The former head of internal affairs for the Michigan State Police has settled a lawsuit against the department, her past bosses and the state for $2 million.
Now-retired 1st Lt. Twana Powell said in the whistleblower lawsuit filed in late 2018 that she left her job after experiencing race and sex discrimination and a hostile work environment.
According to the lawsuit, Powell, who is African American, repeatedly reported disparate treatment of women and minorities in the department as well as minority citizens who had contact with State Police.
The case was settled last month, and the money has been paid, her attorney Todd Flood said.
“(Powell) is filled with integrity and is guided by a compass of doing what is right,” Flood said. “This settlement sends a message to stand up for civil rights and for women.”
Flood said there was no getting around the facts and issues presented in the lawsuit. Powell, through her attorney, declined comment.
State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said the department entered the settlement to avoid the expenses and uncertainty of continued litigation.
“This settlement is not an admission of liability,” she said in an email Tuesday. “The department is committed to maintaining a work environment that is free from discrimination and harassment.”
Powell’s career with State Police spanned 25 years and included many high-profile cases. She investigated cops, judges, mayors and the head of her own agency who posted a meme on Facebook in 2017 that disparaged athletes who kneel during the national anthem, leading to five days of docked pay.
She alleged high-ranking members of the department were not accepting of her 2015 promotion to head of internal affairs. She became the first woman and first African American to hold that position and oversaw investigations of State Police employees accused of violating department rules.
“MSP suffers from a pattern of discrimination against both citizens and agency employees,” she said in the lawsuit filed in Ingham County Circuit Court. State Police have denied that claim.
A Free Press investigation examined how the department handled the violent arrest of a disabled black man driving drunk, one of the episodes Powell cited in the lawsuit.
Powell said she wanted prosecutors to review the incident for unlawful excessive force and a high-level supervisor denied her request. The case was referred to internal affairs after two supervisors watched video of the arrest and expressed concern about what had happened.
Dash cam video of the 2017 traffic stop shows Trooper Mark Carroll yank a cane from motorist Jason Spicer’s vehicle. Then Carroll pulls Spicer out and slams him to the ground. It appears Spicer’s head smacks the pavement during the take-down.
Carroll wrote in a police report that Spicer had refused repeated orders to get out of the SUV, grabbed a cane and started to come toward him with it. Spicer later said he got his cane because he would need it getting out of the vehicle.
Spicer, who had a blood alcohol content of .22%, nearly three times the legal driving limit, pleaded guilty to a second offense of operating while intoxicated, court records show.
He filed a lawsuit late last year allegedly excessive force and racial discrimination. Spicer is black; Carroll is white. The suit is pending in federal court.
The Michigan State Police have come under scrutiny for being a predominantly white, male force as well as the actions of some of its members.
Last year, a judge sentenced former trooper Mark Bessner to 5-to-15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in the death of a Detroit teenager.
Damon Grimes, 15, was driving his ATV when Bessner fired his Taser at the teen from a moving patrol car during a chase. Grimes crashed and died and a federal lawsuit was later settled for $12 million. Bessner is Asian; Grimes was black.
The Taser incident was cited in Powell’s lawsuit. It said other State Police members were aware the Taser had been deployed and failed to report the issue up the chain of command.
Powell, who said she aspired to be the first black, female State Police captain, described in the lawsuit a culture within the department of denying requests for internal affairs investigations or attempting to thwart them, not punishing some members severely enough for misconduct and failing to properly address reports of discrimination from employees.
“The allegations made in the lawsuit occurred during the previous MSP director’s administration,” Banner said. “Since being named director in January 2019, Col. (Joseph) Gasper has worked to foster a department culture that welcomes and encourages diversity and inclusion.”