Transcript

760: A City Walks Into an Investigation

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

OK. Let me catch you up. If you didn't hear last week's show, we are picking up that story this week. And if you didn't hear it, I can bring you up to speed very quickly.

OK, there's a couple, the Mathises, Rob and Reyna, and they're looking for a house. And they tour a pretty nice one. But then they see some Confederate flags in the downstairs rooms. They go upstairs, and in a bedroom, there's something in a picture frame on the wall.

Rob Mathis

So I look up at the picture, and I lean in and look at it. I'm like, are you kidding me? This is a KKK application.

Reyna Mathis

All of a sudden, I hear him cussing and coming down the stairs. And he's like, we gotta go now.

Ira Glass

Turns out the house and the Confederate flags and the KKK application were owned by a police officer named Charles Anderson. He was on the police force in their town, Muskegon, Michigan, which is a town of 38,000 on the Western side of Michigan Lake, right on the lake.

The Mathises decide they're going to go public with this discovery, mostly because Rob thinks if someday this officer pulls over a Black couple and does something horrible, he doesn't want to wish that he had said something. He wants to warn people. Rob, by the way, is Black. Reyna is Mexican-American. Officer Anderson is white.

So they post about it on Facebook, and it blows up. People come forward. They say they've had troubling run-ins with this officer in the past. Officer Anderson is suspended while the police department investigates.

OK, so last time on our show, Ben Calhoun, one of our editors and producers here, told the story of the Mathises. And we heard the testimony that Officer Anderson gave to police investigators about the whole thing. And we heard from Anderson's wife about how and why they got that KKK application.

We also heard from a former pastor named Duke Stalling, who told a story about what Officer Anderson could be like as a cop, how Anderson showed up at his mother's 59th birthday party and ended up pepper spraying a bunch of his older relatives.

Duke Stalling

Some people fought. Some-- I can't see. You hear a bunch of screaming and trying to run. They were not causing any harm to him at all. Like, nobody's crazy enough to hit a police. My family, we're not crazy. Nobody's going to put their hands on a police officer or anything like that.

Ira Glass

Today, Ben turns to the story of the city's investigation into Officer Anderson, which played out in a strange and surprising way that had serious consequences for the Mathises. Ben starts with Act 1, Chief Lewis Adds it Up. Here's Ben.

Act One: Chief Lewis Adds It Up

Ben Calhoun

So there was the official investigation into Officer Anderson by the Muskegon Police Department's internal affairs team. As you might have heard last week, that investigation went kind of soft on him. The investigator literally invited Anderson to, quote, "explain away the situation."

But while that investigation was unfolding, the police chief, Jeff Lewis, was taking his own look at Anderson, a harder, more critical look. It turned out Lewis had questions about Anderson before any of this happened. In fact, a year before the Mathises' post, a video had popped up online that made Lewis worried about Anderson.

We watched this together. It was a cell phone video taken at night with a woman being pushed into the back of a Muskegon police car. Anderson is standing behind the officer doing the pushing. And then you see two women walk up, one younger and then an elderly woman right next to her, both Black, like everyone in the video but Anderson.

So Anderson turns, and he sees the women.

Jeff Lewis

I'm sure he has his side of the story. But as you can see, he spins around and just, without even trying to verbally de-escalate or do anything, he just shoves this elderly woman to the ground, which is just inappropriate. It is wrong. It's just out of bounds, period.

Man

Why you just knee that lady right there? Hey, you pushed that old lady. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Jeff Lewis

I just can't justify that. I just can't, anyway I look at it. I can't even say he was technically right because I don't remember ever throwing down a grandmother in my career. I just didn't feel like throwing a grandma down.

Ben Calhoun

A complaint was filed about this incident and Lewis took note. He was concerned that Anderson was kind of a cowboy and aggressive. Then, the very same week the Mathises posted, he heard another story about Anderson.

A Black business owner he knew told him about a disturbing run-in she'd had with him, that he'd been rude and aggressive and told her to shut up. Then once all this started to blow up, Lewis says some officers started to come to him discreetly and tell him they had concerns about Anderson, which prompted him to tally up everything he knew about Anderson.

There's the Julius Johnson shooting. I talked about last time, where Anderson killed an unarmed Black man. That was before Lewis arrived in Muskegon, and Anderson was officially cleared of any wrongdoing. But Lewis questioned Anderson's judgment and the decisions that he made that led to the shooting. He added, on top of that, two other shootings Anderson was involved in, in addition to Julius Johnson.

Jeff Lewis

If you look at the national average-- I've been a police officer for 40 years and involved in no shootings. The vast majority of police officers go through their career and never shoot anyone. I don't think the public knows that.

Ben Calhoun

Nobody keeps national statistics on the percentage of officers that shoot people. A Pew study says only 27% of police officers have even fired their guns, but that includes warning shots and shooting animals, anything else. One expert told us the number of police who have actually shot and killed someone is almost certainly less than 1%.

Jeff Lewis

I couldn't even find a statistic or a department like this, and you're involved in three shootings.

Ben Calhoun

You think he was an outlier in that way?

Jeff Lewis

Yeah. I mean, either you have the worst luck or something's going on here. And then when you looked at his history, there was a progressive, I guess, glaring performance with him when it came to dealing with African-Americans especially. In other words, he seemed to have a lot of problems with African-Americans through his career.

Ben Calhoun

Lewis said Anderson would have these kind of problematic interactions with Black people. But over and over again, he'd be cleared, found to be within the bounds of department policy.

