A West Bloomfield Township police officer has been suspended for his conduct during a recent traffic stop involving township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste and her husband, Matthew Ureste.
West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton said the police department has concluded an investigation into the incident, adding that the officer didn’t follow department policy during the traffic stop that took place in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 13, when the officer drove a motorist and a passenger home after administering a preliminary breath test (PBT) to the driver, but no other sobriety tests.
“We’ve concluded the investigation and the department has disciplined him because an intoxicated driver was not handled correctly,” Patton said. “In our review, according to our policy, this was the incorrect thing to do.”
Patton wouldn’t reveal the identity of the police officer, but Lt. Tim Diamond said the officer received a five-day unpaid suspension. Patton also didn’t reveal the identity of the motorist, the passenger, or the results of the PBT.
However, documents obtained by the Spinal Column Newsweekly through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) indicate that Michele Economou Ureste was the passenger and her husband, Matthew Ureste, was the driver.
According to the documents, the traffic stop took place at 2:18 a.m. on Aug. 13 when Officer Robert Stephens observed a car run a red light at the intersection of Green Lake and Richardson roads.
“It was a flashing light and the officer was approaching the intersection … when they made a right-hand turn heading northbound,” Patton said.
The car was then pulled over on Welland Drive off Green Lake Road, according to the documents. Stephens spoke with Matthew Ureste, the driver, and reportedly detected an odor of intoxicants in the vehicle coming from one or both occupants. Stephens also noted that Matthew Ureste had watery eyes and admitted to drinking alcohol earlier in the evening. The couple were returning home after attending a Kid Rock concert in Detroit, according to the documents.
Stephens asked Matthew Ureste to submit to a PBT and he consented. The results of Matthew Ureste’s PBT was a 0.11 percent blood-alcohol content, according to the documents obtained through FOIA. The legal limit is 0.08 percent. No other field sobriety tests were conducted. Stephens informed Matthew Ureste he was too intoxicated to drive home, and offered him and Economou Ureste a ride home in his patrol vehicle, according to the documents.
Patton said that the department became aware of the traffic stop on Monday, Aug. 15 and that it seemed apparent that the department’s policies may have been violated during the traffic stop.
He added that the Michigan Vehicle Code states that an officer may arrest a person based in whole or in part upon the results of a preliminary chemical breath analysis.
Patton then initiated an internal investigation that was headed by Lt. Diamond. The investigation concluded on Friday, Aug. 26 with the suspension of Stephens.
“Our focus has been on the conduct and decision-making of the officer. There are no direct or indirect allegations against the people stopped,” Patton said. “The investigation would not have made a difference if they were known or unknown, the policy is plain enough. No one is being charged criminally, arrested or ticketed.”
Asked why he didn’t arrest Matthew Ureste, Stephens reportedly stated that he didn’t want to arrest the township supervisor’s husband; it was a busy shift and didn’t want to get tied up on an operating while intoxicated arrested; that he was concerned that an arrest would compromise an upcoming public safety millage vote.
West Bloomfield police submitted a report on the traffic stop and an in-car video recording of the incident to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, which found there was insufficient evidence to establish any crime.
Paul Walton, chief assistant prosecutor in the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, said that a PBT alone isn’t admissible in court by the Prosecutor’s Office.
“We would have to have evidence he was intoxicated, either through field sobriety, bad driving or observations by an officer,” Walton said. “Bad driving is insufficient in itself. We have to have some evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Urestes were front and center at a special meeting of the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees on Monday, Aug. 29.
The meeting was scheduled to approve tentative contract agreements between the township and its public safety unions, including the police officers union, but much of the meeting was dominated by public comments about the traffic stop.
Matthew Ureste spoke at length during the public comment portion of the meeting, defending himself and his wife, saying that he wasn’t intoxicated that night but that he was extremely tired and that he and his wife were never informed that he blew over the legal blood-alcohol limit.
He added that Stephens asked him if he wanted a ride home and he accepted.
Economou Ureste said that her husband wasn’t intoxicated, that they were both tired and that there was no video evidence that Matthew Ureste ran a red light.
“My husband and I have never sued for damages, but a malicious assault has defamed our hard-earned family name by unsubstantiated allegations made from a police department against my husband in a routine traffic stop without a shred of evidence of wrongdoing,” she said. “I have battled unsavory politics. I’m also obviously a great threat amongst my fellow trustees with pending elections.”
Ureste also said she has had political enemies since she called into question Patton’s appointment as police chief.
Last fall, she, along with Trustee Steve Kaplan, filed a declaratory lawsuit seeking a ruling regarding a township policy amendment stating that any board member, and not the supervisor alone, can recommend the termination of a department head and a majority board vote would be needed to carry out the recommendation.
Kaplan said previously the township supervisor would have to recommend to the board the hiring and termination of a department head and a majority board vote would be needed, and that the township’s amendment is contrary to a state statute granting a township superintendent those responsibilities.
Those claims were dismissed by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rudy J. Nichols in January.
Patton’s appointment to the police chief position was approved by a 5-2 vote last October, with Economou Ureste and Kaplan casting the votes against his appointment.
Many township residents spoke at the Aug. 29 meeting, with a majority criticizing Economou Ureste and some even calling for her resignation.
Economou Ureste’s predecessor, former township supervisor David Flaisher, also gave his support to Patton while former trustee Robert Spector also spoke out against the current supervisor.
Township Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy said that it was possible that abuse of authority may have played a part in Stephens’ decision to give the couple a ride home, but that it may never be known.
Township Trustee Gene Farber said Patton’s investigation was by the book and that he resented any implication that anything the police department did was politically motivated.
Township Trustee Howard Rosenberg claimed that Ureste was attempting to make herself a victim by defaming the police chief.
Township Treasurer Teri Weingarden said the issue was a distraction from the township’s push for a renewal of its public safety millage and authorization to increase the public safety millage, which will be voted on by township residents during the Nov. 8 general election.
“Our public safety millage is vital,” Weingarden said.