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Detroit Police lieutenant put on leave after argument with protester during Biden visit

Protesters wait outside Huntington Place, in Detroit, where President Joe Biden is to speak at the NAACP Detroit Branch's 69th annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. (Daniel Mears, /The Detroit News/TNS)

A Detroit Police lieutenant has been placed on administrative duty amid an internal investigation into his verbal exchange with protesters who demonstrated Sunday outside Huntington Place during President Joe Biden’s visit.

A 19-second TikTok video that has attracted millions of views shows Lt. Brandon Cole asking a woman who was protesting against the United States sending military aid to Israel: “Why don’t you just go back to Mexico?” The woman, Dearborn resident Lexis Zeidan, replies in the video that she’s of Palestinian descent, not Mexican.

Detroit Police Chief James White said he reviewed the clip shortly after it was posted Sunday and “was outraged by what I saw,” although he said body-worn camera footage that shows the entire exchange “provides context to what occurred out there.”

The full footage, White said, showed that Cole was suggesting the protester return to vacationing in Mexico, after she’d posted on social media about her recent trip.

Zeidan said the entire video reveals “major problems in the department that Chief White needs to address” because it shows that police “are stalking innocent civilians’ social media posts.”

During a Monday press conference at Public Safety Headquarters, police officials showed both the TikTok clip and longer footage from an officer’s body-worn camera.

After officers are heard discussing who should possibly be ticketed for making excessive noise during the protest, a female in the crowd says, “Give me a ticket. I don’t give a f—.”

“Why don’t you just go back to Mexico?” Cole replied. “Because that’s where you hanging out. You were hanging out there and having a good time there.”

Zeidan retorted: “I’m not even Mexican.”

“No, you were there; you went there,” Cole said.

An unknown woman yelled: “She’s not even Mexican you dumb idiot ginger.”

After Cole repeats, “You went there, “ Zeidan replies: “What, are you stalking my Instagram?, F—— weirdo. … Go back to Mexico, you racist mother——.”

“Go back and hang out in Mexico, go back to where you were at and go party,” Cole said. “Go party in Mexico again.”

Cmdr. Michael McGinnis, head of the police department’s Professional Standards Bureau, said: “When you have that context, it changes the egregiousness of the interaction, and though it does not eliminate concerns that Chief White has, it does change the storyline.”

The Detroit police chief said despite the full video providing context to the exchange, it still raises concerns.

“My expectation for a lieutenant is that they perform at a high level and lead the men and women of this department, and that you don’t get into that personal engagement, so there’s no room for anyone to misconstrue anything,” White said.

Cole was a longtime supervisor in the 9th Precinct’s Special Operations unit prior to his recent move to the department’s Mobile Field Force that monitors protests. He was among a crew of first responders that volunteered in 2022 to search for the body of 17-year-old Zion Foster in a Macomb County landfill. Her cousin was convicted of killing her and entombing her corpse in a dumpster.

McGinnis said Cole has been removed from the Mobile Field Force and will remain on administrative duty until the investigation is finished. The probe, he said, is focused on possible “policy violations.”

Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton said he plans to address the issue at Thursday’s meeting of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.

“Detroit is a welcoming and accepting city, and we expect our officers to treat residents and visitors with the utmost respect,” Burton said. “I plan to engage with my colleagues Thursday to investigate this further, to see if anyone’s civil rights were violated.”

Zeidan said she’s bothered that Cole knew about her social media posts. Although police often monitor social media feeds prior to and during protests and other events, including the recent NFL Draft, Zeidan said she feels she’s being watched because she’s Palestinian.

“It’s evident (Cole) has been surveilling me via my social media activities, but the question is why,” she said. “To racially target me like that is problematic. If that’s what we’re spending our resources on — surveillance on innocent civilians — then the chief has a lot of work to do as far as training his police department.”

During the press conference, White said the investigation has “revealed is that this protester has posted information about (Cole’s) marital status and other details, and we’re looking into how she obtained those.”

Part of the internal investigation, McGinnis said, will be what was posted online prior to Sunday’s incident.

“Members of this protest group, there’s evidence to suggest they’ve posting personal information about officers,” McGinnis said. “It’s evident from the video there’s knowledge both ways between the protester and the other way as well. That’s going to be part of the investigation.”

Zeidan said White and McGinnis “told blatant lies at that press conference.”

“I don’t know Lt. Cole; I’ve never met him,” she said. “They were referring to another protester, so it’s clear they haven’t done a deep investigation.”


© 2024 The Detroit News

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