HIGHLAND PARK (WWJ) – A controversy at the highest levels of government erupted when police in Highland Park recently pulled over one of their own vehicles and said they found the city’s mayor belligerently behind the wheel.
And then they were sent home for the night.
Mayor DeAndre Windom admits he was pulled over while driving a police department-owned Cadillac, though he said he had not been drinking and wasn’t speeding, nor doing anything that would warrant being pulled over. The mayor also claims the Highland Park officers did not follow procedure because they didn’t run his license plate before approaching the vehicle that was equipped with police lights, but not the ones mounted on the hood of the car. It has an ‘X’ on the license plate, denoting a municipal vehicle.
The assistant city attorney said the traffic stop came after officers saw the mayor flash his car’s police lights at another motorist, apparently as a warning for bad road behavior.
For his part, Windom said one of the officers “flexed up at him” when he got out of the car. He said when he asked if the officers knew who he was, they said “No.” Windom said the officers were sent home that night because of their “attitude,” but were not fired.
One of the officers involved in the situation, however, told WWJ’s Vickie Thomas a different story. The officer claims Windom cursed insults at him, failed to produce his license and registration, and said he and his partner were fired on the spot.
According to police reports obtained by WWJ Newsradio 950, the officers first saw Windom driving near Woodward and Ferris just before midnight on March 30. The officers say they watched as the vehicle approached a red light and Windom activated the vehicle’s emergency red and blue lights, located in the front grill. The vehicle then passed through the intersection, disregarding the red traffic signal.
The officers began to follow Windom and observed as he allegedly failed to use turn signals and failed to yield to oncoming traffic, almost striking a pickup truck. It was at that point the officer driving the squad car, who has over 20 years experience in law enforcement, made the decision to pull Windom’s vehicle over.
The officer said Windom continued to drive, disregarding his squad car’s lights. The officer then activated the siren, at which time Windom pulled over. The officer said he approached the vehicle and stated “This is a very nice vehicle. I have never seen emergency lights on a Cadillac before. What agency do you work for sir?”
The officer said Windom asked, in an aggressive tone, why he was being pulled over. When the officer explained, the mayor allegedly asked “Do you know who I am?” The officer then asked for his license and registration, to which Windom replied “Do you know who I am? I am the mayor of Highland Park,” according to the report.
The officer said Windom continued to be non-compliant and refused to provide identification, saying “You’re a f****** dumb-dumb.” The officer said “Excuse me?” to which Windom replied “You’re a f****** dumb-dumb.” The officer asked that Windom treat him with a level of respect to which he kept responding “I am the mayor of Highland Park.”
The officer said he believed discretion would end the traffic stop on a positive note and stated “You have a good night sir, drive safe,” before turning and walking back to the squad car. While walking back to his squad car, the officer said he heard a door close and turned around to see Windom “aggressively” walking toward him.
The officer claims Windom then “chest bumped” him, causing him to take a few steps back. The officer said Windom then walked up to him, got into his face and said “What you gonna do?” The officer, who said he detected what he believed to be a slight odor of intoxicants, said he raised both hands toward the mayor and stated “Nothing, sir.”
The officer said he tried to get back into his squad car, but Windom wouldn’t leave him alone, asking for his name and badge number, which he provided. Windom then asked how long the officer had been working with the department, to which he answered “Since November of 2012.” The officer claims the mayor smiled and said “Not anymore, you’re fired. You’re out of here.”
Windom then apparently asked the other officer the same questions, responding “You’re fired. You’re out of here, too.” The officers said Windom then requested the phone number to the police station, which he was given. Windom then made a phone call and shortly thereafter, the officers were advised to return to the station.
Upon returning to the station, the officers spoke with Police Chief Kevin Coney, who said they would be fired. According to the report, Coney said “Yes, it looks that way. He is the man. You should have humbled yourself to him.” The officers said they were relieved of duty and sent home that night.
The situation has raised quite a few questions. Can a mayor legally drive a car with police lights, and can the elected official use the police lights? WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton says “No.”
“Michigan law is clear: the only people who can use flashing or rotating lights are police, fire and ambulances. I found no exception for a mayor to use those lights,” he said.
Langton said improper use of those emergency lights could actually land the mayor in jail for 90 days on a misdemeanor charge.
“Bottom line, the mayor may have some authority over the police, but he cannot act like a police officer. If you possess those lights, that’s a crime, and if you use those lights, that’s a crime as well,” he said.
Langton said other vehicles allowed to use flashing lights — such as private security, wreckers and funeral hearses — are restricted to use yellow or amber lights.