Jeff Lewis

His whole career, things would happen and he would kind of come out the other side. And I'm not sure why. I mean, you'd have to go back and look at every incident.

I've had officers get in car accidents. And let's say you have an officer in five car accidents, and none was his fault. As a chief, you go, OK, it appears it's not your fault. But why are you in five not-at-fault accidents, when the other 99% of the officers aren't having this?

What are you doing that you keep getting in accidents and you're not at fault? We got a big pile of cars you wrecked, but you're never at fault. Chuck is one of those kind of things where, when I looked at his past, there's good things in there. I'm not going to take that away from him.

I started seeing a pattern that he just wasn't effective with our African-American citizens. He just wasn't. So what are you going to do?

Ben Calhoun

Lewis says he knew pretty quickly what he was going to do. He wanted to fire Anderson, partly on principle. 2 plus 2 is 4, he told me. Anderson has a problem with Black people. There was no doubt in my mind.

But also, on top of that, lots of people were telling Lewis he had no choice. He had to get rid of this officer. The city's social justice committee, the city's vice mayor-- who's also the president of the local NAACP-- everyone was saying if Anderson stayed, there'd be backlash, protests, hostility. And not just towards Anderson, but towards everyone on the force.

Jeff Lewis

It's going to endanger him and my other 79 officers. And matter of fact, I'm not going to be part of this agency if that's how we're going to be. I said, I cannot, in good conscience, bring him back here and put him back on the streets of this town.

Ben Calhoun

So at this point in our story, you've got a town where lots of people think a police officer has a problem with Black people. The white police chief looks into it and agrees. It seems like a clear-cut case. Fire the officer, call out his bad behavior, apologize to the public.

And yet, that is not what ends up happening. Which brings us to Act 2, The Way it Actually Happened.

Act Two: The Way It Actually Happened

Reporter

Now to the breaking news out of Muskegon, where a police officer who had Ku Klux Klan memorabilia in his home has been fired.

Ben Calhoun

When the news hit that Chief Lewis did what he said and fired officer Anderson, there was no explanation why he was fired. The closest they got to that came 11 days later, when the city released their official report on Anderson, the result of the investigation Chief Lewis ordered.

This report, it's one of the reasons I got interested in this. It's over 400 pages, so it seems like it's going to be kind of a reckoning of the kind of officer Anderson had been during his two decades on the Muskegon police force and include all the incidents you've heard about, settle some big questions about the kind of officer he was. But the report was nothing like that.

The report almost entirely portrays Officer Anderson as, well, a pretty great police officer. It's hundreds of pages clearing him of wrongdoing and showcasing things he'd done well in his career. It was so much so that, the first time I read it, I didn't even understand how this was used as justification for Anderson being fired.

So much of what had come up and what people were talking about wasn't even addressed. Like, there's an analysis of Anderson's traffic stop, showing it did not appear he was targeting non-white drivers. There's a big section about his commendations.

There's 10 interviews with officers, white and non-white, talking about how they think Anderson's fair and a good officer, and they wish he could come back to work. Some seem boilerplate, but others seem heartfelt.

One Black officer, without prompting, talks about how Anderson has gone out of his way to help him at work and been a guest at his house. "He's been to your house?" the investigator asks. "He has," says the Black officer. "He helped me put a roof on my house, and his father and wife spent the whole day at my house."

So many of the things the chief found so disturbing that convinced him Anderson had a problem with Black people, they just weren't in there. Like the video of him pushing the old woman onto the ground, or Lewis' concerns about the number of people Anderson shot. The only interview where anyone says anything negative about Anderson is the interview with the Mathises, and they only talk about the flags and the KKK application.

A local activist, Ebony Davis, summed up the report this way-- "He was a great officer. He didn't do anything wrong but have memorabilia, and they fired him to keep us happy."

So how did we get to this, from a police chief who believes this officer has a problem with Black people to this mammoth report that doesn't say that at all? Chief Lewis' investigators handed him a report that comes to very different conclusions than he had. It's the report you'd issue if you wanted to keep Anderson on the streets.

I never got an answer to why the report is just this laudatory stuff. I asked to talk to the people who did the investigation. The city said no. I asked Chief Lewis. Surprisingly, he told me he thought the report was critical. Honestly, it seemed like he hadn't read it in a while, and maybe he didn't remember.

What the heck had happened inside Muskegon city government that could possibly connect those dots? The best answer I got is here, in Act 3, How to Fire a Police Officer.

Act Three: How To Fire a Police Officer

Ben Calhoun

OK, let's go back to that moment when Chief Lewis decided he wanted to fire Anderson. Not because of the official investigation-- he hadn't even seen that yet. He wanted to fire Anderson because of his own analysis. After he decided that, he met with the city's lawyers and they talked about how it would be tricky to fire Anderson. And it'd be tricky because of the reason Lewis wanted to get rid of him. It's hard to prove a police officer treats Black people differently and has a pattern of discriminating. They said, if Lewis tried to fire him for that, he really might fail.

Like, take the video of Anderson shoving the old woman. Anderson could argue it was justified, or maybe it was an accident. Take any of these incidents one by one, and he could say that there was some reason.

Jeff Lewis

Because there's always a defense. Mr. Anderson had a defense. Mr. Anderson had representation.

Ben Calhoun

Chief Lewis says he called around to other police chiefs and police union officials.

Jeff Lewis

As I told you before, around the state, a lot of people went, you'll never sustain that. In the union world, I was told by a lot of people that, if my decision was to terminate, that it would not be sustained.

