GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A retired police officer is among those calling out the Grand Rapids Police Department’s chief for his public comments about an incident in which an 11-year-old girl was handcuffed.
Chief David Rahinsky’s comments came a day after news broke that an 11-year-old girl was placed in handcuffs on a scene where police were searching for an attempted homicide suspect. At a news conference Tuesday, the chief said the incident was handled improperly and that the screams of the child made him nauseous.
Retired long-time police officer Mike Ellis used the same words as the chief in a different sense.
“I was nauseated by the fact that the chief took the approach that he did,” he said.
Ellis spent 46 years serving two police agencies in West Michigan. For most of his career, he was on the East Grand Rapids police force before he left the department and worked for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. He agreed to share his thoughts on the police encounter at 24 Hour News 8’s request.
“Was it appropriate to handcuff her? I don’t know,” Ellis said. “Was it inappropriate for them to handcuff her? In my opinion, absolutely not. They were securing a scene.”
Police officials say a number of officers have expressed their concern about the fallout from what happened, including how the chief’s remarks might impact the community and officers in the department’s ranks.
“It could affect the way the officer would handle a future situation to the point where it could wind up getting an officer killed,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he has no known connection to the officers involved. He said he learned everything he knows about the incident through media reports.
From what he saw in the 40-second video released by police, Ellis said he believes the officers were following their training.
“The adrenaline starts flowing,” Ellis said of intense police encounters. “Things are happening quickly and as an officer, you have a lot of decisions to make and you only have a split second to do it.”
He said three action items were likely top of mind for the officers on the scene:
“Secure the scene, protect the public and protect yourself,” he said. “The police have an awesome responsibility here.”
The Grand Rapids police chief said the officers should have treated the child differently because of her age and the fact that she looked nothing like the description of the woman they were searching for.
Officers were looking for a white woman in her 40s. The child is a black 11-year-old girl.
“Yes, she’s an 11-year-old child, but it wouldn’t be any different if she was a 30-year-old woman or a 30-year-old man,” Ellis said. “The point is, you want to secure that scene and you want to do it as quickly as you possibly can and as professionally as you possibly can.”
Ellis said he is sympathetic to the concerns and fears of the child involved and her mother.
“When I see something like this, I immediately think of my 11-year-old granddaughter,” Ellis said. “I understand being frightened. I understand that. It’s a scary situation when the police arrive on a scene such as this.”
On Wednesday, police reported that the child was in handcuffs for approximately two minutes.
“…The onscene Sergeant advised the officer to remove her handcuffs prior to being detained in a cruiser,” GRPD Sgt. Cathy Williams told 24 Hour News 8 in a written statement.
The department declined to answer questions about the level of experience of the officers involved or their histories with the department.
Ellis said that all told, he’s more concerned about the impact of the chief’s remarks than the incident itself.
“To hear a chief of a department that you work for essentially throwing you under the bus, in my opinion, for doing what you’re trained to do — I was very disappointed in the way the chief handled this. … Not knowing whether or not the head of your department is going to have your back, even when you do everything right, that’s a big concern,” Ellis said. “I would hate to think that it would affect the way they would handle it in the future because that could get you killed.”