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I-Team uncovers allegations of police misconduct in Mattawan

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MATTAWAN, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Allegations of police misconduct are beginning to mount in Mattawan. A paper trail of e-mails between Prosecutor Mike Bedford and Mattawan Police Chief Scott Herbert details false arrests and improper policing in Mattawan.

According to an e-mail obtained by the I-team, the Van Buren County prosecutor is trying to put an end to the alleged police misconduct. But the prosecutor’s email shows his attempts are falling on deaf ears. The I-team has also learned that Mattawan officers are having a tough time with their police chief.

Amy Roddy with the Teamsters union is in the process of unionizing the officers.

“If everything was going well within the organization they wouldn't have called in the Teamsters to come in and organize,” says Roddy. “Usually a union is called in when there's a threatening situation."

Those situations are leading to mistakes being made---some of which are clearly spelled out an e-mail from Prosecutor Bedford to Chief Herbert.

The e-mail reads in part---

"There are several instances of mistakes that were made by your department that I have tried to discuss with you directly--your responses are often defensive and you often refuse to acknowledge when mistakes are made thus perpetuating the problems..."

Those problems?

Alleged false arrests and Mattawan officers operating outside of their jurisdictions.

“I have spoken with several of the employees and there seems to be some discriminatory practices. Just maybe lack of good management protocol,” says Roddy.

Kalamazoo-based criminal defense attorney Anastase Markou says police protocol may have been broken back in January when an officer drove nearly three hours to Macomb County to pick up an inmate on a warrant that didn't exist.

“It is incredibly sloppy police work if that's what happened,” says Markou.

A police report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows after the officer returned to the Van Buren County jail with the inmate, he discovered the warrant wasn't valid.

“Police are supposed to check before they go pick somebody up. Something called the LEIN system, the Law Enforcement Information Network and that happens to have the most up to date, accurate information,” says Markou. “It appears that in this allegation, the officers in Mattawan just failed to do that.”

Because the warrant expired, the police department was then forced to give the inmate a bus ticket and $20 cash so he could get back home.

“These allegations involve what I think are significant, not even judgement calls,” says Markou. “You're supposed to know before you pick someone up if they have an active warrant."

But the allegations of misconduct don't stop there.

Prosecutor Bedford's email also calls out the police department about a botched drunk driving arrest.

Back in February, a Mattawan officer pulled over a woman on Interstate 94 on suspicion of driving under the influence. But when Van Buren County deputies arrived, the confusion begins.

The Mattawan officer is not a sworn Van Buren County deputy which means he cannot pull over drivers outside of Mattawan village limits.

This dashcam shows the officer knows he's not deputized but the first line of the police report says “I am a sworn deputy and was acting in that capacity during this time.”

“Most police agencies understand and the officers understand exactly what the limits of their jurisdiction are so that if they have a case, the case is not going to be dismissed merely because the officer was acting outside of his or her jurisdiction,” says Markou.

But that's exactly what happened.

Despite the driver losing balance during a field sobriety test and lab reports showing the driver had a blood alcohol content level of .112, the case was dismissed because the Mattawan officer did not follow proper police procedures.

“If these allegations are in fact true then there is heightened concern on behalf of the union to ensure that the officers are adulate protected and fairly managed,” says Roddy.

Attorney Markou also says this pattern opens up the village to lawsuits...

“The civil action for false arrest is pretty broad so yes, you could potentially sue a police department for that,” says Markou.

The I-team reached out Mattawan Village Council President Lesley Markle, Mattawan Village Administrator Terri McLean and Mattawan Police Chief Scott Herbert but our calls were not returned.

Roddy says these problems are why the officers are unionizing.

“I think there are several issues facing that group. Working conditions are one of the issues, obviously economic issues enter in and possibly some discriminatory practices,” says Roddy.

“Mr. Bedford needs to continue to do his job as the chief law enforcement officer in putting pressure on this agency and the chief of police,” saus Markou. “Ultimately if everyone is doing their jobs right, the truth will come out.”

“I don't think the people of Mattawan need to be concerned about police protection,” says Roddy. “They may need to be concerned about what's going on in their local government.”

Prosecutor Bedford declined an on-camera interview with Newschannel 3.

The I-Team has also reached out to the Michigan Commission of Law Enforcement Standards to see if Mattawan is following proper procedures.

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