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Investigation into Ann Arbor police chief finds evidence "people feared retaliation"

ann arbor city council
Caroline Llanes
Michigan Radio

Updated: Friday, February 28, 2020 2:29 p.m.

Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox was put on administrative leave three weeks ago due to allegations that he created a hostile work environment and employees feared retaliation, and a separate accusation of insubordination.

An investigation commissioned by the city of Ann Arborconcluded that there was no evidence that "the Chief was behaving in such a way (yelling, etc.) as to create a hostile work environment. However, there is evidence that people feared retaliation by the Chief, and they had a legitimate basis for that fear, whether or not that was the Chief’s intent."

The reports have to do with a police lieutenant who conducted two separate investigations into parking officers and their supervisors dismissing and voiding parking tickets. The lieutenant felt that Cox pressured her into submitting a report that recommended no disciplinary actions. The report says Cox asked a lot of questions during the investigations that made the lieutenant uncertain, like “What’s wrong with that? Supervisors can’t tell people to void tickets?” and made comments like “this is just a parking officer,” “voiding tickets is normal,” “are we sure this warrants discipline,” and “people might be misremembering things.”

Cox didn't deny any of these allegations, but said that his intentions were misconstrued. He said he asked questions like this frequently in order "to help an investigator reach well supported conclusions."

Cox will return to his duties, and will be required to issue an apology to his staff and lieutenants for any misunderstandings and miscommunications. City Administrator Howard Lazarus recommended that "an outside facilitator be used to evaluate organizational culture and to help open channels of communication throughout AAPD." 

Original post: February 21, 2020 7:41 p.m.

The Ann Arbor City Council now knows the details of why Police Chief Michael Cox was put on paid administrative leave two weeks ago, but the public still does not. The council says it can't yet disclose the reasons why Cox is on leave.

During a closed session Friday evening, the council met with an independent investigator who provided them with details.

Police Chief Michael Cox was placed on paid administrative leave two weeks ago by city administrator Howard Lazarus. Lazarus gave city council and the police oversight commission few details on why he put Cox on leave, only saying that it was a personnel matter and that he was not on leave for personal or sexual misconduct. 

Over the weekend, city attorney Stephen Postema will draft a memo advising the city council on what the next steps should be. The council will have another closed session on Monday, February 24. During that time, the council will go over the memo and will also meet with Cox and his attorney.

Jack Eaton represents Ann Arbor’s 4th Ward. He says they’ll most likely discuss disciplinary action in the Monday meeting.

“The disciplinary decision belongs to the city administrator. But if that decision is disciplinary suspension, the council can accept or reject that. Only the council has the authority to discharge him,” he says.

Three days ago, the city council voted 7-4 to fire Lazarus without cause, meaning no misconduct was cited. Council members who voted to fire Lazarus opted not to discuss their concerns at the meeting, saying that they wanted to part with him on good terms.

Jane Lumm represents Ann Arbor’s 2nd Ward. She says getting to talk to Cox is important to the council, so they get all sides of the story.

“Before we release anything, we would first like to also hear from the police chief, so we will accomplish that on Monday in the same closed session,” she says.

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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