Ben Calhoun

That you wouldn't have grounds for termination?

Jeff Lewis

I would probably lose it later on down the road.

Frank Peterson

And it happens. I mean, there's-- just since I've been here, I would say there's probably three different times people have been fired and awarded their jobs back.

Ben Calhoun

Muskegon city manager, Frank Peterson. He was in these meetings with Chief Lewis and Muskegon's lawyers.

Frank Peterson

And we just did not want that to happen in this case. Some of the cases, we're OK with it. But this one was, under no circumstance could we afford to have him be awarded his job back.

Ben Calhoun

It's hard to fire a police officer. That's true pretty much everywhere in this country. As you probably know, police unions are powerful. They have lots of protections in their contracts.

And the instances where police officers do get fired for racism-- there have been a bunch of cases over the last couple of years, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Albany, New York, Warren, Michigan. And the thing is, in all those cases, police were not fired for mistreating people of color on the job. They were fired for things they said, because they write racist comments online, or they get caught on a recording saying explicitly racist things. There's a caught red-handedness to it.

And the way those departments fired the officers was by arguing the racist comments violated the basic code of conduct for their jobs. Like, the code of ethics in Wilmington says, officers can't do things that reflect unfavorably on the Department or themselves. And Chief Lewis, after puzzling for a while over what legal argument he could use to fire Anderson, he had kind of an "aha" moment, and he kind of stumbled into a strategy like that, like the other cities used.

Jeff Lewis

In our policy procedures, one of the things you have to do is you, yourself, have to have the community trust in you. It's in our policy procedures. The community has to have some kind of trust in you to carry out your duties.

Ben Calhoun

I looked it up and, indeed, this wasn't some technicality buried deep in department policy. It was right at the beginning. In the chief's preface that Lewis wrote himself, he refers to the public trust.

When Lewis told me that this was his argument, that he was going to try to fire Anderson for losing the public's trust, I could not help but think, if this was the bar everywhere for every officer, a lot of officers would be fired tomorrow. Less than half of Americans say they have confidence in police these days.

One benefit of this strategy was simplicity. All they had to prove was that Anderson had the stuff in his house and that people said he couldn't be trusted because of it. Lewis wouldn't have to argue all these individual incidents that the lawyers told him you might lose on.

Another appealing thing about this plan-- it'd be fast. Lewis wanted to send a message by acting quickly. And in fact, from the day the Mathises posted, it was only five weeks until Anderson was fired. Amazingly quick for this kind of thing.

But to make sure Anderson wouldn't fight them and try to get his job back, the chief did seem to give a few things away at the bargaining table. For starters, he didn't really fire Anderson. In actuality, Anderson signed a separation agreement.

He agreed to walk away voluntarily, not say anything bad about the city, not sue to keep his job. It was just going to be over. In exchange, the city would let him leave with his pension and retirement health care benefits after two decades on the job.

This strategy for getting rid of a police officer is not unusual. A former police chief, named, Daniel Oates, wrote an article in The Washington Post where he said, in nine years running the department in Aurora, Colorado, he had 16 cops he wanted to fire. He only fired four of them. He was reversed on three of those. So with the other 12, he says, he, quote, "bent over backwards to negotiate their departures with creative severance packages." Not because he wanted to-- he felt he had no other choice.

In the negotiations between the city and Officer Anderson, the complaints about Anderson's history did come up, but it's kind of like a bargaining chip. Lewis told me he made it clear to Anderson and the union that the case for his termination was based on what was in his house and how he lost the public trust. They said if Anderson fought them, it could become about a lot more. It could become about Anderson's past and other things that he'd done.

Jeff Lewis

And so I was prepared to show this pattern. And I had other complaints that were in the hopper, that were coming forth, that I was going to inquire in those next. And the union knew it.

Oh, if you win this one, this is coming next, then this could become next. And so that's why it was decided that we would just end this relationship, and he would move on.

Ben Calhoun

In other words, if Anderson took this deal, the city wouldn't dig into that stuff. Anderson could walk away without a real reckoning over his past. That's the best explanation I have for why the 421-page report is the way it is and why it doesn't really dig in to Anderson's mistreatment of people.

I should mention, in his preface to the report, the chief promises more. He says there will be further investigation into additional complaints against Officer Anderson's behavior on the job, now that this part's done. That didn't happen though, and it's been two years. A Department spokesman told me there are no additional investigations into Anderson in the works.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun. Coming up, the way that the city's deal with Officer Anderson affected the Mathises, who looked at that 421-page report and found something totally surprising about themselves in there. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Four: People Who Got the Short End of Anderson’s Deal

Ira Glass

This is This American Life. I'm Ira Glass with our story about policing and Muskegon Michigan. Today's episode, A City Walks into an Investigation.

So the police chief made a trade-off. He believed officer Anderson had a problem with Black people. He believed it completely affected the way he did his job. But he thought he couldn't fire him for it.

So he forced him out for, quote, "losing the public's trust" with that KKK application. And as part of the deal, the city's official 421-page report did not say anything negative about how Anderson treated Black people on his job. That trade-off-- Anderson had to leave, but he kept his pension. The city's official investigation portrayed him as an outstanding officer.

That trade-off had consequences for the people whose Facebook posts began all of this, the Mathises, and for others. Ben Calhoun picks up with Act 4, People who got the Short End of Anderson's Deal.

Ben Calhoun

Best I can tell, the public at large just accepted what the city did. Anderson was gone. Maybe they grumbled that he got his pension. But fine, OK.

