LANSING — James Craig has made the central theme of his campaign “leading from the front,” but his troubling record and weak attempts to run from it show he’s an expert at doing the exact opposite. New reporting from Detroit Free Press revisits a previously scrutinized incident from 2013 when Craig “fled a suspected carjacker who approached his unmarked police car one night,” which Craig is now trying to cover up.
James Craig on fleeing in 2013:
- “An individual jumped out of his car while I was stopped at a light and approached my driver’s side. I recognized what it was and got out of harm’s way.” [WDIV, 10/22/13]
- “There are certain cars each suspect tends to (be attracted) to, and I guess they liked my police car – a police car with lights. And one suspect jumped out and began running toward the passenger side of my vehicle… As soon as I saw the suspect running to my car, I accelerated out of harm’s way.” [Detroit News, 10/23/13]
James Craig to the Detroit Free Press now:
- “I wasn’t looking to drive away and get to safety…as my training would dictate, I made an evasive move — an evasive tactic if you will. I made a U-turn and got behind the car.”
The Free Press added that despite the extensive negative coverage of Craig’s actions, he never “sought to correct 2013 accounts of the incident” and “it is not clear why Craig did not attempt to correct the record, or even expand on it, before Thursday.”
MDP spokesperson Rodericka Applewhaite issued the following statement:
“James Craig claims he leads from the front, but he got caught fleeing instead of doing his job and now he’s running from the truth. Craig knows openly admitting his fleeing a potential crime scene is a bad look for the community he swore to serve and protect, and that’s why he’s telling another tale. Michiganders deserve clear answers on what compelled Craig to abandon his duty and why he’s now trying to cover it up.”
Detroit Free Press: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig Denies Fleeing Suspected Carjacker in 2013
By Paul Egan
Soon after he returned to Detroit to become police chief in 2013, James Craig told a community meeting how he fled a suspected carjacker who approached his unmarked police car one night, while he was stopped at a red light on Jefferson.
The image of a police chief, driving a police vehicle, fleeing a suspected criminal instead of making an arrest — or at least calling for backup — drew criticism at the time.
The incident is drawing renewed scrutiny in light of Craig’s position as front-runner in the Republican race for governor.
And though he had not previously sought to correct 2013 accounts of the incident, Craig denied in a Thursday interview with the Free Press that he feared for his safety or fled the scene.
Craig, 65, who retired in June, has made his police record a centerpiece of his campaign, touted a campaign theme of “lead from the front,” and asserted that “we don’t retreat here in Detroit,” when discussing his department’s handling of demonstrations following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police.
But in October 2013, he told a community meeting that he retreated quickly when he was the apparent target of an attempted carjacking, about two weeks earlier.
“One suspect jumped out and began running toward the passenger side of my vehicle,” the Detroit News reported Craig saying at a meeting attended by about 50 residents.
“As soon as I saw the suspect running to my car, I accelerated out of harm’s way. “
Detroit police officials later said that no laws were broken and no police report was generated. Craig did not describe calling for backup or staying in the area to help ensure the suspect was apprehended and questioned.
“You can’t just arrest someone because he approaches your car,” Detroit police Sgt. Michael Woody told the News. “Maybe the guy was going to ask for directions. The chief did exactly what he should have done under those circumstances: Drive away and get to safety.”
On Thursday, Craig said Woody, who was a police spokesman at the time, was inaccurate in describing his actions.
“I wasn’t looking to drive away and get to safety,” Craig said. “If that’s what Woody said, I don’t remember him saying that. That’s not what I told Woody.”
Craig said that when he saw the man running toward his car, “as my training would dictate, I made an evasive move — an evasive tactic if you will. I made a U-turn and got behind the car. When I did that, this young man, who, still I do not see a gun, ran back to the car he got out of.” […]
“I have served in policing for 44 years,” Craig said. “I’ve been ambushed. I’ve always run toward danger, not from danger.” He denounced as false “any assertion that in this one incident I was fearful of my life.”
In 2013, Craig’s description of his own conduct drew swift negative reaction, with many readers of the article using the online comments forum to question why Craig did not make sure the suspect was taken off the streets, instead of being left to potentially victimize someone else.
It is not clear why Craig did not attempt to correct the record, or even expand on it, before Thursday. He said he does not regret describing the incident as a potential attempted carjacking in his 2013 speech to a community group, despite the fact he did not know then and does not know today whether that was the man’s intent.
“It was just such an odd thing,” said Greg Bowens, who was press secretary to former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and wrote a 2013 column about the attempted carjacking incident, titled, “Hardly a Profile in Courage,” for Deadline Detroit.
“The irony of having someone who is the chief of police coming into a potentially criminal situation where he as chief feared for his safety, and instead of confronting the danger that he said that he faced, he drove off.”
In the 2013 column, Bowens, who is a public relations and political consultant, said: “We are all a little bit more unsafe because you, Chief Craig, let a carjacker get away.” […]
Ricardo Moore, a retired Detroit police lieutenant who was a member of the Board of Police Commissioners from 2014 to 2017, during Craig’s time as chief, said the carjacking incident demonstrates that Craig is a “showboat” who showed much less courage than he customarily projects when faced with confronting danger one-on-one.
“At a bare minimum, he should have called 911 to report the incident,” said Moore, who also served on the Michigan Parole Board from 2017 until earlier this year. “He never did that. And then he should have stayed in the area. He’s the police chief. He can mobilize the entire police department. So it just goes to his incompetence.” […]