Prosecutor returns police request to charge whistleblowing fire union chief – for now

Mayor Duggan and firefighter union president Mike Nevin during a press conference in October 2015. 

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday returned a request by Detroit police to file criminal charges against firefighter union president Mike Nevin for disseminating “sensitive information to the public.”

Prosecutor Kym Worthy returned the warrant request to police, saying the investigation lacked enough information to produce charges. 

Police did not respond Wednesday to whether they plan to build a stronger case for charges. 

Police issued its initial investigation to the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday, about two weeks after Nevin, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, blew the whistle on slow police response times that are endangering public safety.

The case has raised eyebrows and accusations of retaliation. 

Since August, Nevin has been meeting with city council members, Mayor Mike Duggan and state lawmakers over what he’s described as “a crisis in public safety.” The 31-year veteran is urging elected officials to help restore the number of firefighters, medics and police officers who were severely cut before and during the 2013 municipal bankruptcy. 

Nevin told Motor City Muckraker last week that he’s hopeful that ongoing discussions with the mayor will revive Detroit public safety. 

Nevin incensed Chief James Craig in late November, when he told WDIV-TV that slow response times in the police department are endangering firefighters, medics and the public. 

Chief James Craig denied the accusations, warning Nevin to “stay in your lane and let us do what we do.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

In response, Motor City Muckraker launched an examination of hundreds of police calls over the past week to determine whether Nevin was right.

Turns out, the problem is far worse than Nevin described. Police routinely run out of squad cars to respond to the most violent crimes, often leaving residents to fend for themselves. It’s not unusual for police to be unavailable to respond timely to shootings, stabbings, home invasions and domestic violence. 

Craig decided to pursue charges against Nevin about two weeks ago when the union chief sent copies of unredacted police reports to the media to prove he was telling the truth about the crisis in response times. 

Craig quickly accused Nevin, a Detroit native, of violating the law because the public reports revealed the identities of two witnesses who talked to investigators about a homicide. Craig claimed the disclosure placed witnesses in danger.

It’s still unclear what crime Nevin would have committed. 

What’s troubling is that Craig has looked the other way on similar cases. For example, the police chief did nothing when the Detroit Fire Department’s top brass failed to secure a building that contained thousands of records of arson investigations earlier this year. The building was open to trespass, and photographers, urban explorers and scrap metal thieves had easy access to piles of neglected arson reports with witness information.

No one was charged in May 2011 when I revealed in the Detroit Free Press that DPD left behind a mountain of evidence, including records detailing interviews, phone numbers and addresses of rape victims, in an abandoned crime lab in Brush Park.   

It’s also not uncommon for dispatchers to relay the names and phone numbers of witnesses over the public airwaves. 

Craig has declined numerous requests for interviews.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.