But it wasn't that way for Duke Stalling at all. Just to remind you of his experience with Officer Anderson, Anderson was called to his mom's birthday party because of a noise complaint and escalated things until he ended up pepper spraying a bunch of old people, and arresting Duke and one of his uncles. They filed complaints with the police department and tried to raise the alarm about Anderson, but nothing happened. No one ever reached out to hear their side of the story.

Years later, when the Mathises came forward about the stuff in Anderson's house, Duke thought, finally, everyone's going to see. But the way the city handled it, it didn't go that way because the city's report didn't talk about the pattern Anderson had with Black people.

Ben Calhoun

What would it have meant to you if the police chief, as part of this process, would have said, essentially, yeah, this guy was a problem?

Duke Stalling

Oh, everything. Oh, my hope was that they was going to look into my case. Again, hope, right? Innocence, naiveness.

I hope that they reach out to me, hope they look into my case. I hope they look into the Julius case. I hope they look into all these cases and something really happens. And then they go to the families and make amends with these families that he terrorized. That was my hope.

Ben Calhoun

You were hoping that you were going to get a phone call.

Duke Stalling

Oh, yeah, most definitely. I thought that's what an investigation is. You're going to look into every situation that he had an interaction with. But the investigation they said they was going to have, that was just to get us hopeful. Right? Get the people hopeful, so they can get rid of the anger. So our police can be on these streets without nobody want to do anything to our polices. We'll say everything we need to say to make them calm down. That's it. That's really all it's really about.

Ben Calhoun

It's a weird thing about this story. All that stuff that Chief Lewis said to me about how he was convinced that Officer Anderson had a problem with Black people and a pattern of incidents mistreating them, he's never said that publicly. Not in the report, not in comments to the press-- no city official has said anything like that. Not until now, this story.

So I was the one to break that to people like Duke Stalling.

Duke Stalling

So I mean, that would have made me feel a whole lot better, if he would have said what he's saying to you, behind closed doors, in public about this officer. To hear that come from within, that you agreed and you felt the same way. You know, he's had a history of hurting or affecting a certain group of people, and we fired him and got rid of him because of that reason, you know? To let us know that we're on the same page here. I mean, that's how you build that trust with the community.

Ben Calhoun

When it came to the way that Anderson treated his family, Duke had always felt that race was a part of it, that he'd have acted differently if they were white. But it was a slippery part, and it was hard to prove, which happens all the time.

A person accused of racism can say, I don't have a racist bone in my body, or I'm the least racist person. And then all of a sudden, the conversation is this dead end. Everyone's just supposed to throw up their hands and be like, guess you can't prove what's in their heart.

Duke Stalling

It's within everything, yes. I've dealt with it in the real estate and offices and stuff like that. And I know it's a racial thing, but I couldn't take it to court and win because they never specifically say anything like that. Like, you really got to call somebody a [BLEEP]. You literally got to say these type of things in order-- I can treat you like a [BLEEP], but never call you a [BLEEP]. I can treat you like one, never call you that. You can't say that I'm racist. But you knew it was-- you knew it was-- you knew.

Ben Calhoun

It's like a trap door. And 10 years earlier, Duke had watched Anderson slip through it. And when the city released their report, it was like he had to watch Anderson slip through it for a second time.

I went back and I told Chief Lewis what Duke and others said to me, that if the city and Lewis saw a racial pattern of bad conduct and mistreatment by Officer Anderson, the city should have said it.

Jeff Lewis

Honestly, and I see where they're coming from. I get it. But when it came time for us to do the investigation, I felt I put everything in there to sustain this case and to get him to end his employment here.

Ben Calhoun

To get the outcome that you felt was important for the city?

Jeff Lewis

And I can prove it today. I can look back and go, see? We did it right. But there again, somebody should say, it's not complete until the chief put the "racist" in there. You know, they can-- I guess we're going to, I guess, live today to disagree. I didn't feel that was necessary. What I felt was necessary was in that report, and it worked for what I would call a correct outcome.

Ben Calhoun

But I guess the question that I'm asking is just, why not a public statement? They're sharing your take of, you know, there's a pattern of problems here. Why not a public statement saying, you guys are right, there was something wrong here?

Jeff Lewis

Well I think, we did make a public statement of that. We went, you can't be an employee here. And matter of fact, you shouldn't be a police officer.

Ben Calhoun

We went around and around. Lewis was adamant. They made the right choice to get Anderson out.

Act Five: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Ben Calhoun

Act 5, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

The people who were the most affected, directly affected by the city's decision never to publicly comment on how Anderson treated Black people, were the people who stuck their necks out and set this all in motion, Rob and Reyna Mathis. The Mathises were already being harassed. I laid out the details of that last time-- threats to their children, people in town shouting slurs at them, people stalking their house.

But when the city put out its report, it made all that worse because of something surprising it said about them. It was something they didn't even know. And it was something that changed the way people in Muskegon saw them.

Towards the end of the report, the Muskegon Police Department revealed that, that day when Rob and Reyna toured Officer Anderson's house, that was not actually the first time they crossed paths with him. In fact, over the years, they'd interacted with him a few times. Rob and Reyna found this out the day the city's report came out.

Rob Mathis

I believe we was in the car riding somewhere and somebody sent us the report or something like that. We went on a website or something and read it. And I was like, wow.

