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Mich. State Police director’s pay docked after Facebook post

Colonel Kriste Kibbey Etue will be expected to report to work and demonstrate leadership during the days she is not paid

By Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray
Detroit Free Press

LANSING — The director of the Michigan State Police, Colonel Kriste Kibbey Etue, will be docked five days of pay for violating the department’s social media policy with a controversial Facebook post that castigated NFL players who sit or kneel during the pre-game national anthem, Gov. Rick Snyder announced Thursday.

Snyder, who has faced widespread calls for Etue’s resignation, also announced plans to review the culture of state government across all departments, examining inclusiveness, sensitivity training, implicit bias, use of social media and police recruitment.

Immediate reaction to Snyder’s announcement suggested the discipline and cultural improvement plan will not end the controversy.

In a news release, Snyder said: “Col. Etue posted something on social media that was inappropriate. She immediately apologized and has acted to demonstrate that apology, including facilitating meetings with various groups to hear concerns and to share the work the Michigan State Police does in cities and neighborhoods.”

Snyder said Etue, who had a 2016 salary of $155,000, will be expected to report to work and demonstrate leadership during the days she is not paid.

“The Colonel has served honorably as an enlisted trooper for 30 years, and I hope we can come together as Michiganders to move forward and find common ground, rather than rehash past mistakes,” Snyder said.

Etue’s sharing of the controversial Facebook meme came amid longstanding concerns over a lack of racial diversity on the MSP and one month after the fatal ATV crash in Detroit of a 15-year-old black youth shocked by a Taser a trooper fired from a moving MSP patrol car.

Kenneth Reed, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said the suspension “is not good enough.” Etue “should have been removed from her job, period,” Reed said.

Talk about a change in the culture of state government overall is merely window-dressing, Reed said, because the environment fostered by MSP leadership allowed the Aug. 26 crash death that resulted from the MSP Taser shooting, he said.

“She’s part of that culture as well,” Reed said. “It’s unacceptable all the way around and people are getting tired. She gets a suspension... and she gets to walk away from this thing.”

At least one state lawmaker said she agreed with Reed, but Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, vice-chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and a former Wayne County sheriff’s officer, said that while he wanted Etue to resign, it is time to “move forward and concentrate on things that will make the state a better place.”

“If she goes about her business, I think she’ll look back at what was said and understand that there are consequences for words and how they affect people,” said Gregory, who praised Snyder for ordering a statewide review of cultural issues.

“We had asked the governor in our meetings about doing some of those things, so it’s good to hear him speak out on that,” Gregory said.

Etue has twice apologized — once on the MSP Facebook page on Sept. 26 and again to reporters at the Capitol on Oct. 5 — for sharing a Facebook post that disparaged as “anti-American degenerates” NFL players who kneel or sit during the pre-game national anthem to protest racism and police killings of unarmed black men.

But she said she has no plans to resign, as requested by the Legislative Black Caucus, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, the Detroit branch of the NAACP and other groups and lawmakers.

“Obviously, my comment on a personal Facebook post was very offensive and I am truly sorry,” Etue said after a meeting earlier this month with members of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, held in the governor’s ceremonial office in the Capitol. “That was never my intent.”

Reaction to Snyder’s announcement was mixed, just as the post itself had divided Michigan residents and lawmakers.

Rev. Charles Williams, the president of the National Action Network’s Detroit chapter, said he’ll ask Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council to end their ties with the Michigan State Police, which operates patrols in the city, until the leadership of the department changes.

“For her to be able to say what she did is for her to discount why we’re taking a knee against police brutality and she’s the head of a statewide police force,” Williams said. “We have to ask ourselves: If this was an anti-Semitic statement she made, would she still be working today? The governor didn’t have the guts to do the right thing.”

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said the punishment Snyder announced is “too harsh.”

Jones said he respect’s Snyder’s right to decide the issue, but the governor “has gone to the extreme.”

Voters Jones has spoken with overwhelmingly believe that “if the NFL players have the First Amendment right to take a knee, then certainly Col. Etue has the right on her own personal Facebook page to express disagreement,” Jones said.

Rep. Leslie Love, D-Detroit, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the punishment is unacceptable.

“What Col. Etue said personifies all the negatives, all the bigoted comments that people fear about police and then the governor stands behind her,” Love said. “It’s a slap in the face to any self-respecting African American or minority in the state.”

Love said the announced discipline “says a lot about the governor and how he feels about black people and our feelings.”

Five days without pay for an officer without prior discipline is at the high end of what’s been imposed on troopers who have violated the department’s social media policy, with some violators receiving a written reprimand, according to information released by the MSP.

In a joint statement, the heads of the Michigan State Police Troopers Association and the Michigan State Police Command Officers Association said they support the discipline Etue received.

“If Col. Etue were a trooper, we would expect her to receive disciplinary action ranging from reprimand to a five-day suspension without pay, provided she accepted responsibility for her actions, understood why they were inappropriate, and committed herself to rectifying the harm that she caused,” the statement said. “She has done that.”

Snyder, in announcing the review of state government culture, said: “I have long advocated for more civility in politics and in life in general” and “we have an opportunity for Michigan to be a model in restoring civility and showing people how we can work together.”

He asked for a review of MSP trooper recruitment practices and standards for admission and called on the agency to “expedite community outreach efforts.”

Barbara Cieslak, a retired equipment clerk in Harbor Beach, said she agrees with the sentiment expressed in the meme Etue shared that NFL athletes are spoiled and overpaid.

“I don’t think she should have been punished at all,” said Cieslak, one of several people who have called the Free Press in recent weeks to express support for Etue, . “She was voicing her opinion.”

Copyright 2017 Detroit Free Press