Fired Harper Woods officers altered police reports after death of woman held in custody, city says

Harper Woods Deputy Chief John Vorgitch and Patrol Officer Michael Pineau "concealed and manipulated evidence"  in the death of a woman in police custody two months ago.

On Wednesday the city announced the two police officers had been fired in connection to the death of Priscilla Slater.  She was arrested June 8 and died June 10. The Harper Woods Department of Public Safety said the 38-year-old was found unresponsive in a holding cell. Police said medics immediately tried to revive her but couldn't. 

The two officers are said to have redacted important information from the police report. 

"The internal investigation recently began when an employee of the city of Harper Woods indicated that a deputy chief of police had directed one of the police officers to remove information from his police report that may have been relevant to the death of Ms. Slater. Immediately upon receiving that information the administration of the Harper Woods Police Department began this information and confirmed that this information was true," said John Gillooly, attorney for Harper Woods.

The information was redacted from the police department a couple days after her death at the time of the protests that were held.

There is still not a cause of death for Slater according to the medical examiner's office.

Four city employees are on paid leave right now, pending this investigation.

Slater was initially brought into custody on gun charges in connection to a shooting at a Harper Woods motel where Detroit man Lewis Nichols was arrested and charged in the shooting. 

Her death sparked outrage and protests as her family demanded answers and hired high-profile attorney Geoffrey Fieger. Fieger was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Michigan State Police is conducting an external investigation, while the city is reviewing information and doing its own investigation.

The city attorney is urging patience.

"I say to the Slater family and the entire metro Detroit community what I said before, the death of Ms. Slater is very unfortunate," Gillooly. "We don't know the cause and manner of Ms. Slater's death yet, we urge people not to jump to conclusions even though this is somewhat a stain on these two individual police officers' careers."

Gillooly said that he is not ruling out criminal charges for the two fired officers pending the outcome of the state police investigation.  

Acting City Manager John Szymanski released a statement on the firing:

"As you know, the death of Ms. Pricilla Slater resulted in a great deal of activity within the City of Harper Woods," Szymanski said. "There were protests, unfortunate comments made by our former Mayor and, of course, an ongoing investigation by the Michigan Department of State Police regarding the cause of death of Ms. Slater. There was also a promise, by City Officials, to remain transparent and accountable to residents for all the circumstances surrounding this matter.

"Unfortunately, our City has discovered that members of its Police Department attempted to conceal and manipulate evidence in the “in custody death investigation” of Ms. Pricilla Slater. As a result, the City has immediately terminated the following Police Officers:Deputy Chief – John Vorgitch and Patrol Officer Michael Pineau.

"The investigation by the Michigan Department of State Police is still ongoing in this matter."