Ben Calhoun

It was one of these incidents that caught everyone's attention, especially the Mathises. It was from 2008. Rob and Reyna totally remembered this thing, but they'd never put it together that it was Officer Anderson.

In fact, both they and Anderson told investigators they didn't know each other. For the Mathises, this particular incident had just kind of mushed in with other interactions they'd had with police. They didn't remember a particular officer. It was just some random cop who treated them badly.

I want to tell you the whole story because of the outlandish coincidence of this. If you remember, the reason Rob felt compelled to go public about the flags and the KKK application was because he imagined someday, somewhere, Officer Anderson would pull over a couple and things would get ugly. It turned out Rob and Reyna had been that couple a decade earlier.

It was the 4th of July in 2008. Rob and Reyna had grabbed a bite at Burger King, and they were on their way home. And Rob had to pee really bad, so he was going a little fast. But not that fast, even according to Officer Anderson, who says in his police report that he clocked them going between 31 and 38 in a 25, so like 10-ish over. Anderson pulled them over pretty much right at their house.

Rob Mathis

So he flicked the lights. And I pull up right at my side door.

Reyna Mathis

We were literally right in front of our house. Literally, parked right in front of our house.

Ben Calhoun

Officer Anderson comes up to the car.

Rob Mathis

He's like, what's your speed? I say, sir, I got to go to the bathroom. I just got to go to the bathroom so bad. He was, like, this is just going to take a second.

So my wife was, like, he just got to go to the bathroom. So he's, like, shut up, ma'am. Blah, blah, blah.

Ben Calhoun

Rob says he and Reyna were, like, "Shut up?" Officer Anderson went back to the car. Rob was in so much discomfort, he was afraid he was going to wet himself. After a few minutes, he got out, and he tried to signal to Officer Anderson to plead his case.

Rob Mathis

I've had run-ins with different officers on occasion, and some of them be a little hard-ass sometimes. But I was being respectful. And I was, like, Officer, you can-- look, I'm pulling my shirt up. Like, you can search me. Here's my wallet. I'm pulling my pockets inside out. I'm raising my pants leg up, so he can I ain't got no weapons.

I'm, like, you can call the dogs and search my car for drugs. I just gotta use the bathroom. I'm being totally honest with the guy, you know? And he's just, get in the car. Get your ass in the car. He cussing at us and stuff. So I'm like, man, this guy, man. I don't know what his problem is.

Ben Calhoun

So Rob gets back in. He's, like, OK, gotta hold it. He says 10 minutes go by, then 20.

Rob and Reyna's kids see the police lights, and so they come out to see what's happening. So now they're standing on the lawn. After a bit, neighbors come out, too.

Rob Mathis

We sat there for like a half an hour. It don't take that long to run nobody's name. Sat there and sat there and sat there and sat there.

And steady, every time I go to open door to get out, get back in the car. Just a second. I'll be there in a second. Stay in the car. Stay in the car.

Ben Calhoun

Rob, he was so desperate at this point, he gets out of the car and he's, like--

Rob Mathis

Look, man. I gotta go to the bathroom. I'm not going to sit here, a grown man, and urinate on myself because you won't let me go to the bathroom. I'm like, just search me. Search my car, whatever you got to do. I just gotta go to the bathroom. I'm not going to use the bathroom on myself.

Ben Calhoun

What did he say when you said that? Or how did he react?

Rob Mathis

He was, like, get your-- didn't I say get your motherfucking ass back in the car? Get in the car.

Ben Calhoun

At this point, Reyna got out of the car to talk to their kids. Officer Anderson turned his attention to her. When he did, he kind of gave up on Rob. And Rob was able to run inside to pee.

Then Anderson walked over to Reyna.

Reyna Mathis

He told me to get my ass back in the car. And I was standing at the door. I wasn't all the way out of the car. I was, like-- the door was open, and I was standing there telling my kids that everything was going to be OK, or whatever.

He was telling me to get my ass back in the car, and I'm telling him I'm talking to my kids. They're scared, or whatever. And I don't remember--

Ben Calhoun

Reyna said she was kind of pinned between the car and Anderson.

Reyna Mathis

And that's when he tried to put me in the headlock. And all I did was try to-- you know, like-- I didn't want him to, like-- however he did it, he did like this. And it busted my nose, or whatever, so my nose was bleeding.

But when I went back like this to protect myself, that's when he got hit.

Ben Calhoun

Reyna says she lifted up her arms to block Anderson, and her arm hit him. Rob, in the middle of this, comes back out of the house to find Reyna with a bloody face and Officer Anderson wrestling her to the ground. He starts to walk up, like, what's happening?

Rob Mathis

So when I was coming outside the gate, he said, stay there, stay there. So he put his hand on, like he was going to pull his gun out. So I'm standing. I'm like, Reyna, just be cool, be cool, be cool. And he grabbed her--

Ben Calhoun

What were they saying? What were they saying when you came out of the house?

Rob Mathis

He was, like, you're resisting arrest. You're resisting arrest. She's like, my husband just had to go to the bathroom. And he said, I told you to stay in the car. I told you stay in the car. So he grabbed her, and he smashed her head down on the car. So he's wrestling around with her. She's trying to get away from him.

Ben Calhoun

And you're having to stand there on the other side of the fence with your kids and watch this whole thing happen.

Rob Mathis

Watch the whole thing. I was worried that he's going to shoot her in front of me and the kids.

Ben Calhoun

Once Anderson had Reyna on the ground, he put handcuffs on both of her wrists, saying--

Reyna Mathis

I told you to get your ass down. Now you're going to fucking jail. Stuff like that. And my kids were screaming at this point, so.

