A former Michigan public safety director’s criminal assault trial is scheduled for November
BAY CITY, MI – The criminal trial of a former Bay City public safety director, accused of beating a teenager with a flashlight while he was off duty, is scheduled to take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Michael J. Cheney’s trial before Bay County District Attorney Mark E. Gunner was scheduled to begin on September 6 but has been postponed to November 29. Since his arraignment on Jan. 26, Cecchini has been charged with a 93-day misdemeanor count of assault and battery. .
The case is being prosecuted by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office with Bay County Prosecutor Nancy E. Burchko requesting it be handled to avoid any appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest.
Defense attorney Matthew L. Reyes said no plea offers have been made to Cecchini, although the two sides remain in active discussions. He added that Cecchini does not work as a police officer but works in the private sector, a position that requires him to leave the state. The terms of his bond allow this.
City officials suspended Cecchini on Sept. 18 after receiving a citizen complaint that he had assaulted 18-year-old Travis Crum the night before. Crum and two of his friends were riding Bird Scooters in front of the Rivers Edge Apartments on Ninth Street in Uptown Bay City.
The teens confronted Cecchini, who lives in the apartments, as seen in the video recorded by one of the teens. In the footage, Cecchini hits Cram in the stomach with a metal maglite.
While still on leave, Cecchini announced his retirement, which took effect on 7 October.
According to police reports obtained by MLive-The Bay City Times, Lt. Todd Armstrong received a call on his department’s cellphone from Cecchini at 10:22 p.m. on September 17, requesting assistance from a patrol unit outside his apartment in Rivers Edge. Cecchini did not call 911, later telling officers he thought he could take care of the situation himself, according to reports.
Armstrong and two officers responded and interviewed Cecchini, Crum, and several other witnesses.
Bay City officials in early October responded to a Freedom of Information Act request from MLive by providing 10 videos captured by cameras worn by responding officers.
“Did you turn on your body worn camera?” Cheney asks Armstrong as he exits the patrol vehicle and walks to the scene. The lieutenant assures him that he does.
The footage shows Cecchini standing near Cram and Parker Weiland, 19. The three initially spoke to each other while the officers asked what happened. Armstrong asks Cecchini to present his version first.
“They disturb the peace,” he says, pointing at Cram and Wieland, “they both scream their wheels at me.” “They came over here, they hit the cone, they’re messing around here near this memorial. It went on for about five minutes. I’ve had enough. I’m upstairs. I said some bad words, okay? He challenged me to a fight and challenged me to come down, okay? I went down, and he stood up.” On top of me, and I hit my chest with my flashlight.
In the video, Cecchini says he was watching a Michigan State University football game at his home when he heard the Bird Scooter’s tires screeching and “yelling and screaming” for about five minutes.
Cecchini says he went to his balcony to see what was happening and saw Cram intentionally driving his scooter into a barrel. He says he asked the teens to leave.
“We exchanged some words that were not polite,” he says. He says that Karam threatened to assault him, which he did not take kindly to.
Cecchini says he went downstairs and confronted the teens.
“I’m uncomfortable, and I partly put myself in this position,” he says. “I felt like he was being aggressive towards me, so I did what I was taught at the time, which was take a big muscle punch to the chest.”
The director says that Karam began claiming that he assaulted and beat him and began calling him derogatory names.
Cecchini told Armstrong that he introduced himself as a police officer to the teens and told them they could go to jail for disturbing the peace. The director says that the confrontation developed into a quarrel between him and Kram and Wieland.
Separately, Crum told an officer that his scooter tire made a squealing sound when he applied the brakes. When that happened, Crum says, Cecchini started yelling at him from his fifth-floor apartment in Rivers Edge.
“He says, ‘Hey, big guy, do you want to go?’” Cram says. “So obviously I’m a man, I’m 18, I can hold my own ground. I’ll hold my own ground. I didn’t know who he was, right? Just a random guy.”
Crum says Cecchini got down and out and approached the teens. He stabbed Cram in the chest with the back of his flashlight, explaining to the officer how he did it.
“Then he said he felt threatened,” Crum says. “My hand is by my side? I didn’t swing it.”
Cram reiterates that he did not know Cecchini was a police officer until Cecchini showed him his badge. He also says Cecchini got in his face and repeatedly dared him to take a swing at him. Crum says he repeatedly told Cecchini he wouldn’t answer him.
I did not threaten him in any way. “I don’t know how he feels threatened,” Crum says.
A third teen made a recorded video of Cecchini’s confrontation with Cram and Wieland.
On Sept. 28, Cecchini sent an email to the Bay City Commission, the city manager and the mayor addressing his behavior.
“I would like to extend my sincere apologies for the disruption caused by my actions,” Cecchini wrote in the email obtained by MLive. “I acknowledge that better tactics should have been used to control the situation, and that my actions that night fell below the standards expected of the Bay City Department of Public Safety.”
Cecchini became Bay City’s police chief in December 2006, after serving more than 20 years with the Phoenix Police Department in Arizona. In January 2013, he was named the city’s first public safety director, overseeing the merger of the police and fire departments.
The afternoon before Cecchini’s arraignment, attorney Philip Ellison of Hemlock-based Outside Legal Counsel filed suit in U.S. District Court on Cram’s behalf. Cecchini is the only defendant in the lawsuit, and neither Bay City nor the Department of Public Safety are named.
In the lawsuit, Ellison alleges that Cecchini violated Crum’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
The lawsuit alleges the following three charges:
· Excessive force and illegal seizure
· Violation of due process
· Fabricating false evidence
Click here to read the lawsuit in its entirety.
“Before leaving his apartment, defendant Cecchini took time to put on his shoes, grabbed his police-style flashlight, obtained his badge issued by the Bay City Department of Public Safety, and brought his phone with him,” the lawsuit states. “In the minutes it likely took to accomplish this, Defendant Cecchini had sufficient time to consider his proposed course of action, yet he proceeded to directly and physically confront Plaintiff Cram.”
A future court date on the lawsuit is still pending.