuccessful in doing so.

On June 11, 1969, Officer Wagner released a statement telling his side of the incident: “At 2:00 a.m. on May 10, 1969, I was one of three officers sent to the Star Bar to investigate a disorderly person complaint. The person said to be disorderly was observed in the bar by myself and the other officers. He displayed boisterous and demanding conduct. He turned aside a suggestion made by myself and other officers that he quiet down and when he continued in a disorderly manner he was arrested in order to maintain peace in the business place.

“At the station he was placed in the security section, the handcuffs removed and the booking procedure began. Because the prisoner, an investigator for the Human Relations Commission, continued in a belligerent manner, he was placed in a closed interview room. Normal booking procedures require an officer to search a prisoner for concealed contraband, personal property and proper identification. As I began this search of him, he resisted and made an overt act indicating his intent to strike me. I took defensive and positive action and subdued him. After I subdued him he identified himself for the first time as an HRC investigator and said to me: ‘Thank you officer. I have proved my point, haven't I? I'll have your job for this.’

“The department's community relations officer, assigned by Chief Krasny to investigate the incident, has obtained more than a dozen statements from persons in the bar at the time of arrest. All the statements substantiate the charge that the investigator was acting in a disorderly manner when arrested.

“However, the city attorney has stated publicly that he would not be prosecuted criminally in this incident. After a week of political maneuvering by the power structure of the city government, I was contacted by Chief Krasny and told that unless I submitted my resignation, I would be fired. In order to halt further harassing of myself and other police officers on the department by special interest groups in city hall, I resigned.

“Of course if the investigator had conducted himself properly in the first place while in the bar the entire incident could have been avoided. Instead, he chose to deliberately create a disturbance with the full consent and knowledge of his superior, who formulates ‘tests‘ for his employees.

“I regret and deplore the creation of this incident. But I more regret that an attempt has been made by self-interest groups in city hall to discredit the patrolmen of the Ann Arbor Police Department. These officers are among the finest and most dedicated men in the police profession. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with them”.