Ben Calhoun

Were you surprised that that happened all of a sudden?

Reyna Mathis

No. The way-- the aggression he had, I knew something was going to happen. So I wasn't surprised that it did happen. I was more mad because it happened in front of my kids, and they were terrified. Because they were younger then.

Ben Calhoun

Just to reiterate, the issue here, to start, was driving about 35 in a 25. Anderson's report from that night describes more or less the same course of events. The key difference is that Officer Anderson says Reyna didn't hit him inadvertently. He says she swung around and slapped him.

Reyna was charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer, a charge that carries potential prison time.

Reyna Mathis

When my husband found out I was facing five years in prison, he said, no. He said, we're fighting this-- because they kept trying to make me take a deal.

He said, no, we're going to get a lawyer. We're going to fight this. He said, I want the dashboard cam as evidence, he said, because they'll see exactly what-- everybody will see what happened.

Ben Calhoun

The Mathises say their lawyer requested the dashcam footage from the stop. According to the Mathises, they were told the video could not be located. And then, suddenly, Reyna was offered a new, much-reduced plea deal. She decided she just wanted to be done with all this, and she took it.

The night of the traffic stop, back in 2008, Rob and Reyna did not think it was about race.

Rob Mathis

I'm, like, A, he's just being a dick or he's had a hard night. Maybe the previous person maybe pulled over or something gave him a hard time, and he's just taking it out on everybody else, you know? He was on a power trip, you know?

Reyna Mathis

I have a badge. I'm in control. That's what I thought. I didn't think anything about him being racist. I just thought, yeah, he was a cop on a power trip.

I mean, I've seen Mexican cops do the same thing to Mexicans, and Black cops do the same thing to Blacks. It's just some of them have their power trips. So I just thought he was on a power trip.

Ben Calhoun

That was how they saw it when it happened. But now, after seeing those things in Anderson's home a decade later, they both looked at it differently.

Rob Mathis

I don't think he would have did that with a white couple in the car. He would've been, like, OK, go use the bathroom, or I'm just going to let you off-- because he was just disrespectful.

In hindsight, looking at it, everything he did was a racist act.

Reyna Mathis

From when he first looked at us, he didn't have good intentions. The man is racist. And I know that now. But had I known it back then, probably been a lot different.

So then I was pissed. I kind of-- kind of wish I would have probably assaulted him before he assaulted me. And that's the truth.

Ben Calhoun

If the city, specifically Chief Lewis, would have said publicly some version of what he actually thought about Officer Anderson, that he had a pattern of being overly aggressive, escalating situations, especially with people who weren't white, then-- I think-- when people found out about this traffic stop, they might have seen it in that light.

But without that context, Anderson's version is the one people believed. It's Anderson's account in that 421-page report the city issued. He stopped Rob and Reyna. Reyna got out of hand. She assaulted him.

Because of that, this revelation that they'd had this run-in with Officer Anderson years earlier, it really did change how lots of people saw the Mathises.

Rob Mathis

That's when more threats came in. Then people were saying, oh, yeah, you're out for Officer Anderson because he put your wife in jail, because of this, because of that. Then they was like, oh, you're not just the good guy because you outed Officer Anderson for having the Confederate flag and the Klan application. It's because we were holding a grudge against a police officer.

Ben Calhoun

Of course, Rob and Reyna hadn't sought out Anderson's house on some vendetta. The realtor sent them the listing. But this version of the story took hold.

Rob Mathis

That's what's still out there. That report that City Hall put out, it's me and my wife had a problem with him, and we went after him.

Ben Calhoun

When we were talking, I told Rob what Chief Lewis said to me, that Anderson had a pattern of behavior and a problem with Black people. Just like with Duke Stalling, Robert had no clue. No clue Lewis felt that way. No clue Lewis saw the same things in Anderson that he did.

And the fact the city left that out, it made Rob mad.

Rob Mathis

Why wouldn't he say that in the report in the beginning? It would have changed everything. Everything. Me and my wife wouldn't be looked at as some liars, that we went after him. You sitting up here creating this falseness. And it's just wrong. Tell the truth.

Now the police chief wants to tell the truth, but the matter is done. But truthfully, the information that you just got from Chief Lewis, if that would have been put in the report, then they would have said, Mathises, you all did a great job. Thank you.

Ben Calhoun

The way the Mathises see it, even if the chief removed Anderson for betraying the public's trust, even if the reason for the firing wasn't the way he treated Black people, the city could have removed Anderson without also giving him a clean bill of health. They could have said, we've looked into this. We're troubled by the way he treats people. It was not OK. We don't want officers acting the way that he did.

Act Six: Was It Worth It?

Ben Calhoun

Act 6, Was it Worth it?

It's hard for Rob and Reyna to calculate the ways this changed their lives. The risk they took was a single act, a single moment. But the impact of it is still happening even a couple of years later. The costs for them are still adding up.

Some of what all this has cost the Mathises are things that have ended up in no report, no investigation, official or unofficial-- the harassment, the threats, the conspiracy theory now floating around out there that Rob and Reyna were out to "get" Officer Anderson. The last time I saw Rob, I asked him how he looks back on all of it, given the results.

Rob Mathis

I'm just glad that he ain't riding around on the streets, and he's not harassing no more minorities, and nobody ain't going to get killed by Officer Anderson. And it'd be a justified shooting, because he can make up what he want to, because he killed a person.

