Police official files lawsuit against commissioner, city

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 7, 2019

 Warren Deputy Police Commissioner Matt Nichols was placed on paid administrative leave in late July after excessive use of force allegations were made by Warren police officers following an alleged encounter between Nichols and a retail fraud suspect. He was later placed on leave without pay and has since filed a lawsuit against the city and Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer.

Warren Deputy Police Commissioner Matt Nichols was placed on paid administrative leave in late July after excessive use of force allegations were made by Warren police officers following an alleged encounter between Nichols and a retail fraud suspect. He was later placed on leave without pay and has since filed a lawsuit against the city and Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer.

File photo by Brian Louwers

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WARREN — The city’s No. 2 police commander, placed on leave since July amid excessive force allegations, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer, alleging a violation of his rights to due process and breach of contract.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit the day after Christmas by attorney Jim Akhtar, representing Warren Deputy Police Commissioner Matt Nichols.

As previously reported, Nichols was placed on paid administrative leave in late July after excessive use of force allegations were made by Warren police officers following an alleged encounter between Nichols and a retail fraud suspect. The incident allegedly occurred on July 18 in the parking lot of the Menards store on Van Dyke Avenue, north of 13 Mile Road. Nichols was reportedly at lunch when he stopped and allegedly became involved in an incident after he heard about an arrest on a police radio.

Dwyer later confirmed that Nichols was moved to unpaid leave while the Warren Police Department’s internal investigation remained ongoing, and that the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office was asked to investigate whether a criminal charge was warranted as a result of the deputy commissioner’s alleged conduct.

On Dec. 18, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham released a statement indicating that his office had requested a warrant for an aggravated assault charge in the case, but that the request was denied by Macomb County prosecutors. Neither Wickersham nor Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has commented further on the case.

After that, Dwyer said the internal investigation would continue in Warren, and that he would take “appropriate disciplinary actions” based on the findings of the probe.

The commissioner held a press conference Dec. 27 to address the lawsuit naming the city and himself, personally.

“I must say, I’ve been in law enforcement for over 50 years, and I have never been a defendant in a civil action filed by an officer under my command in those 50 years,” Dwyer said. “And again, I’ll state that I will not be bullied. I will take whatever action is necessary.”

Dwyer confirmed that Capt. Robert Ahrens had been named as the city’s acting deputy police commissioner, but said neither the move nor the removal of Nichols’ photo and name from the lobby of the police administrative offices constituted an employment termination.

He said Nichols was interviewed twice and given an opportunity to tell his side of the story.  

“Normal protocol is to put an officer on leave while the investigation is done, and that’s exactly what we did here,” Dwyer said. “At first, Nichols was on paid leave, but when I received a preliminary report from the internal affairs lieutenant about witness statements and video footage, and how inconsistent that was with what Nichols had told us during the interviews, he was placed on unpaid leave and we handed our information over to the Sheriff’s Department.”

But Akhtar alleged that Nichols’ contract and rights to due process were violated.

“He has a contract. The contract says he’s appointed by the mayor. The contract says that only the mayor can remove him,” Akhtar said. “It’s like being a little bit pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. His picture was taken down. His name was taken off the door. Only the mayor can appoint his replacement.”

Akhtar said Nichols wants to be returned to his role as the deputy commissioner with back pay and compensation for attorney fees. If he doesn’t return to work in that capacity, damages are being sought.

He likened the process thus far to a “drumhead court martial” and said Dwyer simply wanted to “get rid of Matt Nichols” and “put his own man in.”

Nichols was  named the city’s No. 2 police administrator in February 2017 by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts. Reached for comment on the lawsuit and Dwyer’s press conference, Fouts declined to comment on the matter.

Dwyer has pledged to forge ahead with the internal investigation, undeterred by the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is a tactic being used to try to bully the Warren Police Department into looking the other way about the reported misconduct by Deputy Commissioner Nichols,” Dwyer said. “I’ve stated that I will not be bullied by this lawsuit being filed. Deputy Commissioner Nichols’ conduct will be fully investigated using our standard internal affairs procedures, and you can be assured that I will not be deterred one bit from issuing the right discipline.”

Dwyer indicated that the city will respond to the lawsuit with a motion to dismiss, and he called the complaint “plainly invalid.”

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