Ben Calhoun

So do you feel like it was worth it?

Rob Mathis

Oh, man. I feel like I, me and my wife, saved lives by doing what we did.

Ben Calhoun

Reyna didn't disagree. She was glad Anderson lost his job-- really, pretty fast. That doesn't always happen. But the practical costs, she couldn't help but look at those, too.

Reyna Mathis

And then, with all the backlash, all the negative stuff, it just made me second guess what we did. I felt like I did something wrong. Maybe we shouldn't have did it. Maybe we should have just kept our mouth shut. But at the end of the day, who is to say that he wouldn't still be working and another young, Black man gets killed?

Or there's another Reyna, who goes to prison for five years because he says that she assaulted him and-- you know. I'm so conflicted because, one minute, I'm like, we did do the right thing. We did do the right thing. But then when you go through everything that we've been going through, it's hard. Like, maybe we shouldn't have, though.

Ben Calhoun

Rob and Reyna did what they did out of concern for other people's safety, but they ended up sacrificing their own. They used to feel like the police were out there to protect them, to help them. And now, on any given day, they worry that they're not. Here's Reyna.

Reyna Mathis

I promise you, every day I leave this house when I drive to work, I pray to God that I don't get pulled over, because I'm scared. I'm legal. I have a license. I have insurance. And I'm scared.

I make Rob drive me to work a lot. And it's hard on him, because he has to wake up to come and get me at 5:00 in the morning, you know, and then take my daughter to school, and do this and do that. But my anxiety gets so bad, I don't want to drive, because I'm scared I'm going to get pulled over. And anything can happen.

Ben Calhoun

And it might be somebody who knew him or--

Reyna Mathis

Right. Or one of his friends.

Ben Calhoun

Those worries and fears, they tell me, they aren't just when they leave the house. They've seeped in. The last thing I'll play for you is from Reyna. This was from five months after the city had terminated Anderson, when most of the people in Muskegon had stopped thinking about all this.

Reyna Mathis

I probably get two or three hours sleep, here and there. Once we started getting the threats-- I had a lot of bad dreams. I couldn't sleep. I would have to-- I used to put a chair right by that window, and just sit out and look out the window in the dark, just so I could see.

Ben Calhoun

Just to keep an eye on what was going on?

Reyna Mathis

Yes. And then we have a monitor with our security cameras, and I would lay it in my bed with me. And I would just hold it and watch it for hours, because it shows all of our cameras, all six. So I'd watch all the little screens, for hours. I couldn't sleep, and that's what I would do.

Ben Calhoun

And how long did that last?

Reyna Mathis

I still do it sometimes. I don't sit there no more. But I will sit here, or I will lay in my bed, and I'll hold the monitor right in my hand and just watch it.

Ben Calhoun

Even now?

Reyna Mathis

Sometimes, yeah. Or I sit on the stairs, right there, the fourth stair. So I can see right out at night when my porch light is on. So I sit there.

Ben Calhoun

I texted Rob the other day. He told me they still get threats sometimes, and they still watch the monitors regularly. "That's the norm now," he wrote. "We're always on guard."

Coda: Coda

Ira Glass

OK, one last thing before we go today. Over the last six months, as Ben Calhoun has been working on this story, he and I have talked a lot. And the thing that I have wondered about, myself, about this whole thing, this whole time, was, OK, if you had a police officer with a history like Officer Anderson's, all these interactions with civilians that go badly over 21 years, why did it take this freak event-- people spotting a KKK application on a wall-- before anybody looked at his record the way the chief did and did something about him?

Couldn't they have fired him sooner? Across the country, where we see these incidents where police are mistreating people, it just seems like, if there were some system to catch problem officers, it can make a difference. Does any police department try, in a real way, in an effective way, to do that, flag them, deal with them?

Hello there, Ben.

Ben Calhoun

Hi.

Ira Glass

So I was not alone in this question, you also were kind of obsessed with this.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah. I put this question, this exact question, to several policing experts. And eventually, one of them told me about these things called "early warning systems." And basically what these are are computer programs that track problematic incidents in an officer's career, and they flag an officer if there's too many of them. And one of these experts told me that, if Muskegon had one of these systems, then all of this would have been different.

Ira Glass

Oh.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, right? But then I checked, and Muskegon does have one of these systems in place.

Ira Glass

Oh, it does?

Ben Calhoun

It does. But it, you know, didn't lead to any action against Officer Anderson.

Ira Glass

OK, then what's the problem?

Ben Calhoun

Well, I mean, it turns out that a lot of these systems are just really bad. And there's a few reasons for it. One of them is that some of the systems-- this includes Muskegon's-- they rely really heavily on police officers reporting each other, which doesn't happen very often. It relies on citizen complaints, which we just know that people don't complain about police officers very often, because they worry that nothing's going to be done--

Ira Glass

Which is true, often, right?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, totally true. Another reason they're bad is that, when these systems get installed, they have to be negotiated with police unions. And police unions kind of defang them. And the last reason, it turns out they might be measuring just the wrong things.

Ira Glass

Huh.

Ben Calhoun

So a few years ago, a group at the University of Chicago got together and they wanted to change the way this works. Basically, they wanted to "moneyball" the whole situation. They wanted to break down all the things police do on the job into numbers and statistics. And then they wanted to find the stats that best predict bad behavior.

Ira Glass

So give me an example of what these moneyball stats would be.

Ben Calhoun

OK. So one example-- they say the old systems would measure just the sheer number of times a police officer would use force. So if they wrestle somebody to the ground, or if they tase somebody. And what they want instead, they say it tells you just way more if you measure something they call "proportionality of force."

And what that is is how much force is a police officer using, given the situation that they're in? Are they using force in a situation that wouldn't usually call for it? So we can, like, think of Officer Anderson going into the backyard and ending up pepper spraying a bunch of unarmed people.

Ira Glass

Over a noise complaint.

Ben Calhoun

Over a noise complaint.

Ira Glass

Or shoving that old woman to the ground. That's using a lot of force, where force isn't necessarily needed.

Ben Calhoun

Right, exactly. So I talked to a policing expert named Ron Huberman. He's a former Chicago Police officer, and he's one of the people trying to get people to use these new moneyball-type stats. He told me the University of Chicago group crunched the numbers for a lot of officers, and they were looking at whether they were using force in situations that wouldn't usually call for it.

Ron Huberman

You learn two things. You learn that most police are great at de-escalation, and you learn that some police are always trying to use as much force as they lawfully can, or the policy enables them to, right? They're at the top end of that spectrum.

Those officers are much more likely to have a major adverse event occur, right? Something terrible, the nature of what you can turn on and see on TV here and there, right?

Ira Glass

Tell me another one. What else do they track?

Ben Calhoun

So another thing that these folks are looking at is something called "discretionary arrest." So that's essentially, an officer goes into a situation that doesn't necessarily require an arrest and makes one. Say, pulling over the Mathises for going 35 in a 25, that results in an arrest. Or--

Ira Glass

So it's just a traffic stop. It's a speeding ticket, shouldn't necessarily result in an arrest.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, exactly. Same with Duke Stalling, right? It's a noise complaint, and he ends up arresting Duke and his uncle.

Ira Glass

OK. So all that goes into an algorithm or whatever.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, exactly. And one of the most interesting things that these people are finding is that patterns of problematic behavior with police officers typically go together. So if an officer has one kind of bad behavior, then they're probably going to have others.

So the officer who pushes down an old lady is more likely to be an officer who's involved in, say, three shootings. And they're also more likely to be the officer who is at a traffic stop telling a couple to shut up.

Ron Huberman

We don't generally find that, oh, an officer is just rude, or an officer just uses a little too much force. And if we use this story that you shared, this officer wasn't just rude, right?

That is the general accurate story. We don't really just find, well, this officer is otherwise great, but is just aggressive and disrespectful, right? What the data would generally show is, that officer is going to be struggling in other parts of their job. They're using more force than one would expect. They're using a higher proportionality of force.

Ben Calhoun

I just want to add, another thing that they're tracking is who police officers are doing problematic things to. So if an officer uses more force with people of color, say, that's going to show up.

Ira Glass

So does this moneyball system work better? What do we know? Do they actually catch more problem officers and get them to change, or get rid of them?

Ben Calhoun

I mean, what Ron Huberman says is they've only been doing this for a few years, so it's still pretty early to tell how it's working. But he says some departments get better results than others. And the key variable is how they follow through, like when an officer gets flagged.

Ira Glass

Are a lot of departments actually using the new moneyball versions of the stats?

Ben Calhoun

No, not that many. Ron Huberman's company, which is based on all this University of Chicago research, is called Benchmark Analytics. And that one is working with about 150 policing agencies-- which, I know, sounds a lot at first. But yeah, there's like 18,000 policing agencies all over the country.

Ron Huberman

Most of America is Muskegon, right? That is the average or the normal police department in America, which is, there might be something in place. But fundamentally, it does not have both the data and the sophistication to identify problematic patterns.

Ben Calhoun

So I asked Ron Huberman, what are the big obstacles for getting these systems up and running? And he said some of them are super straightforward. It's like money and tech and getting that in place.

But the big problem, he said, is politics. Police unions, they just typically fight anything that involves scrutinizing and disciplining officers. So to get these systems in, that's where the resistance is going to be.

Ira Glass

Well, Ben, thank you very much.

Ben Calhoun

Thank you.

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, the program was produced today by Ben Calhoun and me, with help from Dana Chivvis and Zoe Chace. Original music for today's episode by Matt McGinley. People who put together today's program include Bim Adewunmi, Elna Baker, Chris Bender, Susan Burton, Sean Cole, Michal Comite, Aviva DeKornfeld, Damien Graf, Chana Joffe-Walt, Seth Lind, Tobin Low, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Rae Mondo, Will [? Peischel, ?] Alix Spiegel, Robyn Semien, Laura Starecheski, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, Julie Whitaker, and Diane Wu. Our managing editor is Sarah Abdurrahman. Our senior editor is David Kestenbaum. Our executive editor is Emanuele Berry.

Special thanks today to Eric Hood, Pastor Duane Bennett, Mayor Stephen Gowron, Destinee Keener-Sargent, Jenn White, Alex Kotlowitz, Dustin Dwyer, Paul Butler, Sharon Fairley, Craig Futterman, Tracey Meares, Timothy Maat, and the Muskegon police officers who spoke to us on background for this story. Our website, www.ThisAmericanLife.org, where you can stream our archive of over 750 episodes. And what's it going to cost you? Nothing. It's absolutely free. Also, there's videos, there's lists of recommended shows to listen to. Tons of other stuff there. Again, www.ThisAmericanLife.org.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. We were playing a pickup game, basketball, earlier this week. And he tripped me. Everybody saw it, but he would not admit it.

Reyna Mathis

I don't remember ever throwing down a grandmother.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.